In the sixteenth part of Thud!, Vimes reckons with the attack on his family. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Discworld.
Trigger Warning: For extensive talk of neo-fascism and neo-Nazism, general talk of bigotry, police brutality.
Holy shit. This is… I’m blown away.
I know it’s weird to talk about this in a modern perspective, and there’s often a dissonance between a work that was produced years before it’s dissected. It’s something that is sometimes hard to ignore, but I find it meaningful when the opposite happens. There’s a joy in experiencing a story that rings true long after it was completed. And while there hasn’t been that much time passed since Thud! came out, it’s undeniable at this point that there’s a huge part of this novel that fits neatly into the narrative of 2018. Not intended—because who REALLY writes a book about racial tension, xenophobia, and complicity and hopes it’ll still be happening years later!!!!—and yet still a thrilling element of the story.
WHEW LET’S TALK.
What Talks Underground?
I am not fully sure exactly how much of this was hinted at before beyond what Vimes saw in the Treacle Street mine, and even if that was the only mention of these Devices, I’m not surprised I only barely remembered them. So… what the fuck? I am on the same page as Vimes here, and trying to figure out how this plays into everything is frustrating. I’ve accepted that this is what the deep-down dwarfs were looking for. But why? What was in this cube that was so specifically what they needed? It’s gotta be connected to Rascal’s painting, but did it inspire the painting, or is it the clue that Rascal put into the painting? Ugh, what if I am also making the wrong assumption here??? Y’all, I know you’re laughing at me, but I still feel like I’m missing so many parts to this!!! What could this Device possibly say that would inspire dwarfs to murder their own?
I… ship it? Oh no, once Angua made that bondage joke, I was DONE. This has all the makings of enemies-to-lovers, one of my favorite tropes in the world, and I know it’s not actually going to happen, but… oh. No. STOP ME.
Anyway, I’ll repeat what I said on video because it’s such a neat thing Pratchett is doing here. Now that the game of Thud has been spelled out for me, I can see how Angua and Sally are, more or less, playing a version of it themselves. Both of them are in a situation that is requiring them to think of things in terms of the other person’s experience. It may seem simplistic—like a board game would on the surface—but the look at how the conversation unfolds in the Watch house’s shower. Their exchange is so raw and honest, and I know that’s partially because Sally is so forward. She has to be, though, because she sense that a bunch of uncomfortable things left unsaid are going to sour things between them. Like, she straight-up states that she knows that Angua thinks she is trying to impress Carrot, and it leads to this incredible exchange:
“Stay out of people’s hearts,” she growled.
“I can’t. You can’t switch off your nose, can you? Can you?”
The moment of the wolf had passed. Angua relaxed a little. His heart beat faster, did it?
“No,” she said. “I can’t.”
And in this instance, even if Angua is fighting it the whole time, Angua has the tiniest epiphany about Sally. Pratchett makes it clear that these two don’t share specific experiences, and this conversation gives us some examples. But there is a larger, more general experience that they do share, and there’s something to appreciate about that. I feel like Sally is more willing to bridge the gaps between them at this point—the invitation to go drink is a sign of that—but I think Angua is coming around, too.
Well, this was a pleasant turn of events! Foreshadowed by Vimes’s frustration with his seemingly endless workload, as well as the Gooseberry subplot, Pessimal has found his way into the Watch: as Vimes’s adjutant. Here’s a man who has an intense attention to detail, who does care about the rules, and who can assist Vimes in a very efficient manner. IT’S PERFECT, ISN’T IT.
A Whirlwind of Wrath
There are two things at work in the final scene of this split: an incredible commentary on complicity, and an incredible commentary on one of the reasons police brutality still exists. Pratchett weaves them together within Vimes’s righteous anger, but he does not leave out power. Vimes has a power that others do not as a member of the Watch and he nearly uses it; the dwarfs within Ankh-Morpork’s mine had a power they did not utilize, but they should have. And I’ll start with the latter because this section destroyed me:
Did you dare deplore what Hamcrusher said, all that bile and ancient lies? Or did you say, “Well, I don’t agree with him, of course, but he’s got a point”? Did you say, “Oh, he goes too far, but it’s time somebody said it”?
And he’s not wrong here! We’ve literally watched the rise of so many right-wing, fascist, and neo-Nazi organizations and movements happen because so many people casually agreed with them; because so many people still gave them a platform and assumed that we could defeat them in the mythical marketplace of ideas. When you don’t challenge shit like this, it makes the people saying it and believing it and perpetrating it think it’s okay. So, on this level, Vimes’s rage is spot-on; Pratchett never makes it seem like it’s silly that Vimes is as angry about what just happened to him. It’s intensely understandable! Who wouldn’t be furious with this group???
Thus, Pratchett sets up the next chilling moment. Vimes is basically waiting for any tiny moment in which he can unleash his full fury on these dwarfs, many of whom might very well have been complicit in the rise of the deep-down dwarfs and their movement. And lord, Vimes gets REALLY close to that moment, and I honestly braced myself for it. It seemed so inevitable! Plus, Vimes was dropping shit like THIS on the reader:
You could have stopped them, that’s how you could have helped. Don’t give me those somber faces. Maybe you didn’t say “yes” but you sure as hell didn’t say “no!” loud enough.
HI, EVERYTHING IS SO UNCOMFORTABLE. This is so powerful!!! And as Vimes lets one sarcastic and angry line after another slip out of his mouth, it’s a newcomer—Bashful Bashfullson—who delivers the next powerful moment:
“I don’t habitually beat up prisoners, if that’s what you’re suggesting,” said Vimes.
“And I am sure you would not wish to do so tonight.”
With just ONE SENTENCE, Bashfullson recognizes Vimes’s anger, does not criticize him for feeling it, but reminds him just how close he is to acting on it. Lord, y’all:
Beating people up in little rooms… he knew where that led. And if you did it for a good reason, you’d do it for a bad one. You couldn’t say “we’re the good guys” and do bad-guy things. Sometimes the watching watchman inside every good copper’s head could use an extra pair of eyes.
There’s a lot that’s astounding to me there, but I can’t help but note how quickly Vimes comes to this conclusion when it is so goddamn hard for American members of law enforcement—in whatever branch they might be in—to say the same thing. And it’s one of the many contributors to the persistence of police brutality in my country: a refusal to admit that even if you intend to be a good cop, you might be tempted to use your power to do something very, very bad. I believe that there’s a connection here to the continued narrative of the “good cop” that’s thrown around once you ever bring up police brutality. And I think it ties back to what Vimes thought earlier! Maybe a cop didn’t agree to or participate in an act of brutality, but what did you do to stop it? Anything at all?
I know I’ve mentioned before that I have a complicated relationship with stories about law enforcement, but shit like this makes a world of different to people like me who have experienced police brutality. It may seem like drops of water on a mountain, but it’s an ocean to me.
One more thing:
“They killed my son,” said Ironcrust.
There are just SO MANY devastating sentences in this section, and with this one, the price paid by these dwarfs is made clear. Ironcrust’s son didn’t know what he was getting involved in, and I’d argue that he wasn’t knowingly complicit in anything; rather, he was exploited, and these terrible deep-down dwarfs used his eagerness and then disposed of him as soon as they could.
THIS BOOK IS SO MUCH.
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