In the fifteenth part of Thud!, THIS WAS THE ABSOLUTE MOST. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Discworld.
Trigger Warning: For extended talk of bigotry and racism, and a brief mention of ableism around mental illness.
Oh my god. THIS IS SO MUCH WORSE THAN I THOUGHT IT WAS.
Y’all, this might be my favorite scene in the novel. (Well, it’s either that or Vimes uppercutting people to get to his son.) Mr. Shine is such an exquisitely designed character, and his role here is to provide a much-needed perspective on the racial/species conflict that’s been unfolding for centuries. Before we get to that, I’m interested in how folks read Miss Pointer and Miss Pointer. We were supposed to see her as someone with a personality disorder… I think? But it’s not really presented as a disorder as much as it is just who she is and she doesn’t really mind. It’s not my lane, so I thought I’d bring it up.
Anyway, let’s talk about Mr. Shine, who surprised me multiple times during this split. Y’all, he runs a GAMING CLUB. And what does he teach people to play? Thud. The game Helmclever plays is a giant social experience here, and Vimes, like me, is shocked that trolls, dwarfs, and humans all participate in it. And lest you think this is nothing, the text makes it very clear that this piece of media has literally changed the perceptions these various species have for one another. There’s a hint of this early on:
Occasionally, a couple of players would look up at each other, share a glance, and shake hands. Then one of them would go off to a new table.
It’s a subtle thing, and it’s largely unspoken. Plus, it’s not like the people participating in this are necessarily thinking consciously about what is happening. I wonder, then, if there’s something intentional in the fact that both Vimes and Mr. Shine note that most of the crowd is younger, too. Is that a commentary on how younger generations tend to me more tolerant, more open, less willing to cling to the ideals of the previous generation? Perhaps, or perhaps I’m just reading my own perception into this. Regardless, Mr. Shine is still fostering this experience for other people. He facilitates this game for a reason, and he positions himself as a de-facto leader because… well, he’s destined to be. I can’t believe I didn’t pick up on the clue that is his name, y’all!!! He is a PURE DIAMOND troll, able to regulate his heat, and now I understand why he seems to hide in the shadows. He has to.
So, after giving Vimes a shock, he hands over something else: some much-needed perspective:
“You really know very little about us, Mister Vimes. You see us down on the plains, shambling around, talkin’ like dis. You don’t know about the history chant, or the Long Dance, or stone music. You see the hunched troll dragging his club. That’s what the dwarfs did for us, long ago. They turned us, in your minds, into said, brainless monsters.”
WELL, I’M UNCOMFORTABLE. He’s not wrong, inasmuch as how much even Pratchett wrote them this way whenever he was writing from Vimes’s perspective. As I mentioned before, Vimes has not spent too much around trolls in comparison with the dwarfs, and his behavior and knowledge shows that. And look at his response to Mr. Shine saying this!
“Don’t look at me when you say that,” said Vimes. “Detritus is one of my best officers!”
Oh… oh, no. That is not a great response, especially not after Detritus just called you out for your double standard. And Pratchett isn’t just making this stuff out of the blue; he’s speaking to a very familiar thing that happens to groups who are maligned like this. They’re portrayed a specific way for a reason, from their work ethic, to their manner of speech, to their intelligence, when in actuality, most of this is stripped of context and meaning. (I do have some feelings on the way trolls speak in this series, but I need to think about it some more before I say anything.) Here, Mr. Shine lays the responsibility for that at the feet of the dwarfs, who poisoned the humans against them a long, long time ago.
So what does Mr. Shine do to combat that? Thud. In this game, the true winners are able to do something most people struggle with: empathize with the other side. The game is designed so that players have to think like dwarfs or like trolls in order to win with the opposing team. Because of this, Thud has had an odd but understand effect on the players: they’ve continued to learn more about the other culture outside of the game, certain that it will give them an advantage. What’s happening, then, is a genuine sense of cultural exchange, where parties from both sides are teaching customs and traditions to one another without theft or malice being at the heart of it. Y’all, this is my favorite bit here:
“None of these lads here were out getting fighting drunk last night. And thus we wear down mountains. Water dripping on stone, dissolving and removing. Changing the shape of the world, one drop of a time. Water dripping on a stone, Commander. Water flowing underground, bubbling up in unexpected places.”
I enjoyed this so much because it’s honest about the scope of this. The specter of racism and bigotry is so big that it’s a mountain, and you can’t change a mountain overnight. Instead, Mr. Shine speaks about this as a long, incremental shifting of opinions.
Y’ALL, I AM STILL SO STRESSED OUT BY THIS. We’ve seen Vimes handle assassins before as if they’re nothing more than a household fly, and that made this whole sequence NON-STOP TERROR. Of course, I can’t lie; knowing that both Young Sam and Sybil were targeted as well freaked me out. This attack was just so BRUTAL. Flamethrowers??? Are you serious?
I don’t even know what to say. Willikins’s street gang past paid off, and I’m guessing that’s why Pratchett hinted at it before. Or maybe he finally figured out a way to bring it up again? Regardless: AN ICE KNIFE. AN ICE KNIFE. Oh my god, Willikins took out two dwarfs by himself after THREE of them dug into the Vimes/Ramkin residence, and THEN THE THIRD ONE. That whole bit with the stairs…. whew. Re-reading it now for the review, I just wanna state that the writing for this is stellar. Terrifying. There’s a momentum and rhythm to the construction of the sentences, and it implies such a terrible frenzy, you know?
AND THEN SYBIL. Oh my god, the dwarfs really didn’t think through the whole fire thing, did they? They tried to kill Sybil in a manner that she was uniquely prepared for. CAN WE ALL TALK ABOUT THIS PART:
Their nostrils were flaring. They were breathing in.
They’d been challenged. They’d been offended. And they’d just had their supper.
“Good boys,” said Sybil, from the floor.
Twenty-six streams of answering dragon fire rose to the occasion. Vimes, lying on the floor so that his body shielded Young Sam, felt the hairs crisp on the back of his neck.
WHAT IS WRONG WITH THIS BOOK.
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