In the first part of Thud!, Vimes is tasked with a new hire that is proving to be controversial. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Discworld.
Trigger Warning: For extensive discussion of various oppression, including racism, xenophobia, and homophobia
HI, THIS BOOK WASTES NO TIME, RIGHT? Welcome, friends, to my 34th Discworld book, and I’m realizing we are firmly in the realm of the longest-running series for my site. (I think we passed that around book 29 or 30!) It’s such a goddamn treat to see these books grow and change, and it’s with that in mind that I’m eager to see what Pratchett does with another Watch book. Thud! opens with a thud, with a murder, and with a conflict that’s been brewing for… wow. A long time. It is not surprising that the conflict between the dwarfs and the trolls has been a part of the Discworld series for ages, and even here, Pratchett reminds us through the epigraphs that there is an animosity present between the two species that reaches back through the centuries.
But from that point, we’re given a portrait of chaos and uncertainty. The news that Vimes is entertaining the Watch’s first vampire hire has leaked, and it has not gone over well with portions of the city. Those portions are almost entirely human, and thus, Pratchett manages to nail a generalized metaphor for being a minority. The vampires are a literal minority, but since they’re also from Uberwald, there’s an undeniable aspect of xenophobia mixed up in all of this, one that even Vimes himself perpetuates in various ways. Granted, it’s not a strict parallel, and I don’t think Pratchett intended it to be. Vimes has very specific thoughts on vampires! Which he shares frequently! But within this section, dwarfs have thoughts on trolls. And there’s this combination of experience with prejudice, and I’m fascinated with how this is going to be addressed. Even the first Epigraph suggests that the dwarf origin story didn’t originally have anything against trolls in it, since it was added later. (THAT’S A VERY REAL THING THAT HAS HAPPENED SO MANY TIMES IN OUR WORLD.) So, why are these characters biased against others? Why do they believe they are justified in their feelings on other species, and will this book challenge these thoughts?
It basically does right off the bat with Vimes, who is faced with the reality of the protests against the vampire hire (vamhire?) once Otto Chriek arrives to take photos of it for the Times. This is absolutely the quickest a Discworld book has gotten to sadness, y’all, and I think a lot of us can recognize what Otto goes through. I’ve grown up in a world in which people protest my existence fairly regularly. It’s just a tragic reality of humanity, you know? (And like so many things I am reading and watching lately, it’s far too relevant.) But out of everything here, I was drawn to this bit:
He looked funny, a joke, a music-hall vampire. It had never previously occurred to Vimes that, just possibly, the joke was on other people. Make them laugh, and they’re not afraid.
I spoke on video about a recent conversation I had with another queer author, and we both commiserated the ways in which we have to make ourselves—our bodies, our politics, our love lives, our sexuality—palatable to others. Constantly. And it’s something that’s been grating on me because I never know when I step into a room at one of these festivals or conferences if I’m going to be treated like a human. And don’t even get me started on the way I’m often fetishized or tokenized for being Latinx in these spaces. There’s a sense that as long as I have no thorny edges, that as I long as I don’t challenge the status quo, I am finally tolerated. Which is not something I’m interested in, generally speaking, but there’s still that split-second when I’m in a room with strangers and have to decide whether or not I’m going to be a joke to people or whether I get to be myself.
So how is this going to play out with Sally? Vimes is, as I said, very open with his great dislike of vampires. Pratchett doesn’t hide this part at all! He literally refuses to shake hands with a vampire. His internal monologue is a lot harsher than I expected. He speaks to the vampire representatives in Vetinari’s office with a barely-controlled anger, you know? He doesn’t want there to be a vampire in the Watch, and if he hadn’t fallen for the way that John Smith “trapped” him, I bet Vimes would not have entertained a vampire Watch member for as long as he could.
But what about Doreen??? See, I thought I knew how this was unfolding, but Doreen isn’t a vampire? She’s just a human married to one who thinks that looking and behaving like one is… what? Why does she do that? I WANT TO KNOW A MILLION THINGS ABOUT HER, Y’ALL. How will she fit into the greater themes of the novel?
And I have the same question about Angua, who is a different side to this story. There’s been a violent relationship between werewolves and vampires in Uberwald, and Angua spends her scene in this opening section trying to resist her natural reaction to a vampire. She’s trying, admittedly, but her reaction to Sally is very, very different to Vimes. Hell, it’s not the same to the dwarf/troll conflict either. Is she going to remain just as uncomfortable if Sally becomes a member of the Watch? Because at this point, I don’t see how Vimes could deny her the opportunity, you know? She is eager and qualified!
This is THE FIRST SECTION. There’s already so much going on!
Mark Links Stuff