Mark Reads ‘The Fifth Elephant’: Part 3

In the third part of The Fifth Elephant, Vimes does more research to prepare for his trip to Uberwald. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Discworld.

Trigger Warning: For discussion of xenophobia.

This honestly feels like the most richly detailed start to a Discworld book, and I’m loving it. LET’S DISCUSS.

Dwarf Politics

I sensed that Pratchett was deliberately drawing parallels to historical complaints and realities of immigration in the UK, and if he were alive today to hear the absolute trash that is thriving in the public discourse, I’m sure he’d hate it. WHAT WORLD HAVE WE SLIPPED INTO. (The one we built for ourselves, of course.) Here, Vimes does his due diligence in talking to Corporal Littlebottom and Detritus before they accompany him to Uberwald.

And y’all, THE INFORMATION REVEALED TO US. I do love thoughtful worldbuilding, and this book has done wonders to explain dwarfen culture and how it’s changed since we were first introduced to it. (Which was mostly in Carrot’s first book, if I recall correctly. The fact that he’s asking questions is a fantastic start because… well, honestly? A lot of people travel internationally without doing any research at all. I can’t speak to non-American travelers (though on my recent trip, I met a lot people who swear there’s a contingent of young British men who travel the world and ruin everything), so I’ll stick with what I have seen time and time again: Americans are not trained to ask questions. We’re not! We’re taught an authoritarian style of history of the world, meaning that everything is told through a specific (American) lens, and we are not to question it. Thus, we show up to countries and are “experts” already, so we will demand things based on this terrible, terrible education.

I have watched an American demand to know why he couldn’t go to Versailles free. Or another young man ask why they didn’t warn him in advance that he shouldn’t wear flip-flops. (Honest-to-gods, he wanted to be contacted in advance.) Or there was the young woman who complained that her view of the Eiffel Tower from her hotel wasn’t that great because it was cloudy one night so clearly the tower was bogus. Or there was the American I met in Oslo who said it was unfair that the McDonald’s didn’t have American food. (!!!!!!!!!) Or the American I met in York who said that York wasn’t cool because they didn’t have any skyscrapers. (WHAT THE FUCK I STILL DON’T GET THIS ONE.)

So lemme just say: thank you for trying to learn something first, Sam Vimes. It does matter! As I said in the video for this section, I was treated distinctly different than a lot of Americans because I tried to speak French and always greeted people when I spoke with them. Yes, my French was terrible, but people appreciate it when you make an attempt!

Anyway, let’s talk about DWARF IMMIGRANTS. I’m fascinated that the same sort discourse is pouring out of Ankh-Morpork that most of us have heard before. I’d say that the only point of contention I have with this is the dichotomy that Pratchett sets up between those dwarfs who do assimilate – who tend to be the “liberal” ones, as Littlebottom puts it – and those who don’t. I wouldn’t say that line is as clear cut in the immigrant communities I’ve lived in or been a part of. There’s actually a decent amount of more “liberal” immigrants who fiercely want to maintain their own culture as a way of refusing to let themselves feel homogenized into the more dominant culture. That being said, I understood what Pratchett was trying to do here, and it didn’t detract from the point he was trying to make. In essence, there’s a huge cultural divide both in Ankh-Morpork and within Uberwald, all based on this idea of cultural purity. Who is a real dwarf? Who gets to decide that? Thus, a Low King who more or less supports on “side” or the other was always going to cause controversy.

That’s fascinating to me because we’re getting this through Littlebottom, who sought out her own happiness and freedom from a culture that told her she could dress a certain way or behave a certain way or demand to be referred in terms that respected her. That doesn’t make her any less of a dwarf! Of course, that doesn’t negate the complicated feelings she has. Look, I relate to this a lot as some who is Latinx by birth – born to parents who were from different parts of Central America, a mixture of Mexican, Salvadoreño, and Guatemalan – but because I’m a transracial adoptee, my culture growing up is complicated. It’s a very real part of immigrant communities, especially since my father was an undocumented immigrant. (Who promptly returned to Mexico once he found out my biological mother was pregnant. GREAT.) What would my life have been like if I’d been raised by him? Hell, my upbringing was complicated even without him! My initial foster parents were Latinx, and they spoke Spanish to my brother and I. By the time we got adopted and then started speaking, WE HAD ACCENTS. (You can still hear my brother’s; mine is mostly gone.) So does that mean we’re less Latinx because of this? Because we’ve had to teach ourselves the sloppy Spanish that we do know? That our cultural practices were mostly born of the friends we had as opposed to our own families?

As you can see, it’s very complicated, and I’m really pleased that thus far, The Fifth Elephant is inspiring me to talk about it.

Uberwald Certainty

So, Lady Margolotta new Vimes would be sent. I DON’T GET IT. Okay, so she dated Vetinari long ago, I get that. But why keep tabs on who Ankh-Morpork would send as their ambassador? Why does it matter so much that it’s Vimes? When we got the point of view from Angua’s family… actually, first of all, it’s very, very obvious why she doesn’t go home. HER FAMILY IS INTENSE, OH MY GOD. But Serafine is furious that Vimes is being sent. Not only is he an “insult,” apparently, but she doesn’t seem to like Sybil Ramkin at all. Wolfgang remarks at one point that Vimes might “ruin everything,” which also confuses me. They’ve got plans for him… which are to be chased by werewolves??? THIS SEEMS BAD, I DON’T TRUST THEM.

Preparations

I’m not sure a lot of these smaller details matter in the lead up to Vimes and company leaving from Ankh-Morpork. There’s a lot of information given to us from Carrot’s conversation with Vimes about what happened in the city overnight. The murder of a condom-producer provided a laugh or two, but the most significant detail was Angua’s disappearance. Did she head home first to beat everyone there? That was my initial thought because… well, maybe she didn’t want tos hock her parents with her arrival. At the same time, she’s always had anxiety about being a werewolf, especially while in a relationship. So maybe she’s not going?

Leonard

I AM SO LOST. Lord Vetinari using Leonard to break ciphers? Makes perfect sense. Having Leonard create a way to cipher Vetinari’s letters so they remain unbroken? Even more sense. But asking him to make them hard but not impossible to break is… perplexing. So he wants people to think they broke through the Patrician’s codes??? I suppose that’s the sort of logic Vetinari is known for, but why? What is he plotting?

I know I made a big deal of this in the video, but: VETINARI WAS GENUINELY SHOCKED BY SOMETHING. Who expected that??? Margolotta was one step ahead of Vetinari, THIS IS A WORLD RECORD.

So many pieces to this story already, y’all. I’m excited.

Mark Links Stuff

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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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