Mark Reads ‘Monstrous Regiment’: Part 2

In the second part of Monstrous Regiment, Polly watches the new recruits come in. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Discworld.

Trigger Warning: For discussion of war, bigotry, transphobia.

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Upon a closer reading (as I am writing this review), I don’t think Polly’s brother, Paul, is dead. I think he’s just missing. But I can see why my brain instantly jumped to that conclusion. As funny as some of this is, there’s a pervasive sense of how messed up this war and this country is. After spending so much time in Ankh-Morpork, Borogravia’s conservatism is a bit of a shock. There is much less of the stigma around being a vampire or a troll in the city, though that’s not to suggest it’s completely gone. Corporal Strappi is even worse than some of the more ignorant citizens of Ankh-Morpork, though! He’s so open about his distaste for Maladict (MY NEW FAVORITE) and Carborundum, and that’s because he’s safe to express those opinions. He’s in a position of power, and he hasn’t had to be accountable for holding those ideas. 

Well, until now. That’s part of the reason he is so flustered as all the new recruits join Polly in the Army. The common behavior for these people is to reject them, to treat them with disdain, and Sargeant Jackrum ignores all of that and welcomes them in with open arms. For a purely selfish reason, I’m glad this is happening. As I said during the video reading, one of my favorite tropes is RAGTAG BANDS OF WEIRDOS. And look what we’ve got here! Polly is pretending to be a boy; there’s a vampire who is part of the Temperance League; then there’s Carborundum, who signs up and immediately gets so drunk he passes out. THIS HAPPENS IN LESS THAN FIVE MINUTES. Not just that, but there’s someone else who might be trying to pass as a boy.

Which… so, as I try to grow as a person and understand the world better, that means I can’t unsee certain things. A decade ago, I don’t know that I would have even been all that aware of the tropes surrounding a character like Polly. Granted, this feels even more applicable to modern times. There’s a whole scene near the end of this section that deals with packing and how best to appear like another guy. That is… not a joke for a lot of people? It’s a real anxiety. But I can’t tell if that’s what Pratchett intends, or if he’s just being detailed in his depiction of this particular trope. Basically: I couldn’t read that scene without thinking of trans readers, without thinking of how that would affect them. Would they find it empowering and exciting to see the protagonist of a book talking about something they dealt with every day? Or would they feel detached and hurt by it, given that Polly is cis and this probably wasn’t intended as trans rep? My guess is the latter, but this isn’t really my lane to speak of with any authority. But I can’t not think about it, you know? 

So, while I’d love to read opinions on this from people who are far more experienced on this stuff, let’s talk about WAR. (I’m real good at segues, y’all.) HI, HELLO, WOW, THIS IS DARK AS HELL. It is! Amidst the silliness of the recruiting scenes, Pratchett drops some intense sequences about how the Borogravian wars with nearby nations have left its people shattered and torn apart, sometimes literally so. That’s why I think Paul is missing, not dead. This country has a toxic culture surrounding its patriotism, and Paul believes everything he hears, according to Polly. Given that only men are allowed in the army, and given that Borogravia celebrates military service, and given that dying for one’s country is the noblest act there is… well, that’s a pretty damning combination of influences. 

It’s no surprise, then, that there aren’t people rushing to join the military anymore. This kind of culture only leads to more death and more violence. Why wouldn’t someone want to rescue their loved one from this sort of life? Granted, I don’t know that Polly wants to necessarily rescue Paul, but it seems obvious that she wants to find him.

Whew, this book is gonna be messed up, isn’t it?

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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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