Mark Reads ‘Unseen Academicals’: Part 1

In the first part of Unseen Academicals, there’s a scraping of pottery, a big-ass candle, and the Megapode. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Discworld. 

Here we are, friends, at the start of Discworld book #37, and that sentence is a DELIGHT to type. Thirty-seven! That’s so many books!!! Remember when I wouldn’t do something more than like a trilogy on Mark Reads??? GLAD I CHANGED THAT RULE. 

I am guessing purely from the title and the one scene in this opener that Unseen Academicals is a book about the Wizards? As is usually the case with a Discworld book, I’m given very little to go on. Actually, wait, that’s not true. In hindsight, I’m sure I’ll realize that there was a TON of information in these two scenes, but right now? I don’t get the scene at the Royal Art Museum, I don’t know if the Emperor matters, and what the hell is a Megapode???

More on that later.

Rudolph Scattering

I’m not sure we’ll see Rudolph again, but I enjoyed that this character served as both a set-up for a punchline and a whole person. In a very small space within the text, we get a sense for who Rudolph is and how he’s almost drifted through life, trying to make a living while also being immensely afraid of literally everything. The joke, of course, is that his job puts him into a position of being frightened because… well, he’s basically a security guard. And there’s a tiny detail at the beginning that I caught, which is that Rudolph was a new employee, meaning he probably came from somewhere else. And given that he moves on to a new job, lasts three days, and then moves on again, I feel like this is his whole life. Something at every job spooks him. 

As for what happens in the museum? I have not a single guess. I thought initially that the sound of scraping pottery was because someone was stealing art, but then the slow-motion explosion makes no sense to me. Neither does this:

But he never told anyone about the gloriously glittering lady holding a large ball over her head who smiled at him before she vanished.

I don’t recall ever meeting a Discworld character like this before. What the HELL?

Lectrology

After Rudoloph’s scene, there’s a section about the study of the bed. That is not an exaggeration, and I have no idea what the importance is of all of this. Are these characters we’ll see later in the book? Mr. Nutt appears in GREAT detail as he PROFESSIONALLY TROLLS Smeems, but what about Trevor Likely, Glenda, and Juliet Stollop? Perhaps? Even if they don’t, one thing I gleamed from this was that each of these descriptions really did give me a sense for who these people are. If you told me that a person could sleep anywhere, that’s a character trait. At least to me! Glenda’s bed seemed comfortable, like it was her safe space from the world. Juliet’s bed tells a whole damn story. And Mr. Nutt… well, let’s get deeper into that.

Nutt and Smeems

Hi, I’m real into the comedic dynamic between these two, especially since it seems like Nutt is always willing to push the boundaries of what is acceptable to say to the Candle Knave, named Smeems. Smeems takes his job VERY seriously, and while that’s also used for comedic affect, I realized how much his job actually reveals an important detail about Unseen University: that place is DARK AS HELL. Of course it is!!! It’s a huge building with almost no windows, so how else is the place going to stay lit? It makes a ton of sense that someone like Smeems has worked in the university all these years.

As for the Emperor—the mega-candle that has never gone out (but has gone out but we don’t talk about it going out)—that’s just… tradition? It’s kinda a cool tradition, though carving out a space within the castle itself so that the Emperor could grow to THIRTY-EIGHT FEET is certainly a commitment to the tradition. But I’m guessing that this is one aspect we’re meant to focus on: What traditions are there at Unseen University? What practices or rituals have stood the test of time, have been passed on from one generation to the next? It’s interesting that Smeems cares deeply about the Emperor, but seems uninterested in any other tradition around the place. That’s his thing, the act that makes him feel like he’s a part of the school.

Ho, the Megapode!

And then there’s the creature. Which might not be a creature at all, but a bunch of wizards dressed up as… well, whatever a Megapode is. I recall hearing this phrase countless times at the most recent Discworld convention in Warwick. I believe Rob Wilkins called it out during opening ceremonies! And I certainly recall being REALLY FUCKING CONFUSED because I didn’t know if it was a Discworld in-universe joke or a fandom thing that developed outside the books themselves or something entirely different. I just smiled and nodded, and I’m mostly doing that now, because WHAT IS THE CHASE OF THE MEGAPODE. Smeems says it is “part of one of the gentlemen’s magically essential magical activities,” that it is “vital to the proper running of the world.” Maybe it’s a bit meta. Maybe it makes the wizards feel like they’re part of something bigger than themselves! That’s the beauty of ritual, and I’m interested to see if the Megapode will come up again. 

Actually, not just that. Nutt is really funny, but there’s something hiding there: Why is he really good at math? And why did Pratchett make a point of making sure we saw that?

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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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