Mark Reads ‘Snuff’: Part 1

In the first part of Snuff, it’s time for a holiday. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Discworld. 

Trigger Warning: For general talk of oppression, poverty

Hello, Discworld book #39!!! (Thirty-nine? HOW?) Fresh off the (relatively) recent experience of Unseen Academicals (which, like Moving Pictures, felt like the most surprising Discworld experience for me), I am now back in Ankh-Morpork! Well, there was that brief journey in the last book, but I feel safe in saying that at least one large portion of this book—any of the scenes with Vetinari—will be focused there. Aside from that, though, the opening of this book let me know that I am absolutely not at all ready for where this journey is going to take me.

Because it’s literally a journey, and I don’t even know where Sam Vimes, Lady Sybil, and their son are going.

So, let’s back up. First of all, Snuff already has me interested because I feel like it’s such a natural progression after Unseen Academicals for Pratchett to explore goblins in greater detail. I know that was a big point of discussion for a lot of y’all in the comments during the read of the book; even I noticed that goblins hadn’t been mentioned all that much in the series prior to Academicals. Which is perfectly fine! One thing that’s been a huge delight for me in reading the Discworld books in publication order is the experience of watching Pratchett expand the world more and more. He’s brought in so many new species and characters in a way that felt natural to me, and I count this among that. (I also imagine longtime fans might feel differently, but I find myself largely more forgiving and understanding of changes in canon because of how I read books, but that’s a separate point that’s not really relevant here.)

Thus, we’ve got an introduction here where Vetinari and Drumknott are reading papers from Pastor Mightily Oats—oh, how much he’s changed from his initial introduction!!!—about goblins. Sympathetic papers about goblins, I might add, and it’s clear that Oats is trying to not only understand who the goblins are, but how they ended up in the social position they are currently in. But there’s a struggle here, namely in that, unlike practically all of the other races/species, the goblins occupy a space that makes them undesirable in a very specific way:

“Predators respect other predators, do they not? They may perhaps even respect the prey: the lion may lie down with the lamb, even if only the lion is likely to get up again, but the lion will not lie down with the rat. Vermin, Drumknott, an entire race reduced to vermin!”

It’s here that Pratchett is making a distinction between what we saw of Mr. Nutt in Unseen Academicals, and it’s a FASCINATING way to talk about things like being a model minority or even hypervisibility. They are not exact metaphorical matches, and I wouldn’t presume that Pratchett was necessarily intending to write about these same issues. The goblins exist in like… an under underclass here. Though I don’t think there are many or any of them in Ankh-Morpork right now? If so, I don’t actually know where they are. Even then, I am still so impressed with the writing about them. LIKE THIS:

“Let it be said here that those who live their lives where life hangs by less than a thread understand the dreadful algebra of necessity, which has no mercy and when necessity presses in extremis, well, that is when the women need to make the unggue pot called “soul of tears,” the most beautiful of all the pots, carved with little flowers and washed with tears.”

This is both immensely specific in a cultural sense, explain one particular unggue pot, but I felt this sentiment SO much, y’all. My mind went immediately to what it was like to be in poverty, and how I spent so much of my younger days having to do immensely complicated math (of the literal and moral sense) in order to make it week-to-week. At this point, I don’t know a whole lot of the goblins and what sort of “dreadful crimes have been laid at their door,” but I don’t need to know that now. Pratchett has established that they will most likely be important to the events of Snuff while also giving us a sense of where they exist in the hierarchy of the Disc. 

And meanwhile, there’s another plot brewing, and I hope y’all are DELIGHTED by how much the opening pages of this book freaked me out. I misread all the stuff about Vimes “leaving” as this being a PERMANENT leave, and lord, I was upset??? HOW CAN YOU FORCE VIMES TO LEAVE THE WATCH??? It’s, like, who the man is. And now he’s retiring? Look, I get why I believed this, and let’s all delight in this: the idea of Vimes actually going on holiday is so fucked up to me that I didn’t even consider this a possibility, despite that it is way more likely. BUT THIS IS WHO VIMES IS. The man has repeatedly shown that unless his family takes him elsewhere, he is a Watchman more than anything else. (I also want to definitively state that one thing that is just as undeniable about Vimes is that he loves Lady Sybil and he loves his son. I have ZERO doubt about that. Even if the text didn’t definitively state it like it does in this chapter, I’d still know that with all my heart.)

So! Snuff is about a Vimes family holiday! Well, we know that the family is not going to the seaside (much to Vimes’s disappointment), and that the “countryside” is not his prime choice, either. It was Sybil’s decision to go there, but I don’t know quite where that is. Beyond Sto Lat? Farther? Probably not, as the home gets fresh produce from Lady Sybil’s estate, so it can’t be TOO far, right? Vimes is also expecting something to happen while on holiday, and I am guessing that’s why he kept his badge with him instead of turning it in to Vetinari. Well, it’s also an emotional step; if he keeps the badge, he’s not really off-duty, is he? His badge is always within reach! So he’s technically still working.

But the end of this split suggests… well, I don’t know if I’m reading too much into this, but the “wink-wink, nudge-nudge” about Vimes between Vetinari and Drumknott is suspicious. What “big” battle is Vetinari thinking of? Why is it so wonderfully coincidental that Lady Sybil suggested the trip to the countryside? Why is it a “fortunate circumstance” that Vimes is on his way to “the Hall,” which I assume is a reference to Ramkin Hall? And does all of this have to do with the discussion of smuggling, particularly smuggling/theft that the rich are carrying out in Ankh-Morpork? AHHHH I NEED TO KNOW MORE.

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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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