Mark Reads ‘The Fifth Elephant’: Part 16

In the sixteenth part of The Fifth Elephant, a lot happens, y’all. A. LOT. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Discworld

Trigger Warning: For talk of police brutality, racism, and white supremacy.

Oh, I am so close to piecing this all together, except I most likely am not because let’s be real, it’s very rare for me to “get” everything before it’s actually spelled out to me. However, I feel like I have everything but the answer to the Scone: who stole the original? Why make copies? Why make a copy and then steal the copy? Is there even a “real” Scone of Stone in the first place? That’s a big question to be answered, but for now, everything else seems to make much more sense to me.

Just Following Orders

For example: Captain Tantony is not an antagonist in any sense other than that he prevents the main characters from going anywhere. Instead, Pratchett addresses something else through him, and it’s a neat theme. Captain Tantony does what he is told because that’s what a member of the Bonk Watch is supposed to do. There is a pervasive theme or motif that appears in real-world situations in which people in positions of state power – like police officers, like people within the military – do things because they were ordered to. And that dedication to the idea of duty and obedience can lead people to behave monstrously, though all of it is justified through use of a similar phrase: I was just doing as I was told.

Now, I come at this differently because while there’s still an issue with police brutality in the UK, I wouldn’t dream of arguing that it is the same issue here. It’s why, generally speaking, I’m actually not that terribly interested in stories about cops or guards or any figures who provide security or “order” for a governmental being. Growing up here in America and being brown and being queer means that my relation to state forces is a lot different than it is for other folks. Even in the most innocuous sense, I can’t watch cop shows, which is why I had to drop Brooklyn Nine Nine, despite that I adored the characters and the cast and the humor. So, there’s always this compartmentalization that happens on my end if I happen to read a book dealing with the police or the Guard or the Watch or anything. I fear being repetitive; I fear that I won’t be able to enjoy a story because of this part of me that I can’t get rid of.

So, on some level, I appreciate that Pratchett makes this point, as well as some of the other things he says about police forces, even if perhaps he didn’t quite mean them in the way I interpret them. I come from a country where police misconduct runs rampant, where people are ordered to do things that are illegal, immoral, horrifying, and violent. I grew up with a father who was in the military and tried to instill in me the belief that you should always do what your superiors told you, no matter how wrong you felt it was. I hope you can see why this has given me issues with authority figures in general, and that’s not even going into the much more upsetting reasons why I care about this as much as I do. Thus, Vimes’s lesson to Tantony was prescient for me, a way for this text to say that no matter what sort of authority you might be under, there is no reason to subscribe to the notion that obedience is a virtue. What if Tantony had followed orders? Well, he would have murdered Vimes on Ankh-Morpork soil and possibly ignited a war. Is starting a war enough of a reason not to follow orders? I’d argue that taking a life all by itself is enough of a reason, but now I’m getting into a whole other post.

Old Friends

So, can I make a comparison here? Serafine is the friend you had in high school and you add them on Facebook eight years later and you’re kind of excited to reconnect with them and then it turns out their entire feed is about how immigrants are eating babies and women should just stay where the Bible told them to and gays are infecting the air with their Gay Agenda Chemtrails and turning all the kids in the world into genderqueer unicorns. (Don’t know how they got a copy of the actual Gay Agenda….) Sybil dutifully wrote her friend for years, never heard anything back, and then showed up at her house and found out she was a gigantic bigot. Now, I think Pratchett pokes a bit of fun at Sybil, too, since she’s written here like the well-intentioned person who is all for diversity, but maybe doesn’t know all that much about people not like her. But it’s Serafine who faces the brunt of Pratchett’s criticism through Sybil, who is disgusted by the way this woman speaks of everyone who is not a werewolf. And look, I’m glad this happens because I didn’t want her portrayed as some unknowing agent within all this. She couldn’t possibly be ignorant as to what her husband and her son were doing, right?

Detritus

I JUST WANT TO MAKE SURE I YELL THIS HERE: DETRITUS FINALLY SHOT HIS CROSSBOW AND IT WAS A MILLION TIMES MORE AMAZING THAN I COULD HAVE EVER PREDICTED.

The Fight

HOLY SHIT, BRAVO TO PRATCHETT FOR EVERYTHING THAT HAPPENS IN THE UBERWALD HOUSEHOLD. (I feel like “household” is a weird thing to call a castle, but hey, it kinda works???) There is so much insulting that happens, first of all, and while some of it is fun, you can also see how much Pratchett constructed this so that it would appear to resemble someone confronted their bigoted family by bringing home someone who they despise. It’s a metaphorical representation of this experience, so I am going to point out that by and large, all of these characters are all still straight and white, so it loses a bit of its punch for me. (Heh. “Punch.”) None of the actual people who would be affected by this metaphor are in the text, you know?

Still, I can’t deny that it’s satisfying to read about textual fascists getting the crap kicked out of them, especially since they cause such unreal harm here. Like, Wolfgang straight up snapped Carrot’s arm, which was not easy to read (broken bones make me a bit queasy), and then Gaspode, Wolfgang, and Gavin all tumble off the bridge. It’s a moment of pure chaos and despair. Sure, Wolfgang probably survived the fall, but what about the others? In the aftermath, Vimes realizes he has the upper hand and demands the Scone of Stone, which he gets, which is also a replica. Why the fuck did they have that made and then steal it back, y’all??? IT STILL MAKES NO SENSE TO ME.

R.I.P.

Look, it was already unfair for Pratchett to trick me with the “death” of Gaspode a SECOND time, but then he had to go and punch me in the heart because Gavin died. Oh, no, this is awful, and Angua finds out in the final scene of this section, and she’s going to be so heartbroken, and WHAT THE FUCK IS THIS BOOK. How is so much happening so quickly? This has to be the Discworld book with the fastest pace, I swear!

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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since ’09.

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