In the fifth part of Thud!, Vimes travels to Treacle Street to confront the deep-downers. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Discworld.
Trigger Warning: For discussion of racism.
Oh, this is… still not what I think it is. There are new wrinkles with each section I read, and this time around, it’s that damn symbol. What the hell is that? Something the deep-downers use? For… something?
Okay, lemme back up, as there are a lot of things I wanted to talk about from this lengthy section. Let’s start with Sir Samuel Vimes, who brazenly does… a lot of things here. SO MANY THINGS. But I am glad there’s a willingness on Pratchett’s part to portray his thornier elements. I imagine it would have been easier to write him as just a good, uncomplicated person, though that wouldn’t have been as satisfying to write either. We literally met him in a gutter, so yeah, he’s come a long way. But despite that there are so many massive changes in his life, it still takes more work for him to change his thoughts, and that’s the case for all of us. It’s difficult challenging our knee-jerk reactions or our deep-seeded beliefs, but we’ve seen that happen with Vimes. So, let’s talk about one of his thoughts:
He liked dwarfs. They made reliable officers, and dwarfs tended to be naturally law-abiding, at least in the absence of alcohol.
My instant reaction is that this is a direct contrast to Vimes’s feelings on vampires, given that he’s so open about disliking them. Here, though, he offers a positive thought about another race, but it’s still… a bit of a mess? Because we shouldn’t be valuing people of another race or culture specifically because of what they can give other people. I’ll give an example, and it’s one I’ve heard about a hundred different variations on. Generally speaking, this is something I get from truly well-meaning white folks who are trying to communicate something that is admirable. And what they’ll say to me, often in response to news about immigration or xenophobia, is that they don’t understand why people have a problem with Mexicans coming across the border. (And this is a bit of a tangent, but it’s always “Mexicans.” A lot of folks mistakenly believe that all brown peoples who are immigrating or seeking asylum are all Mexican, and as someone of mixed Central American ancestry, this is… really infuriating. BUT FOR ANOTHER DAY.) Mexicans are such hard workers OR they cook such great food OR they provide x service that no one else wants to do.
And like… yes? They’re not really wrong? Except they’re wrong in the sense that these things should not be used to humanize people. We should respect people regardless of their national origin. So, it’s not the exact same issue here with Vimes, but I felt like Pratchett was touching on this notion here: as long as the dwarfs can provide Ankh-Morpork with a service, and as long as they don’t challenge him, they’re fine, and he likes them. Not the case with vampires, though, who he sees as an eternal nuisance and as incapable of actually providing anything for the Watch.
Of course, this is further complicated by the current conflict that’s unfolding within the city and within dwarf culture. The Fifth Elephant examined the problems with the fiercely conservative and restricting cultural norms present in dwarf society, particularly around gender and gender presentation. Here, that’s still an issue; we see it in the rigid enforcement of how women are supposed to present themselves within the deep-down dwarfs and in the refusal to let Angua within their premises. Vimes is… he’s very Vimes here, if that makes sense. He is clever about the way he manages to get inside Hamcrusher’s house, though I detected an edge to him that felt a bit more exaggerated than usual. I got a sense that he was more annoyed at the current predicament, but I don’t know if I was just reading more into it. Perhaps it’s because he IS quite stressed that this conflict made him miss another family portrait sitting. (I CAN’T WAIT TO SEE HIM WITH HIS FAMILY, IT’S BEEN TOO LONG.)
Regardless, like every Discworld book lately, I can tell there’s something brewing beneath the surface. (FUCK, I’M SORRY, I HAD TO, just kidding, not sorry at all, this can’t even approach the level of punnery and word play in this section ALONE.) I really do understand why the dwarfs are reluctant to let the humans see anything, and I also get why they don’t feel like the Watch has jurisdiction here. I’m interested to see if Pratchett is going to talk about the dwarfs feeling like they aren’t respected as part of this community, but I suspect not because of the fact that the deep-downers so openly refuse to assimilate. Which is their prerogative and right! I don’t think that any immigrant ever has to assimilate into the culture they move into.
From Vimes’s perspective, though, this is an issue of duty. This murder happened on Ankh-Morpork soil (In it??? Below it???), and therefore, it’s his job to investigate it. And once I start thinking about this, I am faced with one perplexing question: How the fuck did a troll get into Hamcrusher’s house to kill him? Everything we’ve seen in this section has shown us just how difficult it is to get anywhere in this home or the world of tunnels beneath it. Was Hamcrusher killed on ground level or down below? How did a troll get there undetected? Why would they leave their weapon behind? I DON’T GET IT! And it doesn’t help that Ardent, the only deep-downer who readily deals with matters aboveground, comes off as super suspicious. Something else is going on here!!! Why did they draw that symbol in spilled coffee?
And let’s talk about the… place. Fuck, I don’t even know what to call it. An old palace or temple? A giant cavern? Like Vimes, I am also impressed that the dwarfs constructed such a place so close to a massive body of water. (Though I imagine you could argue whether the river is actually composed of water anymore.) The vurms are also an incredible bit of worldbuilding, and just slightly creepy? They follow warmth because it might be a body they can eat. OKAY, HELP. But once down there, Vimes reveals a ton of information very rapidly. (And, not surprisingly, it never feels like an expository info dump; it’s just part of Vimes’s interrogation.) We find out why the Low King, who we met in The Fifth Elephant, is not as respected anymore. (I still can’t get over both the “undermining” and “he has seen the light” puns.) We also get a sense of just how strict the grags are about their beliefs, so much so that Pratchett draws very deliberate parallels to being “liberal” and “conservative” within the text itself. I know I said they refuse to assimilate earlier, but what we see in the text feels even more detailed than that. They don’t want to be poisoned by the world above, and that’s why there are so few deep-downers who even venture aboveground. The closer you are to the “light” of the world aboveground, the less likely you can be the right kind of dwarf. And Ardent had lots to say about Captain Carrot, who is accepted by dwarfs but is also not. Well, these dwarfs, that is. So, he can’t be the one to judge the truth of this crime either.
I guess I’ll end this with another question: why was there a nail in an iron door?
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