In the seventeenth part of The Last Continent, the wizards adjust to the beginning. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Discworld.
Trigger Warning: For discussion of racism and misogyny
Honestly, I really wanted this section to have a Rincewind scene because I HAVE A NEED TO KNOW THINGS. But he’s completely absent here, and Pratchett instead focuses on the chaotic ramifications of the wizards landing on Fourecks at this specific time. The magic that’s swirling about the place – which I believe is coming from the God of Evolution, right? – is slowly adding more things to the continent. In that sense, it makes Mono Island like one giant testing ground, and Fourecks is the final product. At first, there’s nothing on the continent besides a few geographical features, and even those aren’t too fancy.
Then the Bursar accidentally invents surfing, which… maybe I’m just reading too much into this, but I feel real weird about this book postulating that something invented by Polynesians was instead created on the Disc by… well:
“How did he do that?” said Ridcully. “I mean, the man’s crazier than a ferret! Damn good Bursar, of course.”
“Possibly the lack of mental balance means there’s nothin to impede physical stability?” said Ponder wearily.
ooooookkkkaaaaayyy. Granted: Ponder doesn’t actually believe this, and granted: I don’t think Pratchett is saying a mentally ill wizard created surfing. It’s more of a personal thing, since my family on my father’s side are Hawaiian, and I get defensive about cultural theft. But it’s such an odd thing to include, given the time travel element. Inevitably, aren’t the things the wizards do here going to reappear in the present time? I know surfing is a thing in Australia, but as far as I can recall, it was brought there a little over a hundred years ago; it didn’t just spring up naturally or by accident.
All right, maybe I’m nitpicking. I honestly feel like I have to because there’s not much here for me to talk about aside from some not-so-great choices. At least there’s something resembling forward motion in Rincewind’s plot, but right now, the wizards are literally just standing around and arguing. (Except the Bursar, who I’ll get to.) The sequence where the thaumic energy causes them all to age backwards (or forwards, in the case of Ponder) is hands-down one of the weirdest things in a Discworld book so far. That’s not a bad thing because y’all know I love surreal shit, but… where is this going? I did enjoy that this ended in Ridcully making that joke about how Ponder would have to go through the experience all over again. (“At least once, anyway.”) But – I’m going to use the word again – this is all so aimless. What story is Pratchett telling here?
And then we’ve got more of the wizards objectifying Mrs. Whitlow, and it’s just so boring. It’s the same joke over and over again, and unless this is repeated for some grand thematic motif, I don’t see why Pratchett keeps doing it. (And if it were for some Important Point, I’m not sure that would be worth it either.) Is the awkward misogyny of men supposed to be funny?
I can’t believe I have to repeat myself, though, so OH WELL, I’M REPETITIVE, TOO. This is just… not how this works?
Like Rincewind, the Bursar had no room in his head for racism. As a skin color black came as quite a relief compared to some of the colors he’d seen, although he’d never seen anyone quite so black as the man now staring at him. At least, the Bursar assumed he was staring. The eyes were so deep set that he couldn’t be sure.
Oh, lord, how do I unpack this? Like, this is exactly what loads of white people do before spewing racism, so that’s REAL FUN. I don’t think the Bursar does anything awful here, and him watching this man (Fourecks’s version of an Aboriginal man) is kind of a sweet moment. It’s quite pure. My problem is that such pronouncements about race are seldom, if ever, true. Racism and racist thoughts are so much more insidious than Pratchett seems to think they are. It’s not a matter of not having room in one’s head for them. It’s about how you’re raised; what you see and experience; who you interact with; what narratives you believe about other cultures and peoples. I find it hard to believe that a culture like the one in Ankh-Morpork, which openly derides or makes fun of things from “forn parts,” is suddenly incapable of racism just by choice.
It doesn’t work like that. How can you observe that black skin doesn’t upset you, but then make a point of remarking that you’ve never seen skin as dark as this man’s? Either you don’t notice it or it doesn’t unnerve you, or… it does? You can’t have both of them.
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