Mark Reads ‘Unseen Academicals’: Part 19

In the nineteenth part of Unseen Academicals, the truth can be changed. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Discworld. 

Trigger Warning: For discussion of war, Nazism, torture.

Oh my god, THIS BOOK JUST BECAME A COMPLETELY DIFFERENT BOOK. And I love that while this has been re-contextualized for me, it’s clear that there were SO MANY signs pointing to the truth. This did not come out of nowhere by any means. So there’s a satisfaction that comes from watching Juliet, Trev, and Glenda grapple with the truth: What is an orc, and why does Mr. Nutt believe this is a bad thing? Why do the Furies believe this, too? As Glenda puts it:

‘Mister Nutt is kind and gentle and has never hurt anyone,’ said Glenda. 

‘Who didn’t deserve it,’ said Trev hurriedly. 

The portrait that the Furies paint for them is incompatible with the version of Nutt that they all know. And yet, even Nutt is certain that this is all the proper reaction to his epiphany. He opened the door, he read the book ORC, and he knows who he is. 

And yet, I was fascinated by his reaction to all of this. He takes it very, very seriously, but look how quickly he recovers. He basically doesn’t say anything until the bledlow arrives, and then… well, he’s right back to the Mr. Nutt we all know. Well, he does lie, and I think that’s significant; he covers for Glenda and Trev, but only for a few moments. Then he utters:

‘I am an orc,’ said Nutt quietly. 

We ware watching him grapple with this in real time. And by saying it, by naming himself, it makes it more real for Nutt. Not anyone else, though! The butler believes there are no more orcs left; Bledlow Nobbs (no relation) is certain that Nutt can’t be an orc because “they were like these big horrible monsters that wouldn’t stop fighting and were quite happy to tear off their own arm to use as a weapon.” Which are things that Mr. Nutt definitely does not do! 

So Nutt is a walking contradiction in this sense, a constant contrast between what he should be and what he is and what he aspires to be. And it’s no wonder the poor guy is so riddled with anxiety; his identity is in pieces. Where should he be? Where does he belong? Is his journey to achieve worth meaningful or pointless? Because even though all these people recognize Mr. Nutt as the kind candle maker, as the talented and brilliant coach, what happens when he stands up and rips all those chains off?

They run away. 

A bit about running away before I get to Glenda’s big moments in the second half of this chapter. JULIET CAME BACK. Juliet did not run off because she had to tell Trev the truth. And if you want concrete, textual evidence that Glenda has grown as a character, then look at her reaction to all of this. She doesn’t chase Trev off like she did before. She tells him that it’s time to make up his mind. It’s time to figure out how he feels for Juliet and what he’s going to do with her, now that she’s leaving. She doesn’t berate him, she doesn’t tell him that he isn’t good enough for Juliet, and SHE SAYS THIS:

‘She likes you, you like her and I’ve made a lot of silly mistakes. The two of you, sort out what you want to do. And now, if I were you I’d run, before anyone else beats you to it. And can I offer you a word of advice, Trev? Don’t be smart, be clever.’

I also want to point out that Trev and Juliet don’t abandon Mr. Nutt either, that even though they’ve got limited time with one another, they prioritize helping their friend. I LOVE THESE CHARACTERS, OKAY. It’s so damn meaningful to see how much they care about him! 

Anyway, if you watch the video for this split, you’ll see the moment in which I realize that there’s most likely an entire metaphorical analysis of Mr. Nutt that completely went over my head until this line from Glenda:

‘We did terrible things.’

‘They,’ said Glenda. ‘They, not we, not you. And one thing I am certain of is that in war no one is going to say that the other side is made up of very nice people.’

There’s an Evil Empire. They created the orcs as weapons. There is a legacy of this Empire that’s been left behind in Uberwald, and for many, many years, the ramifications of that Empire and the terrible things that have been done have been spelled out in the Discworld series. On thinking back on Uberwald and many of the surrounding nations, I am not quite sure the intent here is to draw a parallel with Germany and it’s past with fascism and Nazism, or perhaps to reference the Soviet Union? I think there’s enough to identify either in the construction of this metaphor, but even if I’m wrong about Pratchett’s intent, there’s still something here. How do you deal with the guilt of what others of your kind have done? In a way, Mr. Nutt “benefits” from such a violent system. He was created to be as powerful as he is, even though we’ve seen him use this ability only for good. Still, part of Mr. Nutt’s struggle has been to divorce himself—with varying success—from this horrific legacy that was forced upon him.

And that last part is what’s really important and makes me think maybe my guess that this was about Germany isn’t quite on the mark. When Glenda is brought to Dr. Hix to get a glimpse of an orc in action, she has a fascinating reaction to it all. Not only does she identify the man whipping the orc to get it to do what he wants, she says this:

‘I think it changes everything,’ said Glenda. ‘It does if all that people talk about are the monsters and not the whips. Things that look very much like people, well, a kind of people. What can you make from people if you really try?’

That distinction is everything. The orcs were bred as weapons, and they did not thoughtfully choose to be who they are. And with Mr. Nutt, we’ve got an orc who has thoughtfully chosen practically everything in his life since he arrived in Ankh-Morpork. I daresay that there isn’t a more thoughtful character in this book. So what can you make from this kind of person if you really try and support him?

You can change the truth.

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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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