In the eleventh part of Carpe Jugulum, Reverend Oats has a crisis, while the witches stage an attempt at a coup. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Discworld.
You know, I’ve wondered what would have happened to me if I had been raised in a more forgiving household. If I’d been encouraged to ask questions. If I’d sought out different people or a different church when I felt lost and alone. How would my path have turned out differently? By the time I converted to Catholicism, I had grown up being lied to. Any time something in the Bible confused me, I wasn’t given an explanation; I was told to shut up and accept it. If I found a contradiction in something I was told, I was shamed for it. I was mean. Or, even better, I lacked faith. If I had faith, why would I question what I was told?
Thus, my education at Our Lady of Perpetual Help was doomed right from the start. I thirsted for knowledge, and that’s not what those classes were for. The closest word I can come up with to describe those days is “indoctrination.” I was being taught how to be a Catholic, not how to believe in God. I didn’t realize it at the time, but the latter was what I was craving. So as my teachers – two nice older women who volunteered to teach all of the adult converts and one nun who was one of the cruelest people I’ve ever met – guided us through the tenets of belief and many of the social practices of being a Catholic, I asked a lot of questions. I believed that I was now in the space where I could finally do that!
Except I wasn’t. You ever have a teacher who is there for a one-sided purpose? They have no interest in engaging with anyone in the class, and instead, the speak, you accept, and that’s it. While the volunteer teachers were a little more sympathetic, the nun who worked with them was brutal. She frequently told me to look up things on my own time or to talk with her after class. When I asked to meet with her? She said she had no time for people who doubted the word of God. When I struggled with things like original sin or Jesus’s sacrifice, I was told to shelve my concerns or I’d never become a Catholic before I died.
I wanted knowledge, and I didn’t get it. Even worse, this all reminded me of the sort of environment I grew up in. None of those women knew that, of course, and I can’t blame them for that. But as I read through Oats’s theological struggle, I recognized myself in much of his anxiety. I wanted to believe and belong, but I couldn’t make sense of that belief. In that sense, I was of two minds, too: one was what I desired, one was who I actually was. I wanted so badly to talk with God, but I lived under “thick, uncommunicative clouds.” I drifted away from that, but the scene that opened this part took me right back there, and it’s kind of amazing how a book can do that.
Anyway, now that I’ve gotten all serious on you, let’s talk about the Count. I don’t know that a Discworld book has ever felt so dire to me, and I’m exhilarated by the choices Pratchett has made here. First, the Count’s encounter with the mob surprised me. I didn’t expect the threats because… well, I just assumed he’d control them all. He did it to a ballroom full of people in the palace; what’s a little mob to him? Of course, there is some control happening here to pacify these people, but just in case anyone gets any ideas at a later date, he reminds them all of the mercenaries he hired to protect him. This… honestly, I CAN’T IGNORE THE BIZARRE RELEVANCY OF THIS TO OUR MODERN TIMES. The Count took over this government and then hired people to violently intimidate anyone who protested it. OKAY. OKAY.
But it’s the Count’s treatment of the witches that upset me the most. I’m not used to outright displays of power in these books because Pratchett doesn’t write straightforward fantasy. There aren’t these huge battles where magic is thrown from one side to the other. Yet the Count’s treatment of the witches is just so visceral. He uses the weather to lift them in the air; he teases them over how powerless they are to stop him; he flings Reverend Oats across the room and knocks him out; and he does all of this with a muted sense of glee in his actions. He enjoys this! He loves knowing that he’s won and rubbing it in their faces.
That’s even more the case with Granny Weatherwax, who arrives to launch her assault on the Count and FAILS. SHE FAILS SO SPECTACULARLY. And my mind couldn’t even comprehend how that was possible. This is Granny! She doesn’t lose! She doesn’t come in half-cocked! Now, it’s entirely possible that this is part of some greater plan. Perhaps she meant to appear weak to the Count so she could distract him. That’s a good plan, right?
Except the Count seemed to predict every thing Granny tried to do. Borrowing. Using other minds to hide herself. Even a “shot across the bows”! None of them work, and I gotta hand it to Pratchett: Granny had succeeded so frequently in the past that once she lost a lot in these scenes, I became distressed. THIS WASN’T HOW IT WAS SUPPOSED TO WORK. She can’t do anything like she normally can here, and thus, this whole sequence feels like a tipping point. Pratchett’s books usually don’t have a dire point-of-no-return in them, but this one does, and it’s SO SCARY.
To make matters worse, Nanny and Magrat are stuck inside the palace, and Nanny isn’t nearly drunk enough to resist every mental trick from the vampyres. Agnes’s screaming trick only sort of works, and Vlad… asks her on a date? Your timing is kind of terrible, dude. Anyway, the scene passed by in a blur; I honestly couldn’t believe I’d been reading for twenty minutes straight because it was so thrilling and well-written! At the very least, Agnes and Oats were still together, and between the two of them, they were the strongest resistance force to the Magpyrs. So that was good, right? Right?
Agnes hurried to the bottom of the steps, with the priest squelching along beside her.
There was already a wide and muddy puddle at this end of the courtyard. Granny Weatherwax lay in it, her dress torn, her hair uncoiling from its rock-hard bun.
There was blood on her neck.
See, the Count had threatened to turn Granny into a vampire during this confrontation, but I naïvely assumed that this moment would be delayed so that Granny would have a chance to avoid it. This moment, however, shows that Pratchett is not fucking around. HOW THE FUCK IS HE GOING TO WRITE HIMSELF OUT OF THIS? They drank her blood and threw her into the street. IS THERE A CURE? I mean… look, I don’t know if they actually turned her, but this implies they did, right?
What the fuck is this book, y’all.
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