Mark Reads ‘Snuff’: Part 12

In the twelfth part of Snuff, Vimes learns the truth. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Snuff.

Trigger Warning: For extended talk of slavery

Well, all the signs were there, weren’t they?

The Way Out

This is something I briefly discussed on video: we are watching Vimes change his mind in this book. Again. That’s been a common motif of his characterization over the many books he’s appeared in. He is a stubborn person by nature, but he’s not impossible; he is not an immovable object. And as Vimes is led out of the goblin cave, he is exposed to more and more details that challenge his perception of this species. That doesn’t mean this change of heart is immediate, though, and in re-reading the split for this review, this one line stood out to me:

He smiled to himself. Maybe the goblins weren’t all that stupid, only more stupid than humans were, which, when you came to think about it, took some effort. 

And while this might be a clever way to insult humans in the process, it doesn’t lessen the fact that Vimes is doing exactly what Miss Beedle chastises him for later in this scene! It’s not simply that he is judging them based on his perception of them. It’s that he can only view the goblins through a human lens. Thus, if they do something differently than humans or—god forbid—Vimes can’t understand a behavior or custom, he views it as inherently lesser than himself. For example! The goblin smashing the unggue pot. It seems utterly sacrilegious to both Feeney and Vimes… at least until they inspect the pieces and discover that they turn to dust. There is a magic here, or a process, that they simply do not get. They don’t get why the goblins seek perfection when creating these pots. (And I do wonder how much pride plays a part in this. They seem to need to create pots that they can be proud of outlasting them, right?) And this is all just the tip of the iceberg! Pratchett gives us so many tiny details along the way about the goblins, most of them incomprehensible or strange to Vimes, yet unmistakably theirs. They have an entire culture that exists independent of humans and what humans think of them. 

Which is why I respect what Miss Beedle is doing and how she is doing it. I do understand why Vimes’s first reaction to learning that she is teaching them to read and to speak is to frame it as though she is trying to “civilize” the goblins. But it’s flawed! It’s the same problem as before. She is teaching them to communicate with humans because they have to live with them. But she isn’t changing them at all. As she says, she is “teaching them how to be goblins, clever goblins,” and that means she has no intention of diluting their beliefs or their culture. Her monologue is scathing and necessary, too, The point of it, at least my take on it? We don’t know shit about the goblins. And it’s humans who have the limited perception here, not the other way around! Yes, this resonated so much with me, because even if it’s a metaphorical representation, it’s easy to see how this exact phenomenon appears in the real world. Pratchett is clearly referencing it, too, and how often we judge people as the Other and as Inferior because we refuse to understand others AND judge them through the lens of our lives. 

The Way Through

And that’s why it is important that Pratchett makes this point, then immediately follows it up with the implications of said belief. Vimes has a stunning line here that I want to open with:

“And bloody Vetinari got away with it again, because he was right: where there are little crimes, large crimes are not far behind.”

If we extrapolate this metaphor to the goblins, then we can see how chief constable Upshot’s admission fits this to a T. So what’s the little crime? I’d argue that it’s not the kidnapping, which is the larger crime. Look how often the goblins are denied personhood and agency throughout this text, and not just from the magistrates and the aristocrats. Vimes is certainly further ahead than most, but even he slips up from time to time. From that, the people in this land easily justify their behavior when they KIDNAP TONS OF GOBLINS and say that it’s best for them to be taken elsewhere to work in the sun. There are just… so many levels of evil to that, you know? Not just the kidnapping, but the idea that they need sun, that the work is good for them, despite it clearly being unpaid and strenuous and deadly and forced, and that this would also help the goblins “not bother other people.” That last one is so damn telling, y’all. These people allowed slavery to happen to the goblins because they were “bothered” by the goblins. 

I am loathe to imagine what the even larger crimes are at this point, but clearly something is happening elsewhere. The plot involving Colon, Gumption, and the unggue pot is definitely linked to this, so I’m guessing that there are goblin slaves working on Gumption’s tobacco plantation, right? Jesus, how the hell is Vimes going to undo all of this? How do you challenge a whole system like this? I mean… yes, you go to Lady Sybil first, GOOD IDEA, SAM VIMES. But I got the sense that she knew exactly how gnarly and confusing and complicated this was going to be. And her warning is partially due to that! Sam has a delicate nightmare that he’s got to unravel, but I can’t guess what the next step is. Even if he confronts the magistrates, are they just going to give it all up? No, they still think it’s technically legal. And it very well might be! Are there any laws protecting the goblins? What about anti-slavery laws? I don’t actually know!


Mark Links Stuff

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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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