In the twenty-first part of Unseen Academicals, Glenda has a revealing conversation, and Mr. Nutt returns to an interesting situation in Ankh-Morpork. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Discworld.
Hey, at least I figured out who Glenda was talking to like… two-thirds of the way through that conversation? See, I couldn’t remember what Lady Margolotta’s description was, so it wasn’t until the text basically winked at me that I put it together. I’m just such a huge fan of how Glenda Sugarbeam just can’t resist speaking truth to people; it’s an important part of her character, sure, but it also gives Pratchett a hilarious way of advancing the story. If this narrative needs a little boost, then Glenda just blurts it out!
But this has another layer of importance because Glenda gets to confront Lady Margolotta to her face and explain how her harsh technique for helping Mr. Nutt may not be all that helpful. It’s significant because Glenda had to accept this about herself. She has always seen herself as a “helpful” character, and earlier in the novel, the text was quite open about how she saw herself. Everyone was doing life “wrong,” and her job was to make sure people did things the “right” way. The most detailed example of this is in Juliet, of course, but was Glenda’s philosophy always helpful? No! She had to accept that she was the crab in the bucket, pulling down anyone else who tried to “escape.”
Thus, it meant a lot more to me that Glenda was the one to tell the Ladyship that her methodology had given Mr. Nutt a ton of anxiety. He needed guidance, and he’s found a way to control any possible orc-ish impulses; for that, Margolotta has done him an incredible service. But he also lives in terror that he’ll never quite find worth in the world, that he’ll revert back to being “worthless” like she said he was in the beginning. So, this makes me curious: will we see a scene by the end of the book where the Ladyship and Nutt interact? Will she apologize to him or correct her behavior? I don’t know! I think it’s possible, but as I’ve said frequently while reading Unseen Academicals, I cannot figure out where this book is going.
Which is a perfect segue to the most surprising thing in this chapter. I believe the Ladyship saw something in the way Glenda spoke of Mr. Nutt. It’s why she said that Glenda seemed like “a vehement supporter.” She could tell that Glenda had been developing feelings for him, that her interest in him was more than she was ready to admit. And perhaps that’s what she was referring to here:
‘It does occur to me that Mister Nutt might have achieved more worth than I had previously thought.’
I say that because only a page prior to this, Glenda asked the Lady if she loved Mr. Nutt. Why would Glenda care about that? I believe she revealed more about herself than she intended to, and the Lady caught on to that. From there, Pratchett pushes the story to the next inevitable moment, and reading this back for the review… holy shit, it’s astounding to me how obvious it is that there is a strange but intense relationship growing between Mr. Nutt and Glenda. And I appreciate that it’s not really defined as love or romance per se. As Glenda comes to terms with Nutt’s admission that he wrote Trev’s poem while thinking of her, she does think about all the romance books she has read. She recognizes that this is an important moment, but is it love? Romance? Or is it admiration, as Trev proposes later in this split? I don’t think they need to know this right now, and Pratchett doesn’t force them to. Instead, he sinks us deep into Glenda’s emotions—her sobbing in response to the admission, the swirling terror and desire that she experiences as she talks about the poem on the coach ride back—and allows us to feel them. Oh god, and then there’s Nutt’s metaphor about ships? Pratchett knew about the concept of ships/shipping in a fannish sense, right? HE KNEW WHAT HE WAS DOING TO ME???
‘In fact, to put it simply, each ship shields the other ship from lateral waves on one side, so by small increments outside forces bring them together without their realizing it.’
It’s a beautiful summary of what’s been happening over the course of Unseen Academicals. Both characters resolve to visit the topic again, ideally after the chaos of the next couple days slows down, and I can’t wait to see what comes next.
I did think that what happens here was inevitable. The news of Mr. Nutt’s identity was always going to spread. I just didn’t think it would happen so quickly after the events of the previous day. A day! These four splits comprise a single day worth of time, y’all. But this is also Ankh-Morpork. It’s a place that changed forever after the events of The Truth, and thus, Pratchett reminds us that news travels a whole lot faster than it used to. Well, “news,” yes, but also gossip and rumor. It was unsurprising that existing biases and bad faith interpretations ended up spreading as well! It’s so much easier for fantastical narratives to get more attention, especially when this is the very first orc in Ankh-Morpork. Yet Mr. Nutt still agrees that he’s going to do what he was asked to do: lead the Unseen Academicals and train them.
But what of the ramifications of all of this? Glenda is gloriously quick to point out how most of the possible solutions to Mr. Nutt’s presence end up hurting him or making him look worse. They feed into the worst stereotypes and misconceptions about him! Plus, I agree with her: locking up Mr. Nutt during the game just means the Watch will make it easier for people to find him and do what they will with him. And a Watch escort to the Hippo? That’ll make people believe that Mr. Nutt is dangerous, when he isn’t.
Ugh, this is going sour real fast. I’m so glad that Mr. Nutt has so many wonderful friends on his side, but I’m worried!
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