Mark Reads ‘Thud!’: Part 2

In the second part of Thud!, the anniversary of the contentious Koom Valley battle looms over Ankh-Morpork. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Discworld. 

Trigger Warning: For extensive talk of racism, violence. 

Oh, NO. 

This is perhaps the quickest that dread has settled over a Discworld book, though I’m reminded of the opening of Night Watch in the opening pages of this book. For a while now, Pratchett has detailed the struggles and successes of Ankh-Morpork’s growth as an urban center of the Disc. So th is is already a fitting follow to Going Postal, which provided us an understanding of how golems continued to seek out their own place within the greater society. They were still met with violence, hatred, and prejudice. So what of the dwarfs and trolls, who have now long been a part of the city? 

Pratchett, of course, complicates matters because there is a greater conflict between those two species that’s been around for seemingly forever, so it’s not just an issue of assimilation and cultural specificity. And I want to be careful about talking of this because I’m not quite sure yet what sort of tradition Pratchett is writing in. Throughout this series, “species” has often been equated with “race.” My hope is that there’s not a false equivalency later in Thud!, that these species are meant to represent actual racial groups. That would be particularly troubling once you consider that these fictional races are all immigrants to Ankh-Morpork. And while there certainly are ethnic conflicts that exist throughout Roundworld’s history, I worry about the implications of this metaphor. 

But at this point, I don’t know what, if anything, is analogous here in terms of Pratchett’s intent, so I’m going to just keep this in mind as I read. As it stands now, this book places the troll/dwarf conflict on center stage, and the threat of greater violence is everywhere. The murder at the open of the book is absolutely why both Fred and Angua sense that something else is happening with the dwarfs, and with this sort of entrenched prejudice in these two cultures at work, it feels inevitable: the dwarfs are going to retaliate for the murder of one of their own. But did a troll actually do it? A troll “saw” the murder, but this is a Discworld book. Something is going to be subverted or flipped around here! 

Even before we get to this, though, there’s Mr. Pessimal. I feel like as is usually the case with Pratchett, this is a trope that’s being invoked specifically because it’s not going to turn out like I expect. At least here in America, the role of the “government” inspector, particularly one who interacts with a law enforcement agency, is meant to be seen as a nuisance. They’re preventing the good and dutiful officers from doing their jobs! Not only that, but all these damn rules are making it so hard for the agents to stop real crimes, and if only they were able to do whatever they wanted, they could truly be the best police officers possible! At the very least, Mr. Pessimal is annoying, and I can already tell that Vimes is not going to have it easy. But I’m also willing to see why Pratchett is doing this. Why at this time? How will this subplot intersect with the Koom Valley Day conflict?

Speaking of that, I’ll repeat what I said on video: COULD I PLEASE NOT READ SOMETHING WRONG YEARS AGO THAT IS UNFORTUNATELY RELEVANT TO 2018. It’s been surreal enough with Babylon 5 talking about war and fascism, or Going Postal’s incredible commentary on public services and libertarians/capitalists. But now we’ve got Grag Hamcrusher, and THIS IS TOO FUCKING REAL. I’m just gonna quote this part first:

They were “grags.” Vimes knew just enough dwarfish to know that “grag” meant “renowned master of dwarfish lore,” but Hamcrusher had mastered it in his own special way. He preached the superiority of dwarf over troll, and that the duty of every dwarf was to follow in the footsteps of their forefathers and remove trollkind from the face of the world.

Why is it that I can read this and my brain goes, “Oh, wow, this is such a perfect commentary on the current crop of white supremacists and neo-Nazis we’ve got all over the world,” and then my soul immediately leaves my body because this is not what Pratchett intended at all and we know that because it is IMPOSSIBLE, and yet! And yet here we are!!!!! But oh, this book is not done with me or us or this fucked up, terrible world because:

Young dwarfs listened to him, because he talked about history and destiny and all the other words that always got trotted out to put a gloss on slaughter.

Now, I know what Pratchett was doing: completely nailing how it is that radical extremists recruit men to join their ranks. It’s not that he could predict the future; it’s that he knew how this shit happened because it almost always unfolds in the same way. Still, look at this! It’s 2018, and this book is painfully relevant to the wave of young white men who have been told about their history and destiny as white men.

THIS BOOK IS GONNA FUCK ME UP, I KNOW IT.

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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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