In the twenty-second and penultimate part of Monstrous Regiment, another secret is revealed, and Polly is instrumental in changing Borogravia. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Discworld.
Y’all, I’m so satisfied with this book, LET’S TALK.
Jackrum knew that Polly would be instrumental in something huge and meaningful, didn’t he? He was very intentional with his last words to her before she went to wave the white flag and call a truce between Zlobenia and Borogravia:
Jackrum’s eyes twinkled.
”I know I can trust you, Perks. Make the most of it, lad. Kissin’ don’t last!”
Make the most of it. Polly is handed an opportunity here, and I believe she did make the most of it, to the best of her ability, and with the betterment of Borogravia in mind. I couldn’t imagine a better person to lead this, and I believe that Jackrum knew that. He watched her grow into a more powerful, knowledgable person over the course of their time together, and he also knows that she will stand up for what’s right when the time calls for it. The kissing line… I saw that as a reference to the Duchess, to the ritual they all participated in to join the army. It’s a little vague, but I like the idea that Jackrum was pushing for Polly to find another solution, one that didn’t maintain this endless war in Borogravia. Kissing doesn’t last, and it’s not the only resolution available.
I’M TRYING, OKAY. I could be wrong, but I loved this interpretation!
I liked that in the presence of Angua, Maladicta finally admitted that she was a woman, too. To me, that suggested that she felt inspired by Angua living proudly as herself, both as a soldier and as a werewolf. Like, I feel as if we could wax poetically about the power of seeing one’s self in other people. Even if they’re different supernatural creatures (though I feel like the word “supernatural” doesn’t really mean anything here; these beings are natural, aren’t they?), there’s still a common experience between them. They live in a sexist society, and they live in a society where “monsters” are still demonized and stigmatized.
I AM JUST SO HAPPY, Y’ALL.
He’s just so goddamn cunning, isn’t he? And of course Pratchett takes the time to point out that all along, he’s been seeding the little detail that sergeants excel when under specific conditions, that they have skills that involve manipulating and cleverness, and I SHOULD HAVE REALIZED THE PARALLEL BETWEEN JACKRUM AND VIMES A LONG TIME AGO. Oh my god, this book is perhaps the most densely plotted/planned out, and it BREAKS MY BRAIN to think about that.
Anyway, Vimes is an important guide for Polly in this big scene, but he’s only a guide. He’s not the one who solves this predicament for her; he simply lets her know that her country needs to consider another way to exist. He does so with some particularly brutal questions, and this exchange had me SHAKING:
“What does Borogravia want? Not the country. I mean the people.”
Polly opened her mouth to reply, and then shut it again and thought about the answer.
“To be left alone,” she said. “By everybody. For a while, anyway. We can change things.”
“You’ll accept the food?”
“We are a proud country.”
“What are you proud of?”
WOW, EVISCERATE HER AND HER COUNTRY’S ILL-FORMED PATRIOTISM WITH ONE QUESTION. But it’s an important point, one that resonated with me because as a teenager, I had to start reckoning with the “pride” that was instilled in me as an American. A lot of the music I listened to challenged this notion that there was anything that people from my country should be proud of. It’s an uncomfortable thing to think about as an American, and I imagine there’s a similar parallel in those who grew up in the shadow of the British Empire. Vimes, then, suggests that the nationalism that Borogravians practice is flawed because it is prideful of all the wrong things:
“From this desk here,” he said, “the only thing your country has to be proud of right now is you women.”
Indeed, the people running the country and the military supported a “dead” god. They punished people for Abominations that were not real and that targeted the most vulnerable people in society. They were warmongers and war profiteers who kept this conflict going because… well, it made them feel good. It gave them purpose. It gave them power. And they knew nothing else! War was part of the very fabric of Borogravia, and it took radical action for someone to finally suggest that maybe they could do something else. Why else do you think that Vimes refused to deal with any of the “important” people and instead went straight to the young woman who managed to defy the odds, all so she could find her missing brother? Sometimes, it just takes one person to change the world, and that person was Polly. Her distaste for what her world had become had been quietly motivating her the entire time. Oh, sure, Paul was the reason for the journey, but as Polly says:
The end of the journey, Polly thought. But it wasn’t, not anymore.
She got the distinct impression that the man opposite was reading her thoughts.
“That’s what all this was about, wasn’t it?”
“No, sir. It’s just how it started,” said Polly.
I liked this acknowledgement. This journey changed Polly, and it changed her goals. And now, it’s going to change her country.
Seriously, there was a lot I felt a kinship to in this section of the book. Let’s talk about this line of Angua’s:
“Everyone’s got secrets they don’t want known. Werewolves are a bit like vampires that way. We’re tolerated… if we’re careful.”
It’s not exactly new to have metaphorical representations of real-world issues in supernatural creatures, and it’s not even the first time we’ve seen this in the Discworld series. But there’s a sentiment here that rang horribly true for me as someone who is “tolerated” by society… right up until I’m not careful enough and intolerance rears its ugly head again. There’s a way I could tie this to the concept of passing, of presenting one’s self as an “acceptable” version of a person who is otherwise marginalized person. I’ve had to deal with that as a queer dude, as a Latinx person, as someone with mental illnesses… WHEW, THERE ARE SO MANY PARALLELS, Y’ALL. Even here, that’s Polly’s experience as a woman in a world where she’s seen as a lower person. She was tolerated, but only as long as she performed and behaved as she was told to.
But that never got anything accomplished, did it?
You know, I’m happy that Shufti rejected Johnny. I was confused why she would turn down so much money, but in the end, she gets what she wants: Johnny is listed as “deceased,” and perhaps one day, she’ll get the benefits that come with that. But she gets to demand the sixpence back that Johnny ran away with. It’s a nice little comeuppance, though I’m curious what Shufti is going to do next.
The truth is a funny thing, something de Worde is intimately aware of, and the end of this section was so damn good, y’all. He thought he was reporting the truth, but upon finding out that Jackrum’s troops were women, he has to admit that he got his own story wrong. And Polly still has to correct it! He writes the news through his own bias, which is why Polly is so bothered by what de Worde passes along from the general. This society still views her as less than others because she’s a woman. Her accomplishments are still good “for a woman,” and de Worde can’t see why that’s insulting.
But, as Polly notes, it’s a start. She cherishes the small victories because her country has to start somewhere. Like Shufti’s tiny victory, Polly has her own in Prince Heinrich, who she knocks down a bit mentally just by miming the start of a kick. It’s a nice reminder of what she did before and how, even though he’s a prince, Heinrich still suffered his most humiliating moment at the hands—or rather, feet—of someone he sees as beneath him.
And sometimes, those little moments are everything.
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