Mark Reads ‘Unseen Academicals’: Part 9

In the ninth part of Unseen Academicals, Glenda is the BEST. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Discworld. 

Holy shit. Glenda. GLENDA!!!

This was so much fun, y’all. I’d remarked before that it had been a while since a wizard POV, and now I totally get why Pratchett went so long without one. This is perfectly placed within the book, too, because now that we’ve gotten to know the other four major characters quite well, we shift to see how the other group is dealing with events. And it’s the wizards, so there’s a certain level of familiarity with them, even though there’s totally a moment when Ponder once again stands up against the Chair of Indefinite Studies when he would usually just let the terrible “fact” go unchallenged. HE’S GROWING, I LOVE IT. 

So, I say this because what I’m used to is: the wizards arguing and bickering while eating, using their terrible but hilarious wizard logic to come to some sort of agreement, though that’s usually forced in the end by Ridcully. They challenge one another for absurd though occasionally insightful reasons, and they view the world through their narrow lens. It’s perfectly understandable. They’re wizards. This is the world they know. 

And then Glenda showed up.

Glenda—who is observant, who pushes herself to get what she wants, who has very Big Opinions and struggles to keep them unsaid—arrives to deliver the tea trolley, and she does a wonderful, magnificent thing here. She openly challenges and criticizes the wizards. TO THEIR FACES. Pratchett wrote this whole scene in a way that conveys just how shocked the wizards are by what happens once Glenda starts telling them the truth. They are simply not used to the notion that someone else knows more about anything than they do. Or at least in this specific context. I feel like the wizards are fine acknowledging that other professions know their professions better than the wizards do, but do any of them assume a maid knows more about football than them? No! Unless she’s “pretty,” a maid is just a background character to them within the university. But there’s a subtextual element to this, too: the wizards approach football from an academic standpoint. They looked for cultural markers and traditions; they observed the match and took notes; they were detached from the game itself and considered themselves knowledgeable enough to begin to plan out how they’re going to participate. It never occurred to them to just… ask someone who was a part of this culture?

Whew, if that isn’t a phenomenon in the real world…

So, as Glenda listens to these men completely bungle football by interpreting everything wrongly, she struggles (and fails!) to not react to the nonsense she’s hearing, and it’s because of this that Ridcully notices her, and then… well, it begins. And she starts off pretty well, too, pointing out how people tend to support one team all their life, lest they be considered a “numper” who jumps from team to team to follow whomever is winning. I don’t know that we had a name for that here in the States when I was growing up. I lived in a big sports household, and we followed mostly American football and basketball, with occasional forays into baseball. And my house was a San Francisco 49ers / Chicago Bulls house through and through. We did not deviate from cheering them on and supporting them, and I’m pretty sure my parents bought me jerseys from both teams, thinking I actually cared about any of it. (I sadly did not, aside from thinking a ton of the players were hot.) But even though the fan cultures around these were different than football clubs/teams, there’s enough similarity that I recognized what she was referring to. 

And then… well. WELL.

‘I see there are a great many things we don’t yet understand.’

‘Yes, sir. Everything.’ She hadn’t meant to say that aloud. It just escaped of its own accord.

HI, HELLO, I LOVE YOU SO MUCH FOR SAYING THIS, YOU ARE ABSOLUTELY NOT WRONG. And seriously, who has done this to the wizards quite like this? (Maybe Esk, now that I’m thinking about it. Oh, I miss her and I wish we’d gotten to see her again.) From this point, Ridcully at least recognizes that he has misjudged Glenda, that she has information that they can use, and that he should probably keep asking her questions. Even then… oh, lord, she just keeps ripping into them. Again, it’s not cruel! She just knows that “wizards are always wizards,” touching on the notion that “not a lot changes” within Unseen University. And now, the wizards are about to become part of a community they still don’t understand. I said this on video, but Pratchett does this delicate thing where he balances a satire and criticism of football culture with a loving appreciation for it. Look at Glenda’s monologue about the game! I’ve only attended a couple of big, live sporting events—and one was an utterly sleep-inducing baseball game in the rain in Kansas City—but even I could recognize what she was talking about. The wizards certainly did, too, as they were all “transported” back to their own childhoods in the process. 

AND THEN THE ASSASSINS’ GUILD COMMENT. Oh my GODS, I can’t get enough of this. Look, it’s not just funny and entertaining. I believe the fact that Ridcully was willing to argue his point with Glenda shows that he is finally starting to see her not as a nameless, frumpy maid, but as someone worthy of intellectual debate. And their attitude towards the staff is meant to be callous, so it felt significant to see him change how he treated her. (Will that treatment extend to other members of staff? Probably not.) Even in the context of the whole staff of wizards, they see Glenda differently once they put a face to a food: she’s the one who makes one of the wizards’ most favorite treats. It may seem absurd to most of us, but the wizards do not humanize most of the staff in the university, at least not until this moment. And now they know. They’ve changed, and that’s a big deal to me as someone who has read so many books featuring them. 

So: Vetinari was behind the urn, then? Who was the glittering lady with the large ball over her head, though???

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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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