Mark Reads ‘Thud!’: Part 17

In the seventeenth part of Thud!, Vimes gets the truth from Helmclever. At least, most of it, that is. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Discworld. 

This book continues to be Absolutely Too Much, and I’m blown away by it AND how much more of it is left. Y’all, Vimes is absolutely going to Koom Valley, isn’t he???

A Night on the Town

I love that Angua has aggressively refused to bond with Sally, and then her actions tell a completely different story. It’s nice that these four women are all hanging out, though I’m curious where Pratchett is going with this whole interrogation of Tawneee. I’m not sure at all! I get the phenomenons he is talking about: I have certainly met “pretty” people who are wholly unaware of just how attractive they are. But what’s the point of all of this? I’m still going to be excited about the prospect of all four of these characters bonding, but is this leading to them all accepting Nobby’s relationship with Tawneee? And maybe there’s no real message at work here; that’s always possible! 

The Interview

Y’all, this was INCREDIBLE. Pratchett manages to pack in exposition for a long-standing mystery into a story that’s heavily character-focused (for Helmclever, that is) and invokes a terrifying mythology in the process. HOW DOES ALL OF THIS HAPPEN AT THE SAME TIME??? 

So yes, this is a lot, which is the understatement of all understatements. Pratchett takes so many threads and ties them together in this sequence alone, and he starts with the game of Thud, the very one we saw as having affected dwarfs and trolls so significantly that it almost casts a spell over them while they play it. So that’s what Vimes uses to get Helmclever to do something automatic, something that is like instinct to him, and that way, Helmclever can be within something familiar. Once that happens, he starts talking, and OH LORD, DOES HE EVER REVEAL PRACTICALLY EVERYTHING I NEEDED TO KNOW.

Now, I’d figured out some of this, but I don’t want to be smug about what Helmclever says. To use the puzzle metaphor: I had a vague image in mind as I was assembling this, but Vimes’s interrogation provided the framework I was missing the whole time. It’s true that dwarfs were hired to find one of the mythical Devices that can capture a voice and store it for… well, for pretty much forever. They were managed by so called “dark soldiers,” who I assume are deep-down dwarfs, too? Anyway, the deep-down dwarfs came to Ankh-Morpork specifically because a clue in the Codex led them to believe a vital cube had been discarded in the city, and they knew it was important that they get it. I assume as well that the Codex said it was a cube with B’hrian Bloodaxe’s voice on it? Or had clues as to who was on it? 

Look, I could go over and over these clues, many of which now make so much more sense, but I can’t ignore that in the end, it all leads back to Koom Valley. B’hrian Bloodaxe commanded the dwarf army there; the deep-down dwarfs are obsessed with the mythology surrounding that day; the anniversary of it brings up the bad blood between the trolls and the dwarfs. The order of events is now clear, too; the digger dwarfs found the cube, heard it, and Hamcrusher immediately ordered them killed so that they wouldn’t gossip. But then, whatever was on that cube was so offensive to him that he TRIED TO DESTROY IT, which would be the destruction of words to a dwarf, and then Hamcrusher was killed in the darkness and the ensuing chaos. And Brick witnessed the AFTERMATH of that. 

Okay, the point is that I am guessing there was something in that cube that defied Hamcrusher and the deep-downers. Something had to be so utterly fucking wrong to Hamcrusher that he would react as he did! I JUST CAN’T FIGURE OUT WHAT THAT IS. Like, it would have to a contradiction, maybe? Some sort of contradiction to the whole philosophy of the deep-down dwarfs???

HELP ME, I KNOW I’M CLOSE. I feel like that’s it, but I just don’t have the specific words. 

Within this, though, is the story of Helmclever’s guilt and confusion. As hopeful as Mr. Shine’s game cellar made me, there’s a bitter sentiment from Vimes in regards to what Helmclever has gone through. A storm may have stopped the battle, but doubt crept into Helmclever’s life, and it broke him. What’s sad about this is that he probably believed so wholly in what he had been told. And then, he witnessed what these people were willing to do to preserve their beliefs: murder. Five murders. Blaming the murders on a troll. Use the very club that Mr. Shine gave to Helmclever—a sign of empathy and unity!!!—to frame a troll for the crime. It’s just so sad, isn’t it?

Which is why as painful as this all is, as complicit as Helmclever was in this, I still felt awful when the Summoning Dark (or, rather, his belief in it) killed him. We get a glimpse of a dwarf who could have been someone else, who might have done something differently if he had been informed better, if he had been brave enough to stand up to the wrongness that he witnessed. The mythology of the symbols is a terrifying force here, and it’s because it’s all powered by belief. And what Helmclever did fueled that belief:

“…we could hear him hammering on the door with his fists, and I stood in the tunnel and listened to him die and I wished him dead so that the noise would stop, but, but, but when it did, it went on in my head, and I could, I could, I could have turned the wheel but I was afraid of the dark guards who have no souls, and because of that the darkness will take mine…”

So when the lights go out, when Vimes’s anger makes the candles extinguish, Pratchett writes what happens so that it’s easy to argue that the Summoning Dark is both literal and metaphorical. It’s belief, and Helmclever believed that he’d done something so heinous that he deserved his own fate, which is what he got. 

He’s going to Koom Valley. I just know it, y’all. He has to. The secret to all of this is there.

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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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