In the sixteenth part of Thud!, Vimes reckons with the attack on his family. Intrigued? Then itâ€™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… Iâ€™m blown away.Â
I know itâ€™s weird to talk about this in a modern perspective, and thereâ€™s often a dissonance between a work that was produced years before itâ€™s dissected. Itâ€™s something that is sometimes hard to ignore, but I find it meaningful when the opposite happens. Thereâ€™s a joy in experiencing a story that rings true long after it was completed. And while there hasnâ€™t been that much time passed since Thud! came out, itâ€™s undeniable at this point that thereâ€™s a huge part of this novel that fits neatly into the narrative of 2018. Not intendedâ€”because who REALLY writes a book about racial tension, xenophobia, and complicity and hopes itâ€™ll still be happening years later!!!!â€”and yet still a thrilling element of the story.Â
WHEW LETâ€™S TALK.Â
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, Iâ€™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. Iâ€™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? Itâ€™s gotta be connected to Rascalâ€™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??? Yâ€™all, I know youâ€™re laughing at me, but I still feel like Iâ€™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 itâ€™s not actually going to happen, but… oh. No. STOP ME.
Anyway, Iâ€™ll repeat what I said on video because itâ€™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 personâ€™s experience. It may seem simplisticâ€”like a board game would on the surfaceâ€”but the look at how the conversation unfolds in the Watch houseâ€™s shower. Their exchange is so raw and honest, and I know thatâ€™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:
â€œStay out of peopleâ€™s hearts,â€ she growled.
â€œI canâ€™t. You canâ€™t switch off your nose, can you? Can you?â€
The moment of the wolf had passed. Angua relaxed a little. His heart beat faster, did it?
â€œNo,â€ she said. â€œI canâ€™t.â€Â
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 donâ€™t share specific experiences, and this conversation gives us some examples. But there is a larger, more general experience that they do share, and thereâ€™s something to appreciate about that. I feel like Sally is more willing to bridge the gaps between them at this pointâ€”the invitation to go drink is a sign of thatâ€”but I think Angua is coming around, too.
Well, this was a pleasant turn of events! Foreshadowed by Vimesâ€™s frustration with his seemingly endless workload, as well as the Gooseberry subplot, Pessimal has found his way into the Watch: as Vimesâ€™s adjutant. Hereâ€™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. ITâ€™S PERFECT, ISNâ€™T IT.Â
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 Vimesâ€™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-Morporkâ€™s mine had a power they did not utilize, but they should have. And Iâ€™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, â€œWell, I donâ€™t agree with him, of course, but heâ€™s got a pointâ€? Did you say, â€œOh, he goes too far, but itâ€™s time somebody said itâ€?Â
And heâ€™s not wrong here! Weâ€™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 donâ€™t challenge shit like this, it makes the people saying it and believing it and perpetrating it think itâ€™s okay. So, on this level, Vimesâ€™s rage is spot-on; Pratchett never makes it seem like itâ€™s silly that Vimes is as angry about what just happened to him. Itâ€™s intensely understandable! Who wouldnâ€™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, thatâ€™s how you could have helped. Donâ€™t give me those somber faces. Maybe you didnâ€™t say â€œyesâ€ but you sure as hell didnâ€™t say â€œno!â€ 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, itâ€™s a newcomerâ€”Bashful Bashfullsonâ€”who delivers the next powerful moment:
â€œI donâ€™t habitually beat up prisoners, if thatâ€™s what youâ€™re suggesting,â€ said Vimes.
â€œAnd I am sure you would not wish to do so tonight.â€
With just ONE SENTENCE, Bashfullson recognizes Vimesâ€™s anger, does not criticize him for feeling it, but reminds him just how close he is to acting on it. Lord, yâ€™all:
Beating people up in little rooms… he knew where that led. And if you did it for a good reason, youâ€™d do it for a bad one. You couldnâ€™t say â€œweâ€™re the good guysâ€ and do bad-guy things. Sometimes the watching watchman inside every good copperâ€™s head could use an extra pair of eyes.Â
Thereâ€™s a lot thatâ€™s astounding to me there, but I canâ€™t help but note how quickly Vimes comes to this conclusion when it is so goddamn hard for American members of law enforcementâ€”in whatever branch they might be inâ€”to say the same thing. And itâ€™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 thereâ€™s a connection here to the continued narrative of the â€œgood copâ€ thatâ€™s thrown around once you ever bring up police brutality. And I think it ties back to what Vimes thought earlier! Maybe a cop didnâ€™t agree to or participate in an act of brutality, but what did you do to stop it? Anything at all?
I know Iâ€™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 itâ€™s an ocean to me.Â
One more thing:Â
â€œThey killed my son,â€ 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. Ironcrustâ€™s son didnâ€™t know what he was getting involved in, and Iâ€™d argue that he wasnâ€™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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