Mark Reads ‘Unseen Academicals’: Part 3

In the third part of Unseen Academicals, Ponder convinces the wizards, and Mr. Nutt struggles to fit in. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Discworld. 

Trigger Warning: For discussion of bigotry, racism, antisemitism.

Oh, this is so complicated ALREADY, and I’m so excited to see where this is gonna go. 

Convincing the Wizards

You know, it’s so damn simple, but I love that the ONE THING that convinces the wizards that they’re going to have to play football is a reduced budget for good. That’s literally it. And while that’s a joke that plays on a longstanding trope within the portrayal of the wizards—they’re like more chaotic hobbits—Pratchett hints at something that I’m guessing will play a larger role later on. 

Ponder Stibbons does everything, first of all. He seems like the only wizard aside from Ridcully who is willing to do things? Even then, he’s active in an entirely different way than Ridcully, and that’s the point I’m building to. Ponder points out later in this section that he more or less has TWELVE positions at UU, which is entirely absurd. Granted, it’s because he took over as the Master of The Traditions that it was discovered that they could have lost their access to the fund that the Bigger family provided. But is it fair that he has to do so much? No, not particularly, and it’s a small source of conflict here. 

It’s because of this that we learn that the Dean spoke to Ponder and tried to bring him to Brazeneck. (I’m still under the assumption that the Dean went there; even re-reading this now, that feels like what Pratchett wanted me to get from the text.) Why? Well, Brazeneck have offered Ponder an actual staff. Those twelve jobs? Well, it would probably be just one—as the Bursar—and Ponder could actually delegate some of his responsibilities. 

But I’m worried that this conflict is going to spill over into the football match. Look, Ridcully does not want to lose. At all. That’s entirely in-line with his character, and it doesn’t matter how talentless the other wizards are. But I see this as something that will also become a point of pride for Ridcully. He lost the Dean; is he really willing to lose a match against anyone at this point? And if he becomes obsessed with this, how the hell will he train the wizards to actually win?

Mr. Nutt

I can see how much of this comes from the right place, and indeed, there is so much in Mr. Nutt’s story that resonates with me. I’ll get to that in a second, but wanted to open by discussing this part:

‘I assure you, I bath regularly,’ he protested.

‘But you’re grey!’

“Well, some people are black and some people are white,’ said Nutt, almost in tears.

It’s actually a very sad moment for this character, and I feel like I understand what the intent was here. You’ve got grey as the middle ground for black and white, so there’s almost a pun here. And there IS a real racial microaggression within this, one I have been the victim of more times than I can count. I’ve been told I look dirty or that I haven’t showered before by BIGOTS, which is real funny to me because I am an obsessive shower-er. (Is that a word? It is now.) And so much of what Glenda says to Mr. Nutt involves vocalizing stereotypes to Nutt’s face, too, so I feel like that it’s a demonstration of how this sort of prejudice unfolds. 

The problem is that I would really, really recommend that you not tell a person of color any sort of phrase or compliment that involves fictional skin colors. I think this still falls into the problem of a text having metaphorical representations for racism without including any of us in the story itself. (I’d also say that, intentional or not, it could be triggering to read that line about goblins having horns, as that’s a pervasive antisemitic trope, and there isn’t representation of that group here, either.) Like, yes, some people are Black! But… where are they in the Discworld books? Why haven’t we seen a single one in ages?

That’s not to suggest that much of what happens here is without merit or truth. As I said, I found a lot of this to resonate with me and my experiences, and Pratchett is showing it from both sides. We spend a decent amount of time with Glenda and see things through her eyes, both in how she views Nutt and how she is protective of Juliet. And I truly like seeing this; she’s a new character, sure, but I’m intrigued thus far about what role she’s playing in this book. Is she here to protect the younger kids? How much of an influence is she going to have on Nutt’s life? Because even if she isn’t saying nice things about him, she does give him an entire pie to eat, so there’s at least evidence that she’s willing to be charitable. But how far does that charity extend? Does Nutt enjoy the pity, or will he find it condescending?

Of course, I’m still not addressing another detail, one that does give some context to what Glenda says regarding Nutt’s horns. What kind of goblin is Nutt? See, I just assumed that they all looked the same in this fictional world. I mean, I had no reason to think otherwise; there have been so few mentions of goblins throughout the series. But there has to be a reason for this line:

‘Only the grown-up ones, miss.” Well, that was true, for some goblins.

Okay, but why not others? Is Nutt a different kind of goblin? And if that’s the case, how will that affect his story? How much will it re-contextualized what I’ve already read? I don’t know! I know that Pratchett doesn’t put in random details just for the hell of it, so I feel like there’s something significant in this. There is something about him, but I don’t know what it is! Who is the “Ladyship”? Why did the Ladyship teach Nutt how to act? 

Also: I’m interested to see how the relationship between Trevor and Juliet develops. They’re not gonna listen to Glenda at all, are they??? They clearly are attracted to one another on some level, soooooo. When is that gonna happen?

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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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