Mark Reads ‘Unseen Academicals’: Part 18

In the eighteenth part of Unseen Academicals, Glenda lets a crab out of the bucket, and Mr. Nutt opens the door. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Discworld. 

Y’all have been laughing at me for SO long, and I completely deserve it.

Out of the Bucket

Well, now I know. Glenda’s meeting with Vetinari was a catalyst. It’s not the only one, mind you, and Pratchett built a complicated story to be told in her. (That isn’t over, mind you!!! This might be the longest of the Discworld books, and I’ve still got just shy of two hundred pages to go.) Her characterization is often framed by her reactions to the world around her, but thankfully, she’s got long passages that allow us to see her internal monologue, too. Vetinari really did summarize her general characterization well: she often believes that she must do the dangerous or difficult things for other people because they can’t do it themselves. She’s like a Super Mom of sorts, and while it is undeniable that she’s helped out countless people who have crossed her path, this book peels back the surface to reveal Glenda’s growing fear that she may be holding people back. Including herself. 

I get that it is hard for her to trust others, though, and I get that even though Pepe has never done anything untoward to Juliet, she still can’t quite believe that her best friend will be okay. The world of high fashion and modeling seems terrifying. Strange. Risky. Unfathomable. 

To Glenda. 

And then she thought, really thought about Juliet, who would read Bu-bubble from cover to cover, wouldn’t generally go near the Times, but would absorb all kinds of rubbish about frivolous and silly people. People that glittered.

This is what Juliet enjoys. She loves this culture, and she’s wanted to be a part of it for a while. But until she crossed paths with Pepe and Madame Sharn, it was only a dream. Prior to that, Juliet believed that her life—and all that was important—was in the Night Kitchen. Or the Shove. Or in a world that was small but understandable. And that world had Glenda Sugarbean in it, a force for good, for stability, for certainty. Despite that Glenda wasn’t ever really sure if her advice and knowledge was sticking, she has to admit just how much of an influence she’s had on Juliet when she discovers that Juliet has been in the kitchen THE WHOLE TIME. Why?

‘I didn’t know what else to do and Trev was busy with the footballing and I thought they would be wantin’ pies tomorrow and I thought I better do some,’ said Juliet. ‘Sorry.’

And thus, Glenda changes. She has to! She sees Juliet in a different light, as someone who is possibly afraid to try new things, but maybe that’s because Glenda doesn’t let her try new things! All Juliet knows with any comfort is the Night Kitchen, and LOOK WHAT SHE DID! She baked all those pies BY HERSELF, and she worked herself to exhaustion just to do the right thing. So, that’s what Glenda does, too: the right thing. Pratchett has maneuvered Glenda right to this moment, and she’s written with such empathy and fear here. Because she really is trying to understand while also being afraid of what it means to let someone leave the crab bucket. I do love that Pepe is the one to witness this, too, since he was the one who initially put the thought in Glenda’s head. (Also, I enjoyed that Pepe was the one to suggest that maybe Trev wasn’t straight!!!) 

There’s a repetitive phrase that’s used here to convey all this: ‘It’s up to you.’ It’s so simple, yet so effective. Glenda cannot hold anyone back in the bucket. She has to let Juliet go, to let Juliet live her own life, to let Juliet make her own choices, even if Glenda doesn’t really understand them. It’s a sequence that’s both thrilling—y’all, I love character growth SO MUCH—and heartbreaking. Because Juliet leaves, and Glenda has no idea if she’ll see Juliet again. And then there’s this:

‘I wonder what would have happened if I had left the lid off?’ she said. ‘I wonder how fast crabs learn?’

Hi. Ouch. OUCH. I don’t know the answer to this question. How many other people did she treat like this? Were there others before Juliet or Trev or Mr. Nutt? (Which isn’t to say they were all treated the same, but just that they were each on the receiving end of Glenda’s behavior.) Yet I can’t deny how PROUD I am of her for realizing this and changing. UGH, THIS BOOK.

The Book in the Cupboard

Look, I wanted to spend a decent amount of time discussing the other huge moment in this book before I just devolved in front of you all. Let me quote my DAMN SELF:

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?

I figured it out. AND THEN I IMMEDIATELY AND REPEATEDLY CONVINCED MYSELF THAT THIS WAS NOT THE FUCKING ANSWER. I??? I did this? I did this to myself? 

Lemme back up a bit, because holy shit, this whole scene is so damn suspenseful. After the stress of the past day—seriously, Mr. Nutt has been going non-stop for a long time—it makes sense that this all took a toll on him. But Pratchett also told us long ago that Mr. Nutt was obsessed with reading, that he sought out knowledge in the library. So, I could see a reading of this scene as both literal and metaphorical. Was there an actual book inside the Unseen University titled Orc, or is that just how it looked in his mind? Is that how the hypnosis appeared to him, and the stress broke down the door? (I’m leaning toward metaphorical because of the very final scene in the split, which refers to “the soul of Nutt.”) I mean, this shit was a little confusing to me, so it was beautifully hilarious that Glenda and Trev were much more lost than me. And yet, they don’t give up on Mr. Nutt. Do they understand hypnosis? (OH MY GOD, MR. NUTT HYPNOTIZED TREV IN THAT EARLY SCENE????) Do they get what questions they’re supposed to ask? Nope. But they don’t give up. They both know Mr. Nutt needs help, and they do what they can, even when Mr. Nutt starts talking in two different voices. I also want to state that I still don’t know what those bird creatures are. Like… what the hell? This didn’t shed any more light on them!!! What are they? 

So here we are. Mr. Nutt is an Orc, and he’s transforming into one as the truth is revealed in his own mind. I genuinely have no clue where this book is going, and there is so much more left!

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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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