Mark Reads ‘Unseen Academicals’: Part 11

In the eleventh part of Unseen Academicals, Juliet shines, Glenda adapts, and the wizards get an idea. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Discworld. 

This whole book has not gone like I thought it was going to. I thought it was just going to be about the wizards playing football! HOW ARE WE NOW ANALYZING THE UNDERGROUND FASHION WORLD IN ANKH-MORPORK? (I feel like there’s a pun in that, but alas, Shatta is on the ground level of the Maul.) This has become so fascinating and odd, and Pratchett has managed to give lots of space to multiple plots across Unseen Academicals. I just… have so many feelings about Glenda? And how she doesn’t fit in with this world, how she doesn’t understand Pepe’s “crab in a bucket” metaphor, how she still cares so deeply for Juliet, even as Juliet is swept up into the most incredible dream imaginable. This isn’t Pratchett writing a fish out of water story; no, I find her much more nuanced than that. After all, she isn’t the one who has been asked to be a model; she’s on the periphery here. As she notes:

Just for now, she was a hindrance, surplus, no use to anyone, an obstruction to be worked around, an onlooker in the game.

And she does her best to be kind, to learn what she can about this world and its apparent values and rules, and to meet Juliet where she’s at, as much as her own internal voice says otherwise. Plus, I can’t ignore that throughout this, there’s a part of Glenda that enjoys the spectacle. But what does that mean? What does it entail for someone like Glenda, who has found her place in the Night Kitchen? There’s a contrast here between desire and necessity, between what is expected of someone like Glenda and someone like Juliet. Juliet fits in with this crowd and this world effortlessly. And she’s happy! But what of those people who are on the sidelines, who blend into the background in a culture like this one? Glenda is deeply uncomfortable in the fashion world most of the time that she’s here. She also “claims” Juliet for the Night Kitchen, insisting multiple times that that is where she belongs, not in the world of modeling. But I wonder how much of that is just pure projection: Glenda is projecting her own feelings onto Juliet. Juliet wants this. But does that make Glenda the crab in the bucket? Does she pull Juliet back in once Juliet tries to escape? 

Which brings me to the interesting case of Pepe. Because if we’re talking of belonging and blending in, we can’t ignore that Pepe does both while… well, it’s complicated. I had read Pepe as queer in the previous section and even identified with him to an extent, but this split reveals that when Pepe is off duty, he doesn’t play up the expectations or stereotypes that come with being a fashion designer. And on some level, I get that! You do what you have to do in order to fit in or to assert that you belong in a space that might otherwise be hostile to you. But this, combined with the very direct insinuation that Madame Sharn and Pepe are in a relationship, suggests something else might be happening here. Pepe may not actually like the absurd nature of the fashion world all that much; he criticizes quite a few elements to Glenda’s face. Is he jaded? Perhaps. But he’s good at his job, and he escaped the crab bucket. In this case, that was as a human in Lobbin Clout, and like Carrot, he became accepted as a dwarf. I love that we have a second example of this and that it is VERY, very different from the one we saw before.

I just wonder what the intent was on having a character pretend to be gay was. The chocolate depravity story, the bickering like a married couple, the holding hands tightly bit… oh, these two are definitely in love! Which doesn’t mean that Pepe isn’t queer. That’s not how sexuality works. But thinking back on what Pepe was like in the last section and how he openly admits that he doesn’t perform when he’s not on the job… what’s that supposed to mean? What bucket did he used to be in? I actually love the idea that Pepe is bi or pan and this is his survival mechanism. He made it out of the bucket of the human world—one that was excessively cruel to someone as short and wiry as him—and found somewhere to thrive in the world of Shatta. The dwarfs have accepted him. But is the suggestion here supposed to be that the people of this culture will turn on him if he doesn’t play up the stereotype? OOOH, I WANT TO KNOW MORE!!! Lord, we’ve got yet ANOTHER interesting new character in this book. 

The Cabinet

I wanna say we last saw the Cabinet of Curiosities in… Making Money? Maybe before that? No, it was definitely in that book, since Adora found the Umnian foot in it. Anyway, I love the reappearance here as a means to construct a better football. Logically speaking, it makes sense that the wizards can have a new one made that copies the “perfect” one, and then return the original to the Cabinet before terrible things happen. (Poor Mister Floribunda.) But every other part of me is screaming, “THIS WILL END BADLY.” It’s the wizards!!! I expect chaos!

However, there’s really a single detail here that has me ON ALERT. So, for context, Ridcully notes that he never goes into the room with the Cabinet “without a couple of sub-critical spells in his pocket just in case.” Which makes sense! It’s a very dangerous Cabinet, no one truly understands it, and anything could come out of it. 

And then this happens:

And then there was Nutt… Well, hope for the best and prepare for the worst, that was the UU way.

HI, WHAT THE HELL!!! Again!!! How have the wizards prepared for the worst when it comes to Nutt? What is the worst? There’s this detail later, too:

Ridcully’s eyes narrowed. ‘Yes, Nutt,’ he said, and thought about the spells in his pocket.

They all believe it. Everyone who knows Nutt’s full story is quietly terrified of him. Why? There has to be a reason, and it’s making me think that I’m still getting Nutt wrong, that some integral part of him is yet to be discovered. Ugh, I can literally imagine the parade of nuns in the comments, y’all. This is all your fault!

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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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