In the fourteenth and final chapter of Going Postal, Moist offers deliverance. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Discworld.
Seriously, the Discworld books are getting better, aren’t they? This particular batch of books for me—I’d say from Feet of Clay on—have felt so different from that first third or so. Part of it is because there’s an element of social commentary here that we didn’t really see before, but I think what I’m starting to get the hang of is the way in which Ankh-Morpork and the Disc as a whole has progressed as well. These characters, these cultures, and these societies are changing. There are growing pains, of course, and we’ve seen the many cultural clashes unfold in the pages of multiple stories. Feet of Clay is a great example of that, and this book builds on the mythology and status of the golems in that book, too.
Going Postal is a book about progress and growth, both on a greater societal sense and a deeply personal one. By the time that epilogue hits, we get the circular narrative, the parallel story, but it’s important that Reacher Gilt rejects the chance at growth. He never had any interest in that. All he cared for was the growth of his bank account and his own ego. Where is there any glory in what Vetinari offers him?
Okay, I’m getting ahead of myself here (I HAVE SO MANY FEELINGS ABOUT THIS ENDING), but it’s hard not to. The end is the beginning is the rejection is the sign Moist needed to prove that he is absolutely not the same as Reacher Gilt. Granted, I think we all knew that, despite that he was a flawed and cruel character at times. But the struggle was an internal conflict for him. Could he believe what others said of him? Could he accept that he had done something good for other people, or was it all nothing more than a complicated con job? It was undeniably a con job, of course, and as someone who loves Leverage more than most things on the planet, I do like criminal acts being used to provide deliverance and justice. So, watching all of the men of the Grand Trunk panic over the slander that Moist invented and sent out on the clacks was deeply, DEEPLY satisfying. It’s PERFECT. All of them suddenly care about the letter of the law once things turn against them. And look how quickly all of these men fold once they think that they need to save their own asses!!! IT’S HILARIOUS BECAUSE VETINARI GIVES THEM HOPE AND THEN THROWS THEM ALL IN CELLS AND I SHALL CACKLE UNTIL THE END OF TIME.
Can I also state that it’s been a real long time since we’ve seen Vetinari angry? And that it’s terrifying???
Anyway, I want to focus on this bit, as I believe it’s super important to the general theme of the book:
It was one thing to put words in the mouths of the gods; priests did it all the time. But this, this was a step too far. You had to be some kind of bastard to think of something like this.
He relaxed a bit. A fine, upstanding citizen wouldn’t have stooped so low, but he hadn’t got this job because he was a fine, upstanding citizen. Some tasks needed a good, honest hammer. Others needed a twisty corkscrew.
With any luck, he could believe that, if he really tried.
Throughout this book, Pratchett has turned our focus onto the notion of good and evil and the massive, MASSIVE gray area that exists in between the two. I don’t think it’s exactly controversial to state that Moist was not a good person at the beginning of the novel. He was selfish, cruel, and believed himself superior to those around him. Yet Vetinari took a gamble in him, and I believe that the Patrician thought Moist was more than a tool to revitalize the Post Office. I think he knew exactly what sort of person Moist was deep down. (How would he know such a thing? I don’t need that spelled out; I just assume that Vetinari is the kind of person who is a frighteningly good judge of character. He’s shown a knack for it.)
But did he know that Moist would come to care so much for the people who work for the clacks? I really think that Going Postal is a giant love letter to civil servants, and so much of this book appreciates the people who work (often tirelessly and thanklessly) toward things that people can use, that make society flow smoothly. A part of me thinks that Moist developed this understanding because he appreciates the specificity that they all work with. The people of the clacks are experts at a growing technology. Moist is not necessarily an expert in any one thing; he just knows enough about a lot of things in order to defraud others. So maybe there’s a sense of appreciation here towards people who devote their lives to something specific.
But perhaps there’s guilt at work here. Pratchett did not ignore that Moist had victims, and he did not ignore that there was a lot of similarity between the protagonist of his novel and the antagonist. The Moist von Lipwig that we met as he was about to be hung would have never considered saving the clacks so that other people could benefit from it. I’ve said this in various ways or about different things, but I believe it’s important. I am hoping there are more Moist books, and I say that not just because I loved this one so much. Moist’s growth is not over. He has so much more to do and so much more to be. Here, he developed a form of empathy that he did not have before. Because of that, he was able to see the people of the clacks as being worthy and deserving of their jobs. There was no reason for him to deny them of that in order to take out Reacher Gilt.
And Vetinari appreciated that. Y’all, he complimented Moist. That one line—“Well done, Mr. Lipwig.”—carries so much goddamn weight. And it makes sense to me that a “tyrant” like Vetinari would appreciate how Moist used words, sympathy, and empathy to take down an actual Tyrant in Gilt. In the meantime, Moist will have his hands full, and it’s yet another reason why I hope we see him again. His internal struggle with identity and worth culminates in the big decision left to him: Does he run away from it all? Without Mr. Pump looking over him (HELP ME, THAT SCENE MADE ME CRY), Vetinari isn’t threatening Moist’s life. He could leave. But should he? Mr. Pump’s goodbye is part of Pratchett’s case that Moist should stay. Of note:
“I Am Not Certain What Happiness Is, Either, Mr. Lipvig, But I Think—Yes, I Think I Am Happy To Have Met You.”
It’s not long after this that Miss Maccalariat hoists up a banner thanking Moist, too. These people don’t know him at all, do they? At least, that’s what Moist believes: that he is a fraud to the core, that he fooled everyone, that he’s not worth one second of praise or adoration. HI, THIS IS A DEEPLY RELATABLE THEME, PLEASE BURY ME HERE. But that notion is so key to Moist’s development: He probably never believed he was worthy of knowing. He hid himself in countless identities, and he kept everyone an arm’s length away. It wasn’t until he returned to his actual name and stayed in one place that he began to discover that people actually liked him. That there was a whole person underneath that veneer of sarcasm and fraud and self-hatred.
“You’re fooling no one but yourself,” said Miss Dearheart, and reached for his hand.
I appreciate that Pratchett hints at the possibility of a further romance for Miss Dearheart and Moist, but that’s not what this ending is about. She is not a reward for him, and she is not the means by which he gets “better.” Oh, she helped, but so did Mr. Pump, and Stanley, and Mr. Groat, and Vetinari, and in his own twisted way, Gilt helped, too. Gilt was the mirror that Moist needed. He needed to see how fraud and conning affects other people, how victims are created and then demonized for even falling for a con in the first place, and how he probably looked to other people. Because I bet there are people who view Moist as the villain in their story!
So, initially (at least until I got to the epilogue), I believed that Gilt was going to get away with what he’d done. Like, LITERALLY get away. The Grand Trunk Company would surely be taken away from him, and he’d lost his fortune, and all his men were now in prison. But with even the slightest hint that Mr. Pump was assigned to go find Gilt, I figured that in the end, he couldn’t escape what he’d done. However, I absolutely did not assume that Vetinari would complete the cycle for this story. Because at the start of this, he offered a criminal who had committed a despicable crime a second chance. In that opportunity was a genuine need. In Moist’s case, the post office was in ruins, and the only means of communicating regularly with the world outside of Ankh-Morpork—the clacks—was in disrepair and management because of another criminal. Here, there’s a poetic justice in asking Gilt to repair the Royal Mint. He was responsible for nearly ruining a bank with his scheme!
In this, Pratchett also suggests a future, one that would be PERFECT for Moist, too. And I say that knowing Gilt’s fate, which… y’all, I’m still reeling from this ending. It’s such a huge fucking moment, but it is absolutely the proof anyone needed that Gilt and Moist are ultimately not the same person. At all. Because, when faced with a fairly similar future as Moist, Gilt chose to step out of Vetinari’s office to his death. He would rather die than help others. Granted, Moist had to learn the hard way, but he stayed. He stayed, and he changed Ankh-Morpork forever.
I’m still in awe at this book, which managed to be so explicitly political AND massively entertaining at the same time. That’s the dream, isn’t it? To have a book say something meaningful and substantial on a level like this, but it doesn’t distract from the story either. Pratchett does not pull any punches here in his condemnation of men like Gilt, and I can’t stop thinking about how the very design of these two main characters was so deliberate and vicious. Con men. They were con men because that’s what capitalists like Gilt are: utter fucking frauds. And Pratchett built this whole narrative around one man realizing he didn’t want to be like the other anymore, so he set out to destroy his opposite.
Oh, I really hope there’s another Moist book. THIS WAS SO GREAT. Onwards to book number 34: Thud!
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