Mark Reads ‘Unseen Academicals’: Part 17

In the seventeenth part of Unseen Academicals, Vetinari gets drunk off beer, and Glenda gets drunk off righteousness. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Discworld. 

Well, all of this was unexpected.

Given what happens in the majority of this split—that Vetinari is coping with being ridiculously drunk from the banquet—that means I must re-think the opening scene here. Because when Swithin arrives to clap Vetinari on the back, Vetinari’s immediate and lightning-fast reaction happens WHILE HE IS DRUNK. He still stops Swithin! And still has a very reasonable reaction to something that is HORRIFYING to everyone else! He talks to Swithin firmly, yes, but look at the way he delicately nudges the man in the direction of the new rules of the football. Well, it probably will seem delicate to Swithin, who will be suitably horrified in the morning when he’s sobered up and realizes what he did. But Vetinari uses information to his advantage, which he does here to show that he “cares” about Swithin and is deeply interested in the sport. There’s a part of me that wonders if Vetinari is amused or entertained by football, and he’s combining that with his impressive knowledge of every part of his city. 

Anyway, let’s jump from that point, because there’s such a fantastic context that arises in this split to address this head on. I love that Pratchett made this about cultural theft, or at least addressed the concept from the point of view of Glenda. Part of the allure of Unseen Academicals for me is the exploration of class in the university and the fact that we get to see a side of the city and characters who aren’t usually associated with the wizards. (Well, only in passing, I suppose.) As I said in the previous review, Glenda is someone who has to see multiple strata of this class structure on a day-to-day basis. She knows what the “nobs” like, how they behave, what they believe, and ultimately, how they can harm others. It’s in this that her anger is rooted: nobs have taken a sport of the under class and made it theirs. She is quick to point out the hypocrisy, too:

It was something that people themselves had put together and rickety and stupid though it was, it was theirs. And now the nobs were again picking up something that wasn’t theirs and saying how wonderful it was.

It’s appropriation, plain and simple. And many of us have seen this happen, over and over again, throughout our lives! I’ll give a great example: having thick eyebrows was often viewed as something hideous and ugly and unwanted for many years, and I was ruthlessly bullied for it. These days? Suddenly, it’s in! And rich people and nobs and even SOME OF THE PEOPLE WHO BULLIED ME now think it’s cool! I’m positive each of us could talk about five things off the top of our heads that went through this same cycle. Coconut water is another example. That’s what we drank after cross country and track drinks because it was cheap as fuck at the Asian markets, and it had so much potassium in it, so it was helpful for hydration. And now look at that industry! 

So I completely understood Glenda’s anger. I just… holy shit, y’all, she actually bribed her way into the Palace, and she confronted Vetinari, and because this is Glenda we’re talking about, she said WHATEVER THE FUCK SHE WANTED TO SAY to the man’s face. Granted, she is aware that maybe she shouldn’t just say whatever is on her mind, but like she’s done throughout this book, it’s like her brain just can’t stop the words from leaving her mouth. But those words are important! Her confrontation with Vetinari is necessary because she believes that the captains were wronged, that Vetinari is participating in the theft of this sport. 

Vetinari’s explanation does seem to placate her somewhat, and I thought his point about “changing the playground” was clever and fair. He’s not banning the sport, and he’s not claiming it as his own; rather, by introducing some sense of order to it, football might not be so deadly and painful. All right, still painful, probably, but you know what I mean. It’s such a violent situation right now, and this will allow the game to have some structure. Is it enough? I guess we’ll see. And I don’t know that Glenda is perfectly satisfied by this all, either. I assume she wants to see the outcome of this organization. But I think it’s also easy to explain why her righteousness fades away by the end of this conversation: Vetinari was not what she expected. He so easily is able to “read” the inside of her mind, to anticipate what she’s going to say, and to see her as a whole person. It’s an unnerving thing, too, and we’ve watched Vetinari do this over and over again. (Particularly to Vimes and Moist.) He knows everything because it is in his best interest as the Patrician to know everything about his city. Yes, there’s the personal connection that Vetinari has to Glenda’s grandmother, but I bet he would have been able to get most of that information by other means. 

So, my question is: What is Glenda going to do next?

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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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