Mark Reads ‘Going Postal’: Chapter 1, Part II

In the second half of the first chapter of Going Postal, I was not ready for this. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Discworld.

I love that I am now on to my thirty-third book in this series, and Pratchett STILL has surprises for me. The opening of this book is a shocker (though very in-character for Vetinari), but not just because the main character “dies.” That’s certainly an unexpected thing, but the very character of Moist von Lipwig feels so unlike the characters we’ve gotten before.

He is a pragmatist; he’s cynical; his view of humanity is not hopeful or kind, but a product of his self-interest. And while we don’t quite know what it was that he did to land in jail and get executed—I assume it has to do with the $150,000 he’s got hiding somewhere. But that’s the thing: that’s only part of a long, long line of fraud. Because Moist von Lipwig is a professional con man, and he has spent his entire life screwing people over. So, at the start of this, he isn’t exactly a likable character. I don’t think that is something to judge the value of a book, either, because I love unlikable characters. I like messiness and honesty and complexity. And Moist, after being saved by Vetinari, is still GLORIOUSLY messy. He doesn’t waste any time IMMEDIATELY betraying the second chance he’s given.

Of course, the question of WHY hangs over all of this. Why the hell does Lord Vetinari believe that of all people, professional conman and thief Moist von Lipwig is the best person for refurbishing the Ankh-Morpork post office? I mentioned on video that I didn’t even know there was postal service in the city, at least not in an organized sense. Now, Vetinari is usually ahead of the curve in terms of how Ankh-Morpork changes, so there’s likely a very important reason why this needs to happen now. Thus, it’s not a stretch that there’s some value he sees in Moist that he wants to be applied in this specific instance. 

But a post office? Wouldn’t you want someone trustworthy? Honest? Deeply organized? Appreciative of the civic value of the postal service? Instead, this is who he chose?

“Er… when you… sentenced … Alfred Spangler—”

“Well done. Do carry on.”

“—you said he was a natural-born criminal, a fraudster by vocation, a habitual liar, a perverted genius, and totally untrustworthy!”

There’s something there, right? There’s got to be!

But Pratchett doesn’t make this easy. After being saved from a hanging, Moist is offered a job, set free, told to be at the Post Office in ten minutes to meet his parole officer, and he… well. I guess I’m not surprised, given what little I know about him? Because he flees. And why wouldn’t he? Here’s a man who has always run away from his problems, who has used his plainness as a person to blend in, who charms people out of their belongings and money, who knows how to escape better than anyone else. (Though perhaps he’d find some kinship in Rincewind, who is also rather thrilled about the idea of just running away.) Running away is second nature. Running away makes sense. Running away is far more comfortable than staying, and I got the sense that Moist has never, ever held himself accountable for anything he’s ever done. Hell, even as he approached the gallows, he still thought he’d be saved, that he’d be able to dodge that consequence as well! 

Well, Moist gets a wake-up call in the town of Hapley, and it’s both literal and figurative, and it comes from Mr. Pump, his parole officer. WHO IS A GOLEM. (And I must say it’s really cool that Pratchett has Vetinari firmly scold Moist more than once about Mr. Pump’s pronouns!) It’s such a funny scene both in its absurdity—the reader and Moist don’t know who is chasing them, who clamped his horse, how he was found—and because it’s weirdly satisfying. Oh, you thought you could get away from Lord Vetinari? Sir. SIR. That just doesn’t happen. Vetinari only lets people escape, and that is ultimately part of his plan, too. 

I have a theory about that, though. I think there’s a chance that Mr. Pump can’t actually harm Moist, but rather, Vetinari and Mr. Pump are just leveraging the potential of harm. It’s possible that Vetinari has changed the rules and used a scroll to grant Mr. Pump the moral permission to hurt Moist as needed, but I suspect it isn’t actually gonna happen. 

So this is Moist’s choice: he can remain in Ankh-Morpork and take the opportunity given to him by Lord Vetinari, or he can choose Mr. Pump, an eternal chase across the Disc that Mr. Pump will never tire from. The better option seems obvious to me, but I still can’t figure out why Moist is so suited for this!

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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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