Mark Reads ‘Unseen Academicals’: Part 26

In the twenty-sixth and final part of Unseen Academicals, there is hope for the future. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Discworld.

On the surface, I did not expect to like this all that much, but within a few parts of this book, I was surprised by what Pratchett had done. I remained surprised for the remainder of Unseen Academicals, and this experience has been so much fun, y’all. And when it comes to the resolution, I really do feel like this book sticks the landing. Let’s talk about why!

The Goal

Trev’s winning goal united them all.

And it’s not surprising that this is the case. As much as Pratchett pokes fun at football’s culture, and as much as he was willing to dig deep into the terrible things that mobs and bullies can do to other people, there’s still love in his writing of the sport. Trev’s family history, combined with the volatile atmosphere in the Hippo, pushed the crowd to set aside their more violent tendencies in celebration of the sheer talent and performance of Trev Likely. And as Mr. Hoggett tries to argue against the legality of the move, something beautiful happens: the magic of the moment becomes literal. Juliet and Trev float above the field, embraced in a kiss, as Juliet becomes the shining, glittering lady. (So… who was that at the beginning of the book? You know, the glittering lady with the ball over her head in the museum?) It’s romantic, it’s magical (with no actual magic used to win the game, of course), and it’s a perfect moment within the context of this match. It’s personal, it’s celebratory, it’s ridiculous… it’s everything these people needed. And love conquers it all, doesn’t it? 

Actually, not everything, though at the end of the game, it was apt. There’s still work to be done, and as this book liked to remind me multiple times at the end, this wasn’t over! Yes, Unseen Academicals won the match, but there was so much more to be resolved. There was the gorgeous song that the crowd sang to Trev; there was Mr. Hoggett’s expertly timed punch to Andy’s face; there was Andy’s failed attempt to kick Trev in the groin. Seriously, it’s so satisfying how often the end of this book completely dunks on Andy Shank, and I don’t feel bad about a single bit of it. The dude is a human nightmare, has repeatedly avoided accountability, and left the match actually believing that he would maintain that history.

More on that in a second, since I want to address the other ramification of Trev’s game-winning goal. It was not surprising that Andy would blame Mr. Nutt for his team’s loss. The man hasn’t accepted responsibility for his actions for… probably his whole life??? So, of course he’d target Mr. Nutt. What I love about Mr. Nutt’s reaction is that it was the perfect synthesis of who he is now and who he is expected to be. He gave Andy the orc strength that was always the butt of a joke or a taunt. If Andy was going to constantly claim that Mr. Nutt was never going to be better than an orc, then why not show him what an orc can do? However, every word that comes out of Mr. Nutt is the person we know, the one who intellectualizes everything, who has spent so much time learning about the world and the complicated ways in which humans navigate it. His response to the chants of the name of his species is to challenge them all, not just Andy:

There was laughter and some jeers from various parts of the ground, but also, it seemed to Glenda, the beast was calling upon itself for silence. In that pin-drop silence the thud of the megaphone hitting the ground could be heard in every corner. Then Nutt rolled up his sleeves and lowered his voice so that people had to strain to listen.

He said, ‘Come on if you think you’re hard enough.’

And it’s such a brilliant challenge! Everyone who has maligned Mr. Nutt has always been too afraid to put their money where their mouth is. If Mr. Nutt is so awful, if he’s such a terrible threat to the safety of Ankh-Morpork, then why hasn’t anyone tried to stop him? Mr. Nutt uses fear to his advantage, and it felt so subversive to me. Look, I would have started a slow clap, too!!! It’s such an incredible line! 

Post-Game

I found that this ending was all about balance. The Romeo & Juliet references were always intentional, a chance for Pratchett to make fun of the very real impracticalities and imbalances present in that story. And we see the tropes of that story littered throughout Unseen Academicals, but one of the most obvious ones is the idea of two people in love who are separated by whatever makes them difference. Trev was from the “wrong” side of town; Mr. Nutt was from the wrong side of… the Disc? (There’s a great pun here to be made about how Mr. Nutt was from below the ground, but I can’t quite figure out what it is.) It’s the crab bucket mentality explored in two very different circumstances. And thus, as we see the two couples negotiate their futures, there is balance. Juliet still wants to pursue modeling, but she encourages Trev to explore playing football. You can have both, and there’s no reason for the dramatic kind of sacrifices that are seen in Starcrossed, the play that Glenda and Mr. Nutt go to see. Ah, what a CHOICE. I love that this is what these two do after the game because it’s so fitting. It’s the last place anyone would think to look for them, so it grants them some privacy, but there’s also this:

They sat hand in hand, watching it solemnly, feeling the ripples move them…

HIIIIIII, THIS IS SO BEAUTIFULLY ROMANTIC. Isn’t it? But the play inspires something in Mr. Nutt, and it has been a long time coming. And one line in particular jumped out at me as the reason for his next choice:

‘I think that’s because neither of them were thinking about themselves, perhaps,’ said Nutt. 

So what does Mr. Nutt do? 

He thinks about himself.

I made this comment on video, but by the end of Mr. Nutt’s talk with Lady Margolotta, I realized how big of a change there was in the dynamic between the two of them. For practically all of this book, Mr. Nutt has spoken of her with reverence in his voice. He was obsessed with being worthy to her and to others. When he was at his lowest points, he worried about disappointing the Ladyship. Yet here, as he stands before her and Vetinari, their conversation was not what I thought it would be. Mr. Nutt immediately passes along suggestions to Vetinari regarding football, and I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that Vetinari implemented them all. 

Yet as soon as Mr. Nutt asked Lady Margolotta to come to him, I knew the dynamic had changed. He was thinking of himself, and even though he does ask if he has worth, if he has become, he knows that this is something he has to work on for himself, not for her benefit. Gods, there’s even that little barb he dishes about humans! He’s so much more confident than he ever has been, and it’s because he knows his worth. All these people in his life helped him with that, but in the end? He chose it for himself. And what better teacher to all the orcs, made by Igors and left to themselves in Far Uberwald, than the orc who found himself? 

A Giant Chicken

I remarked on this early on, but I still think that perhaps the most surprising element of this book was Pratchett’s willingness to finally put the wizards through a huge change. Henry and Ridcully have buried the hatchet, so to speak, and I feel like they both have a newfound respect for their positions. That doesn’t mean that there can’t be a healthy rivalry between the two, or that Ridcully can’t have some fun at the expense of Henry and his school. But Ponder changed as well, since this was the book wherein he stood up for himself. I think his smile can mean a number of things, but I’d like to interpret it as a sign that he’s happy that Ridcully treats him not as the solution fo all his problems, but as a colleague, one who he feels comfortable to trade jokes with. It’s a nice thought.

Anyway: THIS WAS A DELIGHT!!! Thank you again, Colleen, for commissioning the whole book. Onwards I go to the next Discworld novel, I Shall Wear Midnight!!!

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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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