In the first part of Monstrous Regiment, Polly tries to hide in plain sight, and Vimes begins a new mission. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Discworld.
Hello, friends, and welcome to my journey through the THIRTY-FIRST DISCWORLD BOOK! That number seems both entirely reasonable and viciously impossible, but here we are. I am almost 75% of my way through this series, and I’m really loving this particular stretch of books. So, it’s going into Monstrous Regiment that I feel both a little hesitant and boisterously eager to find out what this is all about. LET’S TALK.
My hesitation comes from not knowing where exactly Pratchett is going to take the story of young Polly. In this plot, there’s a set-up which uses a trope that many of us who have read fantasy are quite familiar with: a young, boyish girl disguises herself as a boy in order to infiltrate some organization—a military force, a wizarding school, a training program—that normally restricts girls. In doing so, there’s a lot of commentary about how girls can do things just as good as boys. There is, of course, a huge value in this sort of story, and as a dude, I wouldn’t dream of denying how powerful stories are like this. (Particularly for the genre of fantasy, which has been dominated by men for so long.)
I am guessing we’re going to get some bits that stick close this trope. Even if they’re used in humorous ways—like the scene where Polly tries to walk like guys do—I still hope that there’s something that elevates this beyond the obvious. There’s been some weird gender stuff before from Pratchett. (Though it’s the fixation on fatness that ACTUALLY bothered me here; those descriptions felt needlessly cruel to me.) And I say this not as an expert but rather as someone who is still learning—really, unlearning—all the shit our essentialist, cissexist society has taught me to believe. At the same time, it’s Pratchett? I know that on the face of it, that is silly logic, but the guy upended tropes and expectations ALL THE TIME.
One thing that’s left unsaid here, though, has little to do with gender or presentation and everything to do with character motivation. Why is Polly so interested in joining this regiment? There’s some social context I can glean from the exposition. Borogravia and Zlobenia have been at war for nearly a thousand years; their citizens hate one another for the most part. (Or… do they? I think I’m making an assumption rather than an educated guess.) There’s such a constant friction between the two nations that war is just a part of these peoples’ lives. It is a constant, so to Polly, it must make sense to get involved, right?
It’s an uncomfortable notion to think about because, at least in a distant sense, I’ve grown up with one war or another in the background of my life. From the Gulf War—the first real war I recall being on the news—right up to the many imperialist disasters unfolding around the world, war has been a ubiquitous thing. My father was an Army man, too, so on top of all of this, I was pressured to join the military for many years, right up until my dad passed away. He always saw it as a reasonable, honorable thing to do and a solid career. Which always bothered me because the Army forgot my father. They did very little for him after he was in the war, and when all his bizarre medical issues began to crop up, they flat-out denied him care or any real help. There was certainly no assistance provided to him when we went through our roughest patch as a family and he had no job. And I couldn’t ever ignore that contradiction, that my father wanted me to be a part of something that didn’t care that he had been a part of it.
So what makes Polly so certain that she is willing to risk a great deal just to join these men? What are we missing?
Vimes the Negotiator
I find it hilarious that Vimes actually hates being a negotiator, and yet he keeps ending up in scenarios like this one. Some of what we learn here from his POV helps inform my thoughts on Polly’s plot, but I’m also curious how her story will intersect with Vimes’s. In particular, I’ve noticed that lately, Vimes has been involved in stories about transitional states. So, if that’s the case here, how is the world going to change? How does Polly fit into that?
Of course, I’m making an assumption here, and this story could have nothing to do with making the world a better place. But my mind went there because I can already see Pratchett prodding the issues of war and nationalism through the conflict between Borogravia and Zlobenia. There’s a sense of how absurd this war is, especially since we know so little about it. What exactly spawned this fight? Who cares? It’s been a thousand years, the two sides hate one another, and that’s all that matters. There are other little clues, too, like how Vimes solves the problem of zombies in the lower crypts. To Vimes, zombies are not a terrifying force to be feared; they’re just a part of the Watch. Hell, Constable Reg Shoe is one of Vimes’s most dependable officers! Pratchett uses humor to shine a light on what are otherwise ridiculous scenarios.
And that’s the case for religion, too, and I’m super curious to see if I’ll be able to determine what sort of real-life metaphors there are for the faith of the Nugganites. I feel like there’s some fun had with Catholic doctrine. The concept of a Living Testament as one that constantly changes is hilarious to me. We really get a sense that Abominations are declared like… once an hour. HOW DO YOU POSSIBLY KEEP TRACK??? (With a binder, of course.)
I am eager to see if Duchess Annagovia is still alive, too. That seems like such a strange little part of this faith: images of her are common, but no one has seen her in over thirty years? Is the royal family hiding her death to cling to power? And how the hell is Vimes going to get to the bottom of this? There’s not a clear plan-of-attack yet, you know? However, it’s important that he do something. Borogravia’s location means that its conflicts make it difficult for the continent to do business. So we do have an explanation for why Vimes is here. I just don’t know what the hell he’s supposed to do!
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