Mark Re-Reads ‘Monstrous Regiment’: Part 2

Hello again, Discworld friends! Today, we revisit another chunk of Monstrous Regiment, wherein many things are so obvious hurts, but also THERE IS DISCOURSE. Let’s chat!

Part 6

  • Wow, Blouse’s letter to Emmeline is… kinda sad? We find out what it was he was doing before he was promoted, which is all the heads-up anyone could ever need that he was Not Really Qualified for this position. I mean, I did pick up on that, but one thing that stands out to me is how his letter summarizes the two parts of him: he is genuine and means well, but he also behaves in a way that makes it clear that he cares deeply what others think of him. He tries to portray his situation to Emmeline so that it makes him come off as more important than he is, but also… he is really important? At least to this story! But I can tell he’s trying. No character in this book tries harder than he does.
  • Looking back on how Jackrum treats Polly, it’s clear he trusts her more than most of the others, and thus, you get this mentor mentality from him. But he’s also a fan of throwing people in the deep end and hoping they learn, which is why he bolts from the inn without really preparing Polly for what’s about to happen. And you know, even if he meant well—believing that Polly was skilled enough to defend herself or talk her way out of that situation—it’s still kind of fucked up that he’s like, “BYE, OFF I GO.” They do learn! They do survive! It’s still pretty messed up, though. Like, yes, Jackrum has a knack for finding talent, but maybe don’t drop people into a nightmare?
  • Because even though I know what’s going to happen, re-reading the scene in the inn was still tense. REALLY, REALLY TENSE. Whew, when Polly finds that cudgel… it’s still electrifying, y’all. 
  • Apparently, the world was not unfolding itself for me, because like… look. I do get why this happened with Tonker and Lofty and how I thought this wasn’t canonical enough. It’s still a bad, bad interpretation and the “canonical” confirmation is right there on the page. Like, I definitely picked up on that and then immediately dismissed it? Sigh. A mess, I tell you. Here’s to doing my best never to do that again.
  • The Zlobenians are, understandably, convinced that Jackrum—or at least people above Jackrum—is constantly about the state of the war, and they government is CERTAINLY lying about the Duchess. Their anger during the scene at the inn makes a lot more sense once you know what’s going on. And the same goes for Wazzer’s reaction to the Zlobenians’ insult of the Duchess!

Part 7

  • Blouse is such a beautiful mess, and it’s only on this re-read that I’m noticing the parallels between Jackrum/Polly and Polly/Blouse. There is more than one arc here about mentorship and knowledge, and they were both unfolding at the same time. But I also shouldn’t discount the cunning part of Blouse either, and it’s in the scene when he arrives in the inn. Look how well he manipulates the “rules” in order to excuse the actions of Polly and Jackrum!
  • Otto’s appearance is still one of the very best moments in this whole book, I LOVE HIM FOREVER AND EVER. 
  • Another thing that’s striking to me in this re-read: the complete distrust of anything written down. This is a motif we saw in The Wee Free Men, but the context was utterly different. For Polly—and indeed, probably for most Borogravians under the Nugganite religion—what is written down becomes what harms and limits them. The seemingly random nature of the Abominations is most likely what inspired Polly’s reaction to a newspaper. Everything written down in this country is not for the betterment of society. Not really. And the concept that ordinary people get to control the narrative is unfathomable to Polly. They never have in Borogravia!
  • This section also truly introduces Wazzer’s struggle to understand the Duchess. It’s not the first time she realized the contradiction between what she believed and actual reality, but it’s where Wazzer realizes that there’s something else going on in the world. What’s fascinating about this is that she doesn’t take the same path that Tonker does. Tonker rejects the world around her, forging a new one instead, but Wazzer ended up believing even more. And how much of that belief actually affected the Duchess’s manifestation towards the end of the novel? Quite a bit, I imagine. If belief gives real power in the Discworld series, then Wazzer’s loyalty to the Duchess is probably the reason she chose Wazzer over anyone else.
  • I feel entirely seen by the line, ”The world isn’t just about you.” And if there’s another lesson to be taken away from reading Monstrous Regiment both times, it’s that. There’s so much I missed in my initial pass for various reasons: I was distracted, I was depressed, and I was prejudiced in ways that made it difficult to see the obvious, even when it was handed to me in the most direct manner possible, particularly every single thing about the patriarchy and misogyny. So, something I relate to in this section is Polly’s embarrassment. It’s not easy having to admit that you’ve seen the world wrongly, that you’ve missed things, that you’ve probably said and done things that are terrible or, at the very least, unfortunate, and sometimes, it even feels worse when you’ve done them unknowingly. That not knowing part is why it’s so easy for people like myself to slip right into being defensive. But you tried! And you thought you were doing it right! And I’m projecting a bit, obviously, and this isn’t quite the same context as Polly’s realization, but it felt relatable, especially given why I am doing this re-read.
  • Thing I Noticed #15: On page 151 in my Kindle edition, Jackrum outright calls them all ladies. I don’t recall if I reacted to that on video, but LORD, he definitely knew the whole time. 
  • Well, now I know who set up that elaborate wick and candle system in order to blow up the inn. Lofty blew up every place she worked at, and I consider that inn a place of employment, however briefly she spent time there. 

Part 8

  • So, if we operate with the understanding that Borogravian’s government lied about the Duchess in order to prevent Prince Heinrich from ascending to the throne, then it’s clear that Borogravia is in the wrong, at least at this point. And that means that in part, the main characters aren’t necessarily the “good” team, though I hesitate to draw any sort of lines between good and bad here. There’s such a long, complicated history between the two countries and a whole lot of bad faith, and I suppose that’s kind of the point. There’s not exactly a perfect real-world counterpart to these two countries, though I feel like there are some references to World War I in the way this war unfolds and how certain countries behave to one another? Regardless, I brought this up because on thing that’s clearer on this re-read is that it’s refreshing that Heinrich is definitely NOT a good person. Yo, that guy SUCKS, and re-reading the conversation between Angua and Vimes makes it super obvious. It complicates matters, but I don’t see that as a detriment at all. I still love how swiftly and completely this man is embarrassed. IT IS A JOY.
  • I’m also noticing that for once, Vimes is actually overjoyed by de Worde’s involvement in all of this. He hates the newspaper, but de Worde set a huge chunk of this story in motion by not recognizing Prince Heinrich.
  • It was still disturbing to read the group coming upon the murdered Borogravians, and I don’t yet have any reason to believe it wasn’t people from their own side. If there was one thing I definitely got the first time around, it was Pratchett’s attempt to show just how truly awful war and warfare is, how it pits people against one another in senseless ways, how it pushes people to do things that in any other context, they would find horrifying. Yet someone justified killing those people to survive. 
  • And Strappi justified theft in order to… well, I could see all of this as an attempt to destabilize Jackrum’s battalion. Steal coffee from Maladict in order to hopefully turn her against the others, right? And, as Jackrum puts it, one of the easiest ways to sow discontent is to steal from your fellow soldiers. So, did Strappi assume they’d all turn on one another? NICE TRY. But I also think there’s another explanation, based on what Polly says. He only picked items from everyone else that would work as evidence that they were all women in disguise.
  • Thing I Noticed #16: Lofty holding the burning branch near her face, examining the flame. CHRIST, THERE WAS THE BIG CLUE. I even tried to make a point to note the burning inn as a possible subplot, and this STILL escaped me.
  • Thing I Noticed #17: “What, are you married?” WELL, JACKRUM… ABOUT THAT. 
  • Blouse deserves more credit for being as observant as he is in this section, too. His whole bit while getting a shave is incredible. He may be inexperienced, but he’s so good at notice the details that don’t add up.

Part 9

  • Oh, Wazzer. Again, she is so dedicated, even in the face of such tragedy. It is one thing I admire about people who believe. I went through my shitty atheism phase in my early 20s (lord, atheism is dominated by white men, so I got out of that scene really quickly). I still identify as an atheist because it continues to ring true to me. I simply have a lack of belief. It’s just not there, no matter how much I’ve tried, no matter how many different religions or faiths I have been in contact with or have researched. I remember the serenity and certainty some of the more religious friends and family members from my childhood possessed, and I know that I felt an intense envy for that. Even if there were times where I, too, experienced an embarrassment like Polly does towards Wazzer, I used to secretly wish that something in me would be “fixed” so I could just believe like everyone else. So, I’m approaching Wazzer with more of a sense of admiration than anything else. It is not easy to “believe” in anything when the world gets difficult. At least that’s my experience, and I wouldn’t say that’s universal by any means. But I admire that she goes through this struggle and refuses to give up her belief in the Duchess, even when, as Polly puts it, the world does not immediately change around her. 
  • Thing I Noticed #18: “Lofty tended the fire. She always seemed more animated near a fire, Polly noticed.” Good gods. 
  • I think I can pinpoint the moment where I started feeling… not all that great about Jackrum? In this section, there’s that point where Jackrum shouts at Tonker about perimeter duty, and it reminded me so deeply of the military men I grew up around that it made me super uncomfortable. My dad was in the army and fought in Vietnam, and thus, there were a number of military men in my life who were not good people. It’s one of those things that can transcend origin and nationality, just like many of us probably can point to a Strappi in other media or in our lives. There’s always someone like that. As a kid, I had to interact with a lot of men who, at times, reminded me of Jackrum, who barked orders, who spoke cruelly to me, who found ways to pick on any perceived slight in my behavior. I had an uncle in the army (who later became a cop, SURPRISE) who was the first person to bully me because I liked reading. He saw that as a weak pursuit, and it was paired frequently with an urging to join the military and become a real man. 
  • And I do want to approach this a second time around without necessarily looking at Jackrum through the same lens, but in this sequence, it was hard to me to ignore that feeling. Yet even within this, you can see Jackrum’s actual agenda: all these soldiers are his little lads, and he wants to protect them. It’s why he is so harsh about the perimeter and them doing their duties. From his perspective, he’s trying to help them.
  • For example, in the scene that follows this, Polly observes Jackrum being genuinely helpful while he teaches the recruits important skills that they can use to increase the odds of their survival. He also appears to do this without shouting, you know? 
  • So, why did Lofty burn the charcoal-burner’s hut? Out of respect? Because she couldn’t resist the opportunity? Because it represented such negative energy?
  • Whew, you know which line just completely fucks me up this time around? “Father Jupe had argued that Nuggan didn’t want people to live, he wanted them to live properly.” And if that doesn’t succinctly describe a lot of fundamentalist, restrictive religions around the world, y’all, I don’t know WHAT does. But there’s a thread throughout this book that I did not really comment on or pick up on as it relates to how women were treated in Borogravia. This sentence has a general meaning, but you could easily note how this is specifically talking about how women are expected to live properly, even at great cost to their own health, happiness, and well-being. Why else did so many of them leave their lives to join the military? Why take that risk? Why live in disguise for so long? Because good lord, the alternative is SO SO SO SO HORRIBLE.
  • The assault on the Zlobenians at the clacks tower is both impressive and a total mess, my GODS. It’s also the first time this book feels like a war, not a collision of circumstances. (THE COLLISION IS STILL REALLY FUNNY.) The battalion never really sees “battle” in this book like you might expect from a story set in the midst of war, but as messy as this siege is, it still came off like a fight. Pratchett also doesn’t ignore the fact that with war comes death, even if you don’t intend for it to happen. It still happens.

Part 10

  • HUGE THING I NOTICED #18: Oh my god, the ending of this war is literally spelled out because Wazzer outright tells Polly that her quest is to take command of the army. And in the end, when the Duchess finally speaks through Wazzer, she technically takes control AND IS THE MAIN REASON THE WAR STOPS. Oh my god????
  • And look, now I understand why Wazzer was so happy and why she believed that this was the best time of her life. Knowing her backstory and how tragic it is sheds light on her statement. These people treat her so well, particularly in comparison with where she came from. 
  • Part of why I find Jackrum a complicated character, even in this second read, is that he still commits so fully to being a soldier. It’s his whole life, and I would argue that it is what has given it so much meaning. So, it’s second nature for him to see a prisoner of war and assume that the next step is to torture them for information. He is absolutely unapologetic about that, and it’s Blouse who loudly objects to it, desperate to get Jackrum to stop. And I get it! He views everything through the lens of war and the military, and to him, it makes sense that if he doesn’t pursue torture, it’s possible there are other soldiers out there plotting the demise of the Ins-and-Outs. 
  • At the same time… oh, Blouse, you try so hard, and yet you mess things up so badly. It’s even more painfully obvious that didn’t know what he was doing with Towering. I also know that Jackrum’s solution to that conundrum is STILL fucked up and kind of terrifying that he had confidence he could shoot Towering through Blouse’s ear??? The final line of this part doesn’t read as something protective, but terrifying. That seemed intentional on Pratchett’s part. As helpful and caring as Jackrum can be a lot of the time, he is still a soldier, and a damn good one. That means he views the world through this Them Vs. Us mentality, and it’s why he doesn’t seem at all bothered that he killed Towering. IT’S SO DISTURBING.

Two down, three more to go! Again, I’m glad there’s so much that I can respond and react to during this second read, and I’m looking forward to all the stuff in the Keep. Onwards, friends!

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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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