Mark Reads ‘Unseen Academicals’: Part 4

In the fourth part of Unseen Academicals, more of Nutt’s past is revealed; Vetinari has a plan. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Discworld. 

So, I feel a little more comfortable drawing a line between these dots. The Ladyship is Lady Margolotta, right? So, Nutt was chained to an anvil for seven years, rescued by Paster Oats, passed off to Lady Margolotta, who allowed Nutt to be educated, and then, in some agreement with Vetinari, had Nutt brought to Ankh-Morpork so he could… what? 

Lemme back up to before that part, as there’s another huge detail revealed that affects my perception of this character. This section open with Nutt’s POV, which confirms that he came from Uberwald, but also introduces that the Ladyship allowed Nutt to basically observe everything in the castle and ask questions about anything he wanted. And the staff was obliged to answer him, too! It’s an astounding and heartwarming environment, and we get to see how Nutt took advantage of this, mainly through the library. GUESS WHO DEEPLY, DEEPLY RELATED TO THIS. The library—alongside music and what little television I got to watch, mostly in secret—was my glimpse of the world outside my insular community and my strict upbringing. I wouldn’t say that this context is all that similar with Nutt’s, but I felt a kinship: Nutt knows so little of the world, and he’s so thirsty to quench his ignorance. He’s a fast learner, too, but what I enjoyed about this is that we see this from the outside—like the moment when we switch to Miss Healstether’s POV—while also getting a chance to experience this journey through Nutt’s eyes. The people Nutt comes across are impressed by his ability to learn, but note that they still treat him and refer to him like he is The Other. And in Nutt’s own eyes, he certainly still feels that way! The closest he feels to belonging is when he’s making candles. Even then… he’s still the odd one out. 

So, by the time we get to Ridcully’s meeting with Vetinari, I felt like I had a better grasp on Nutt as a character. He was trying to fit in, and he was doing it by learning as much as he possibly could about the world around him. He learned through books and instruction, and then he attempted the thing he learned. Was it enough? In his mind, no, but the people in his life also still haven’t accepted him either. Now, I know the whole plot with football is important to this book, and clearly, these two major stories are going to collide at some point. Not sure quite how, though I suspect Trev’s skills will play into this. So, I get why this meeting was vital. As Vetinari put it: if you can’t stop something, you channel. With football games becoming a public nuisance, he decides to institute some control over the practice by making the games part of a more organized “tradition” within the city. Now we’ve got a stronger framework for what I assume is going to happen next: the formation of multiple teams to compete in some sort of city-wide football tournament. (Well, the wizards have to observe a game first, and lord, I can’t wait for that disaster.) 

However, this is what I really want to discuss: Vetinari’s conversation about Nutt and the “experiment.” It’s clear that lots of people are watching Nutt to see if he… succeeds? Is that even the right word? I get the sense that he’s the first goblin to live in the general population of the civilization. But then Vetinari said this:

‘But he is, I suggest, unlikely to become a ravening horde all by himself.’ 

At first, I took that as yet another example of what we would call, in the real-world, a microaggression. How much of what people know of goblins is based on false histories, like the book about the guy who only spent five hours with goblins? But what if this isn’t a misconception? What if everyone is worried that this is actually going to happen? How warranted is this expectation? 

However, Vetinari says something that struck me as being one of the most caring things that’s ever come out of his mouth:

‘All we get is a chance. We don’t get a benison. He was chained to an anvil for seven years. He should get his chance, don’t you think?’

What if this isn’t about him being a goblin but about the treatment he received prior to this? What if that made Nutt who he is? Except then we get this in the following scene:

One of the monsters, all alone. It was hard to think of it. They came in thousands, like lice, killing everything and eating the dead, including theirs. The Evil Empire had bred them in huge cellars, grey demons without a hell.

Two things came to mind when I read this: first, this sounds a whole lot like orcs, but I don’t believe that species exists in the Discworld series, since we’ve not seen or heard of them before. So perhaps this is just Pratchett’s reference to them, and goblins—at least one species of them, at least—serves this role. If this is the case, then wouldn’t this make the behaviors of others justified in some sense? If these creatures were bred for destruction, then where does that leave someone like Nutt? (And how does it affect the metaphorical representation of themes like racism and xenophobia?) This must be the “Dark War” that Nutt referenced earlier, right? 

There’s one other thing I wanted to point out, which was that touching scene we got between Ridcully and the street urchin. Ridcully has always been one of the strangest wizards, and I still love my claim that he’s basically the Ron Swanson of Unseen University. But here, when he toys with the football-loving boy on the street, there’s a loving youthfulness that we get to see in him, and it’s a glimpse of a life that is rarely depicted in his character. I wouldn’t say it’s the first time we’ve seen this; Ridcully has long been associated with physicality, sportsmanship, and competition. But in that one moment, as he kicks the can out into crowd, he’s a teenager again, back in the same place, in the same mindset. (And in my head, I’m now reimagining the now-iconic YEET Vine with Ridcully YEETING the can into the crowd.) My question is: are we going to see more of this in the coming pages?

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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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