Today, in the third re-read post for Monstrous Regiment, I CONTINUE TO BE UNPREPARED, which is weird because I SHOULD BE PREPARED. Onwards!
Trigger Warning: For discussion of trauma, PTSD, abuse
- Ah, so we’ve reached the introduction of the Girls’ Working School, the source of motivation for both Tonker and Lofty, though they each deal with the trauma afflicted on them by that place in such deeply, deeply different ways. There’s no single narrative for PTSD or for trauma, in short. I have a close friend who has a shockingly similar experience to my own in terms of dealing with homophobia, abuse, and trauma, and one of the reasons we bonded was because of the conversation we had about how our trauma manifests for us. We could not be two dissimilar people any more than we are, and yet, both of our experiences are valid. They are ours. And that’s one thing I never really talked about during my read of this book, at least not in any detail. I relate to Tonker, as I said in an earlier re-read, because I have a whole lot of anger within me. Yet Lofty’s story deserves just as much acknowledgment because it is important to make sure that other narratives aren’t dismissed or ignored, you know? There’s so much pressure these days to represent things respectfully, but one thing I keep seeing get lost in this conversation is that not every story needs to be for everyone. Not every story needs to be relatable. It just needs to be true. And the writing for Lofty rings so tragically true, and just because I relate to Tonker more doesn’t mean this other experience is any less valid.
- I’m eager to have a conversation about Wazzer in the context of this, too, because she also dealt with a lot of trauma at the Girls’ Working School. (I’m operating under the assumption that Tonker is indeed correct, that they saw Wazzer there and she was often locked up in the “special room.” Tonker says, “That’s the thing about the School. If you don’t toughen up you go funny in the head.” Now, in regards to Wazzer, I think it would have been easy to just write off her faith because of a line like this. Indeed, Polly is very dismissive of Wazzer throughout this book, right up until she can’t be. There’s a pervasive trope of associating believers with being mentally ill, which does a disservice to BOTH groups. It creates a stigma for mental illness by associating it with behavior that is coded negatively. So, I appreciate that Pratchett doesn’t let Wazzer fall into this trope. She might believe in the Duchess more because of what she’s been through, but my take on this is that Pratchett avoids what could have been harmful by not denigrating Wazzer for being faithful.
- Then we’ve got Jackrum’s defense of his killing of Towering. You know, I feel pretty comfortable in saying that even if you enjoy Jackrum, this whole scene is still reprehensible. Understandable, perhaps, because this is Jackrum’s life. This is what he was trained to do! It’s how he processes the world. And I think that’s why it was always so hard for him to retire and why he fought the discharge that Blouse gave him. How would a man like him ever live in a world without war? What does that life even look like? I don’t believe that Jackrum can imagine it, and it’s not until the end of this book that he’s challenged to think of another way. Still, his reasoning is coarse and absurd. He claims that Towering knew he was a dead man as soon as he was captured. Why is that? Because both of these soldiers believe in murdering the Other Side because it’s war.
- Thing I Noticed #19: Jackrum’s locket. I had completely forgotten about it by the time it was relevant again.
- One thing is constant throughout this: Polly has one of the sharpest minds in the entire Discworld series. She reminds me of an older Tiffany Aching.
- So, let’s talk about Jackrum’s big lie about Blouse. The thing is… he’s not that wrong about Blouse? Even if he’s being insulting, it is true that Blouse excels at assessing situations. Oh, he might assess wrongly, but he is such a thoughtful character. Jackrum just acts, based largely on instinct, whereas Blouse generally takes a moment before proceeding on. So, there’s a grain of truth in what Jackrum tells de Worde, and it makes the lie all the more hilarious. Especially since you can see the gears churning in de Worde’s head as he tries to accept that what Jackrum says is true. HE KNOWS IT ISN’T.
- And you can see that in his angry outburst at Blouse, who just doesn’t seem to understand anything that de Worde is saying! He does understand him, of course, but he just refuses to budge. Why should they give up? Why should they surrender? Just because de Worde sees things a certain way doesn’t mean anyone else has to. Of course, Blouse wants to be the best at his job, and I got the sense from this and from later scenes that he didn’t necessarily disagree with de Worde; he just chose to do something different with that information than what was expected of him.
- Also, I love that de Worde says they won’t kill him because he “bleeds distressingly.” It’s such a funny line that went right over my head.
- Anyway, there IS a great point that Blouse makes within this: why is it that Ankh-Morpork didn’t care about the war—and all of its horrors—until this “human interest” story came about?
- ANSWER THAT, DE WORDE.
- As of the day I’m writing this, the post for part 23 still hasn’t gone up, and one of the things I’m most eager to talk about is Borogravia’s history versus that of Zlobenia and Ankh-Morpork. de Worde outright admits that Ankh-Morpork is probably the biggest bully of all, and given their interest in the clacks in Borogravia, I can’t disagree. They have their own reasons for siding with Zlobenia in this conflict, and that shouldn’t be ignored.
- Can we also just establish that while I might relate with Tonker the most, I was basically Blouse while reading this book? You know, missing the obvious despite that it was right in front of my face, yet able to spout off lots of information regarding incredibly specific topics at a moment’s notice? YES, THIS IS ME.
- Thing I Noticed #20: Blouse’s statement that “…to an outsider, the idea is obvious,” is basically one giant neon sign that could also read, “HEY, THIS IS THE BASIC THEME OF THIS WHOLE BOOK.” That’s exactly what Borogravia needed: an outsider to cause upheaval to the whole system. I’d also argue that in the end, there are multiple outsiders who affect this change.
- There’s an important distinction to be made at the beginning of this section: to an outsider, Borogravia seems backwards. Un-evolved. A relic of a terrible time. And while I understand that notion, I’d argue, again, that there’s a difference between the nation and the people. Many individual people are very much not like the nation and the way it portrays itself.
- So, why do we think Jackrum had such an emotional response to Maladict being out of uniform? (Even though she wasn’t; she still had it on underneath her disguise, so TECHNICALLY DOESN’T COUNT.) I’ve re-read this section a few times, and I feel like I’m missing something here. Polly notes the way he sags in response to the others pushing back on the narrative that they’re all akin to spies. What’s going on here?
- Thing I Noticed #21: “They’re promising lads, sir, but they’re not men.” GOOD LORD, JACKRUM DOES THIS A LOT.
- This section is a great example of Jackrum only seeing things through his experience, particularly that line where he says that if the other side has stopped attacking, it’s definitely because they’re afraid. No??? That’s not what is happening? de Worde may be biased, but a lot of the information he passed along was true. Yet here we’ve got Jackrum seeing the entire world through military strategies and logic.
- So, let’s talk about Maladict’s “flashsides,” which I don’t quite understand fully. I had initially assumed it was just Buggy Swires, and then I assumed… well, I didn’t actually know what they were. But if they are someone else’s flashbacks, then who else is around them? At that point, the only people within the distance that a vampire could “read” are… other soldiers. So, are these flashbacks from these soldiers? What of? Oh god, the war, right? And if that’s the case, wouldn’t this be a psychic nightmare? The collected flashbacks of multiple groups of soldiers locked into a war that’s lasted a thousand years… JESUS CHRIST THAT IS TERRIFYING. But I’m not sure I’m reading this right, so I’d love to hear your thoughts.
- Thing I Noticed #22: Tonker and Lofty holding hands and wow, this is… literal confirmation of the possible highest order. What I think happened beyond the obvious terrible interpretation is that I worried that the part where Pratchett said they held hands like someone “would hold hands with a rescuer” and my brain went, “Does that diminish what is happening here? Because anyone would clutch their rescuer’s hand like that.” Instead, I’m missing the notion that for Lofty, Tonker is her rescuer, and it’s part of their relationship and why it’s so strong.
- On page 272, is that the first mention of the dimity scarves? I don’t recall them ever appearing prior to this, and I feel like that detail is important. Are Borogravian women expected to wear them all the time? Only on Fridays? What is their religious significance?
- Thing I Noticed #23: “The Duchess can only move very, very small things.” WAZZER IS NOT LYING, OH MY GOD. Which means that she wasn’t really testing Polly; she probably actually saw the Duchess behind Polly, and was merely pleased that Polly turned around. Thus, I think Pratchett was trying to play a bit with the notion that I brought up earlier, that Wazzer experienced trauma, and then found religion, and how those two are often equated with mental illness in ways that are insidious and harmful. Polly positions herself as a “smart” survivor, the kind who knows how to avoid getting put into the Girls’ Working School. But later in that same paragraph, she details all the absurd ways in which you get sent there, and one of them is, “had the wrong kind of illness.” There’s no real way to be smart at that, you know? That’s just the hand you are dealt, which is a phrase Polly later uses to narratively describe Wazzer, too. So, the idea here is that Polly believes Wazzer latched on to the Duchess because “from those depths,” Wazzer looked up into “the only smile” she ever saw from there. Thus, it’s easier for her to discount Wazzer’s belief not as a real thing, but as a result of something else. Which isn’t to say those aren’t or cannot be linked. I don’t think that I would necessarily have drifted toward atheism if I had not experienced so much abuse as a child and a teenager. Does it inform what I believe? Yes. But I feel like there’s an easy way Polly dismisses someone else because she believes she was “smart” enough to avoid this kind of trauma.
- Thing I Noticed #24: Polly LITERALLY describes Lofty using “fire” and “flames,” and I still didn’t fucking get that she was the one setting fires.
- Thing I Noticed #25: Jackrum playing with his golden locket again! JACKRUM TALKING ABOUT THE GIRL THEY USED TO KNOW, HELP ME.
- So, while I am going to do my best not to ever repeat the same mistake with Tonker/Lofty, and while I’ve also talked about one of the reasons why I was sort predisposed to having a less positive take on things, I do want to talk about one line here that jumped out at me. Polly remarks, “And Tonker and Lofty only think about one another, but I suppose after you’ve been in that school…” And while I have no interest or belief in ever saying that this relationship is not canonical or not important, this was a tiny little moment that jumped out at me and rang… weird? If I was doing a sensitivity read, I would highlight this and ask the author to think about the implications of it. On the one hand, Polly has a flawed perception here, and like me, she missed the obvious signs and had to re-adjust her world to accept that these two women were in a relationship. I think it’s probably the default way most people would read that line. She’s a flawed character! And having flawed characters say unfortunate things is part of what makes them believable. But I remember reading this on camera and feeling worried that people would take this at face value without considering that Polly’s take on it was flawed. These women went through an experience, and they also are a couple. It’s a complicated situation, and their shared trauma of that school is most likely one of the things that has brought them closer. But Polly’s line comes off as dismissive, as if that is the sole reason Tonker and Lofty “only think about one another.” Well, they’re also in a relationship, you know? I don’t think it’s a terrible line, and my gut reaction here is that Pratchett is showing Polly’s quiet biases, but I’m interested in discussing the implications of this line.
- If my theory about Maladict’s hallucinations are right, then was that actually Death at the end of this part of the book, or was it just a manifestation of Death due to the other soldiers’ flashbacks?
- It really is a delight watching the power shift from Jackrum to Blouse and back again. Oh my god, they are SO ENTERTAINING.
- Also: Jackrum is so sure that Blouse is leading them to their death, but in a bizarre twist, Blouse’s plan to infiltrate the Keep ACTUALLY FUCKING WORKS, and without it, the Ins-and-Outs would not have been where they needed to be.
- Blouse is the one who intercepts the clacks messages! He’s also the one who also devises the message to send back. JACKRUM WAS WRONG, BLOUSE CAN BE BRILLIANT IF HE IS IN THE RIGHT… AREA. Like, there are so many things he is excellent at, and… well, a lot of things he is not. Y’all, he cut his sword-holding hand with his sword. How??? HOW DID HE THINK YOU HELD A SWORD?
- Don’t answer that.
- Let’s talk about Borogravian weaponry! I’m curious if the Zlobenians, having been at war for so long, also developed as complex weaponry as their “enemies.” I think that’s an important thing to determine because it can also affect who has power in a political situation like this. I get the sense that for the most part, Pratchett intended for these two countries to be evenly matched to an extent. Rather, that they were evenly matched. At this point in the war, though, Borogravia has functionally lost. Their own weapons are being used against them. It’s so fucked up, isn’t it? Yet there’s a detail here that I think also affects the Borogravian impossibility of surrender: they know they can just wait it out, and the Zlobenians will get starved out of the Keep. And if that’s the case… lord, this war could have kept on going forever, right?
- Thing I Noticed #26: Blouse wonders how the alliance got in. SPOILER ALERT: SAME WAY YOU’RE ABOUT TO GET IN.
- I love that Polly notes that Wazzer walks differently than she did at the start of this. It’s no surprise; as she got closer to the Keep, so got closer to her destiny. I assume the Duchess was buried in the Keep, yes? I know that was presented as a theory earlier in the book, but that would also explain why Wazzer is “possessed” at the time she is. It would also explain the Miracle of the Turkey! The Duchess can move small things, OH MY GOD IT IS SPELLED OUT IN THE TEXT. But I didn’t take it literally! Even after everything that had happened, I didn’t believe Wazzer.
- Thing I Noticed #27: Igorina corrects herself when saying she is duty bound to save their fellow man, and instead, she says “person.” Neat!
- Thing I Noticed #28: Jackrum’s joke about the lads having to find out about “ironing and darning sooner or later.” YOU CAN’T BE SERIOUS, HE DOES THIS CONSTANTLY.
- I was truly, truly Blouse as I read this book, y’all. So close to the truth and YET SO FAR AWAY, TOO.
- And I don’t think I could have truly appreciated what it was Jackrum was trying not to laugh at once Blouse started talking about playing Lady Spritely. MY GODS.
- This section also contains the first mention of Wrigglesworth! I’m gonna wait until later to say anything more substantial about this character.
- Thing I Noticed #29: “People pretending to be be other people to tell a story in a huge room where the world is a different place.” That is… basically this book, y’all.
- JESUS, THE DUCHESS’S STORY IS SO SAD. Perhaps as sad as Jackrum’s! Now I understand why Wazzer says what she says in this scene; not a word of it is a lie or a mistake.
- I get why Polly defaults to believing that Jackrum is going for blackmail, but in hindsight, that’s not what’s happening, is it? He’s trying to protect her while feeding Blouse bits of the truth (certainly not the whole of it) in order to manipulate him. You know, tell the rupert what he wants to hear. It’s how he’s able to dodge Blouse’s inquisitive questioning regarding his record. My god, CLERICAL ERROR FOLLOWED JACKRUM. That’s such a huge clue of what actually happened. Why would Jackrum’s file be edited so many times and for how long?
- In hindsight, I’m thankful for that moment where Polly realizes she can’t speak to Shufti about the Girls’ Working School the same way she can to Tonker. That’s an important distinction to make because it can be very harmful to assume that people all deal with abuse the same way, or that they can deal with it in the same way as someone else. It’s also very easy for an outsider, particularly one who hasn’t dealt with abuse, to simply tell someone to fight back, to leave, to go out swinging. There are so many factors that might prevent a person from doing that: lack of resources, lack of a safety net, the risk of the abuser fighting back and harming them worse (or killing them)…. you get the idea.
All right, moving on! THERE IS SO MUCH ABOUT TO HAPPEN, and I’m eager to see what sort of stuff I missed in the Keep.
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