In the eighteenth and penultimate part of The Fifth Elephant, Vimes has a final showdown. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Discworld.
Trigger Warning: For discussion of fascism, white supremacy.
WHAT IS WRONG WITH TERRY PRATCHETT, WHY WOULD HE DO THIS TO ME.
In hindsight, I am very fascinated by the technique that Pratchett applies here. Suspense or tension is often built out of the audience either anticipating something that will happen or out of the fear of the unknown. The stuff that works best on me contains one of two dynamics: either the audience knows more than the characters and is terrified of them barreling towards an inevitability, OR the audience is at the exact same place as the character, and everyone heads into the unknown together. The lead-up into the fight between Vimes and Wolfgang is a weird combination of the two, and it’s made all the more complicated because Pratchett constantly reminds us of what might happen.
See, Vimes has this creeping suspicion that Wolfgang is not dead, so I figured this was a case where the main character is at the same point of knowledge as us. However, I’m aware of the narration here, more so than usual. Was Wolfgang going to come back, and was Pratchett teasing us just to mess with us? Or was this as inevitable as I assumed it was??? I COULDN’T TELL. I mean, I figured that was what this was leading to, so at first, I saw most of this as a way for Pratchett to resolve plots while also luring us this sense of security. The book was over but it totally wasn’t and I felt so savvy and self-important and I had this figured out!
For example: Vimes inviting Igor to come work for him in the Watch. Total end-of-the-book reveal! It’s also a fantastic example of Vimes inviting people into the Watch because of what they can offer, regardless of the social implications. Seriously, could you imagine how great an Igor would be as the Watch’s field medic??? Then, there’s lots of fun to be had as Vimes dresses up for the coronation, and I now see how evil Pratchett is. Because I was convinced that I had his technique mapped perfectly, and then he drops it, right in the middle of an otherwise silly and seemingly insignificant scene.
“Sam, I’m going to have a baby.”
Have I recovered yet? No. No, I have not. Obviously, this is a huge moment for both of these characters, something that will forever affect future Watch novels. It’s also a brilliant bit of craft because I completely fucking forgot about Wolfgang. Thus, when Wolfgang shows up, this finale is not what I expected, EVEN THOUGH I EXPECTED WOLFGANG TO SHOW UP.
God, I love when writers do shit like this.
I’ve been struggling to figure out how I wanted to address Wolfgang and the pervasive violence that surrounds him throughout all my reviews of this book. I know I brought it up before, but I felt like my take was just too simplistic. “This book is more violent than others” YAWN, MARK, THERE ARE BETTER IDEAS HERE. And really, it took me getting to this disastrously violent scene for me to realize why this book is so much bloodier and vicious than most Discworld books.
Wolfgang’s beliefs are violence. When you advocate for the type of supremacy he does, it’s not a belief system without repercussions. It doesn’t exist in a vacuum, and it is certainly not harmless. Wolfgang was inevitable in that sense: there was no reality where he wouldn’t violently force his beliefs on to others as he does here. It’s not even that he tries to convince anyone that his personal and political philosophy is worht consideration; he just acts it out in ways that aren’t theoretically violent.
It’s all literal. It’s all text. It’s all there, out in the open, and he doesn’t care. He doesn’t value any life that is not werewolf, and thus all other living beings are in service to him. That’s why he murders indiscriminately after running away from the embassy. These people are collateral damage, sure, but they’re also meaningless to him. Taking their lives has no affect on him, and he doesn’t even need a reason to do it. He does it because they’re all beneath him. The real-life parallels to white supremacy are obvious to me, as are the similarities to fascist politics. Pratchett designed all of this intentionally, and it’s why Wolfgang is one of the more frightening antagonists. Werewolves aren’t real, but these beliefs are.
And now is the point where I admit that never in a billion years did I ever expect Pratchett to kill off Wolfgang by having Vimes BLOW HIM TO PIECES. It’s such a shocking death! It was also incredibly cathartic, y’all, so I want to applaud Pratchett for that, too. Honestly, there’s just a great deal I enjoy about this ending, y’all. Hell, I haven’t even talked about Lady Margolotta and her detached interest in everything. A vampire who is determined to find more polite ways to power and control? WHAT AN AMAZING CHARACTER, Y’ALL. I hope she’s in the final section, because I’d like at least one more scene before everyone leaves Uberwald.
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