In the twenty-second and penultimate part of Thud!, we learn what is on the cube that started this whole nightmare. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Discworld.
Trigger Warning: For discussion of racism, xenophobia, anti-Semitism, fascism.
HOLY SHIT THIS IS A LOT. I had said before that I figured that whatever was on the cube involved a contradiction of sorts to the deep-downers’ beliefs, but this is so much more than that??? Oh god, there’s so much that happened here. Let’s talk!
“It works through living creatures, especially ones it finds… amenable. It found you, Commander, a cauldron of anger, and in small, subtle ways it saw that you got it to this place.”
HI, I MISSED JUST HOW EARLY THIS WAS PLANTED INTO THE STORY. Admittedly, I completely forgot about the nail on the door, and thinking back on those early sections, Vimes was a “cauldron of anger” long before the dwarf attack on his home. He was pissed at the growing antagonism between the dwarfs and the trolls, he was furious that this murder was being “hid” from him, and he was angry that he had to do any of this in the first place. Y’all, he was so primed for this entity to influence him, which now makes me want to re-read this one immediately, too, because HOW MANY SCENES WAS THE SUMMONING DARK PUSHING HIM TO DO OR THINK THINGS.
I did appreciate that once Vimes starts to reckon with this, he experiences guilt, particularly about Helmclever’s death. But now I understand the real importance of having Bashfullson in that scene to make sure Vimes did not harm Helmclever. He was a witness to the fact that Vimes never touched the dwarf, and thus, it really wasn’t Vimes’s fault that he died. Helmclever’s own guilt and fear did him in:
“What reason did he have to feel guilty?”
“Every reason, for a dwarf. That mine bore down so heavily on him.”
Well, that’s an intense exchange, isn’t it? Pratchett says so much with so little!
“Well, as a grag, my first resort, of course, is to my voice,” said the grag. “The axe is nothing without the hand, and the hand is nothing without the mind. I’ve trained myself to think about axes.”
HI, HELP, LOOK AT THAT FORESHADOWING.
“You let them shackle you?” He said.
“Well, it seemed to be gettin’ all poll-itical, Mister Vimes,” said Detritus. “But say der word and me an’ Brick can have ‘em off, no trouble.”
I just… love Detritus a lot? Granted, he didn’t have the Summoning Dark pushing him to do anything, but I appreciate how he was able to recognize the delicate nature of this situation. He remains one of the most thoughtful characters in the Watch books, and this act—plus his adoption of Brick—are a sign of how much he tries to be a force for goodness. HE’S SO LOYAL, I WANT TO BE HIS BEST FRIEND.
On the soft underskin of Vimes’s wrist, the sign of the Summoning Dark blazed as a livid scar.
WELL. So much for everything just being “mystical” for Vimes. As I said on video, I thought it was darkly funny that he’d done all these mental gymnastics in order to accept what had happened to him without having to accept that something had “possessed” his body. And then… well, this. A very physical sign! So, have fun, Vimes? That thing is gonna intimidate every dwarf he meets from now on, right?
So, I want to jump ahead to the cube. I liked the bits where we found out who nabbed it during the chaos and the back-and-forth about what word or sound might open it. But I was so eager to know the truth: What could possibly be so dangerous as to inspire the deep-down dwarfs to go against their own code? There’s a hint of it in the opening, which mirrors the text of the Epigraph for this book, right up until it doesn’t mirror that story. The change in Tak’s story was a big thing, sure, but it didn’t seem like enough. Would the deep-downers really flip out over that? Yes, it’s significant that Tak’s story showed that Tak “delighted in the life that came unbidden” when creating a troll. Yet the big twist was coming, and OH MY GODS.
“‘This outcome was not meant! We came to sign a treaty! It was the secret careful work of many years!’”
Even before I found out the rest of what was said on the cube, I knew then exactly why this was so dangerous. The deep-downers believed that they were destined to hate the trolls forever, that their bigotry was written into their history, that it was such an undeniable fact that the very existence of these words was obviously, truly fake. Y’all, this one twist is perhaps the most tragically relevant bit in this entire book, and I can barely fathom how Terry Pratchett basically wrote about Fake News Conspirators all these years ago. Granted, as I read more about this peace treaty, about the mistaken battle where mist turned troll against troll, dwarf against dwarf, about how these trolls and dwarfs knew that they had to leave evidence that they wanted to live together peacefully, I thought about what Pratchett must have been thinking of as he crafted this. I’d like to dispel the possible notion that this is cheesy or unbelievable because, sad to say, deliberate hoaxes have been very much a part of the spread of bigoted movements worldwide for hundreds of years. I’m thinking of anti-Semitic works like the The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a hoax that has been used to justify anti-Semitism to this very day, or the Dreyfuss affair, or the way in which The Birth of a Nation helped to continue to grow the white supremacist movement in the United States and elsewhere, or the infiltration of left-wing and radical movements by the FBI and the CIA that used techniques like this to kill dissent. (Sometimes literally.) There have been people determined to destroy history that does not agree with their worldview all throughout the past, and Pratchett is totally working within that space here. Ardent was willing to destroy all those bodies in the cavern because he literally viewed them not as corroboration of what was on the cube, but as evidence that those who opposed or disagreed with them had fabricated an entire history. Which is so much more difficult than they are even willing to admit! Are you telling me that someone in Ankh-Morpork used that technology despite that no one could even figure out how to open the thing, and they planted in that well in order to… no, it’s way too fucking complicated!
The sad thing is that this doesn’t and cannot occur to the deep-downers. They’re so indoctrinated into this dogma that their belief system necessitates that they reject literally anything that contradicts them. A contradiction isn’t a chance to change one’s mind; it’s an attack. It’s designed to distract and insult the true believer, right? To these dwarfs, it is a moral imperative to fight against such ideas because they dilute the purity of dwarfs everywhere.
Which is why it is beautifully ironic that Ardent dies at the hands of a dwarf who so wholly believes in themself that they are able to kill as if they held an axe. It’s such a poetic moment, isn’t it? Bashfullson feels like he’s achieved a purity of dwarfness that doesn’t rely on bigotry and exclusion, which is exactly what Bloodaxe and Diamond wanted:
“‘For the enemy is not Troll, nor it is Dwarf, but it is the baleful, the malign, the cowardly, the vessels of hatred, those who do a bad thing and call it good.’”
Incredible. JUST INCREDIBLE. So… what the fuck did they find in the cave below the current cave???
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