In the sixteenth part of The Last Continent, I AM VERY CONFUSED. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Discworld.
Trigger Warning: For discussion of homophobia and transphobia/transmisogyny.
So, let’s get a little meta for a moment! I think this is a fantastic chance for me to reflect on the difficulty of what I do because I don’t read a book entirely in one sitting. On top of that, there’s an opportunity to talk about something that plenty of you have probably gone through when you were reading a book by yourself.
We all bring something to the table when we read. Personal histories, biases, preconceived notions, expectations, and taste, to name a few. Sometimes, what we possess isn’t necessarily enough to understand a book as the author intended, and this section is hardly the first example of this. Tons of references have gone over my head because Pratchett imbues his work with so much of British culture. (Which means that when I do understand a reference, I feel victorious.) On the whole, many of my favorite books in the Discworld series contained tons of references, but the stories were so good that I was still able to enjoy the books regardless of understanding all of them.
Is that the case with The Last Continent? Admittedly, I know even less about Australian culture than British culture. At least I’ve traveled up and down the UK twice now! (If it weren’t so damn expensive to fly to Australia, I would have toured there already. I KNOW I HAVE TONS OF FANS THERE, HI, HELLO, I PROMISE TO MAKE IT THERE SOME DAY.) So, I come into this book with a disadvantage, and that means I’m certain that I’ve completely missed entire jokes or references. Let’s take the whole Peach Nellie thing. It’s probably a reference to something, but I have no clue what Pratchett is talking about. Thus, the joke becomes more about trying to avoid calling the dessert “Peaches Butt.” Or “Bananas Butt.” Which, I don’t care, I’d eat that. I DON’T CARE.
So, that went over my head, I’m assuming. Which is fine. It’s going to happen to everyone at some point while reading. We all miss things the first time around, and it’s not just references! We miss foreshadowing; clues; character development; jokes; important details; and sometimes, in my case, ENTIRE PLOT POINTS. (I’m an adult, I swear.) Part of the reason this site exists is because I want to validate that experience, to make it very clear that Missing Important Things is not a rare or shameful experience. Plus, it can be tons of fun! You all get to watch me Realize Things in real time! My emotional destruction is Your Entertainment!
The Last Continent is full of references, so much so that this entire middle section feels to me like Pratchett is wading from one scene to another just to pack it full of Australian jokes. I know I’ve complained of feeling listless and aimless, but coupled with the preponderance of references, and it’s almost like this book was just not written for someone like me. That is not inherently a bad thing. Not all books are for everyone, and I think asserting that is silly. Look, I love a lot of things that I know others would hate. I’m obsessed with China Mieville’s work, and I know plenty of people who despise his style. His work is just not for them! And because The Last Continent is so heavy on the references to Australian, I don’t think it’s a bad thing that an American doesn’t understand it.
Where this gets muddled is in Pratchett’s depiction of Letitia, Darleen, and Neilette. When I came to this scene, I instantly prickled, especially at this line:
Some of them were nevertheless very pretty, in an overstated kind of way, although the occasional moustache looked out of place, but Rincewind had been to foreign parts and knew that things could be a bit lush in the more rural regions.
It’s here where Pratchett starts his “wink wink, nudge nudge” bit, all to make sure we know that these three people are not really women. He’s long had an issue with essentialism, and even here, the lack of detail makes me feel weird. Because I desperately need more information! Are these trans women? Drag queens? Cis men who just feel more comfortable dressing up as women? Is this like a gay pride parade or some other celebration where drag queens would not be welcomed? (Which would explain the “derision” from the crowd.)
These details matter! That provides the crucial context I need to understand exactly what’s going on here, but Pratchett defines none of it. Thus I’m stuck with a few issues:
1) I want to do critical analysis, but what if the next part explains everything and I got it all wrong?
2) I want to do critical analysis, but I choose to wait for more information, and it never comes.
3) Regardless of #1 and #2, the text still has the problem of using the “men in dresses” trope for humor and nothing more, and there’s a ton of casual transmisogyny and misogyny here. For example: The focus on the size of the shoes, feet, and hands; the focus on the physical strength of the ladies; the constant comments on elements of the appearance of these women that don’t “match” traditional appearances; the mustache comments; Neilette looking “not right”; the ridiculous notion that Rincewind wouldn’t “get” who these women are because he has no experience with women; nothing in the text that contradicts Rincewind thing that women were not, “when you got right down to it, essential.”
So I’m stuck. I can talk about these things, but I’m also unsure of context, and context is so deeply important to critical analysis. I want to believe this is yet another reference to Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, but I can’t be sure! Thus, my dilemma. In the end, I think I’ve mentioned a number of issues with this scene, wherein trans women and gay representation sort of appears. But it appears at expense of these groups. We’re jokes or we’re “not right.” There’s nothing here to suggest we belong in this world or that we’re not punch lines.
At the same time, I just need more information, and hopefully that will change the context for me.
Mark Links Stuff
– I am now on Patreon! There are various levels of support, from $1 up to whatever you want! You’ll get to read a private blog, extra reviews, and other such rewards. I POST A LOT OF CUTE PHOTOS, OKAY. Think of it like a private Tumblr blog that only SPECIAL PEOPLE get to read.
– I have updated my list of conventions and events for the remainder of the year and much of next year. Check the full list of events on my Tour Dates / Appearances page.
– My Master Schedule is updated for the near and distant future for most projects, so please check it often. My next Double Features for Mark Watches have been announced here.
– Mark Does Stuff is on Facebook! I’ve got a community page up that I’m running. Guaranteed shenanigans!