In the fourth part of Snuff, Vimes learns more about the grounds surrounding The Hall and the Ramkin family. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Discworld.
Well, let this stand as yet more evidence of how this whole Mark Reads thing works.
Cuz seriously, I just wrote about not being sure of the Ramkin family history, and that lack of information informed an opinion. And here we are, with the first moment in the book in which the Ramkins are spoken of with relative positivity! And perhaps this is some of what Lady Sybil was referring to: the value of what the Ramkins have given to society at large.
I still think it’s more complicated than that, and I actually think Vimes does, too. Pratchett, through Vimes, is forcing the reader to contend with this notion of value and privilege: What exactly can these people be excused for? If a person invented something that improved society significantly, is it fine if they’re an asshole or arrogant? Does the value of their contribution outweigh their snobbishness? Their cruel treatment of those who have a lesser a value than them?
So, let’s start with Stump, the hermit who lives permanently on the grounds of The Hall. I feel like maybe there’s a cultural thing here or perhaps a fantasy trope I’m not quite familiar with. We don’t use the word “hermit” here quite the same way? I think there are a lot of similarities, but my experience from someone who grew up in Southern California is that it’s more pejorative than anything else. It’s the word we would use to describe people who walled themselves off from society completely, either out in the wilderness or in a home. I remember we often associated hoarding along with it, too? Or at least that’s how I recall it. The “hermits” in our neighborhood were the man who lived out in the wilderness preserve and built himself a home out of what others had discarded and a different man who had a house down from ours but chose to basically board himself up inside it? It was a big deal in the neighborhood if we ever saw him, so much so that kids would brag and claim they’d actually spoken to him. I doubt the truth of all those claims, but hopefully the point makes sense. These were not idealized people, and the sense I got is that the practice of herming involved living on the land (not necessarily off it?) and pursuing wisdom, and being pious and sober and celibate (except for a week-long holiday).
Pratchett’s making fun of something, but I’m not quite sure what it is. However, I did understand that this was another detail to help us understand the sort of lifestyle the Ramkins lived. As Willikins puts it:
“It was considered romantic to have a grotto with a hermit in it.”
So much so that Stump gets a weekly allowance! And yet, despite all of this, this isn’t about an exchange of knowledge. The Ramkins never learned anything from Stump or his relatives. Oh, no, that would never happen! It’s here that Willikins introduces the idea that aristocrats are who they are because they’re certain. And I wonder how much of that certainty comes from their wealth. I think it’s easier to think you’re right and to be certain if you live in a world like ours and you are certain that you don’t have to worry about money. Like, the very idea seems impossible to me! I can’t imagine living a WHOLE life without that specific anxiety! I’ve worried about money every day of my life since I was young enough to understand that my family suddenly didn’t have it. Thus, I think it’s clever that Pratchett uses Stump to bring this idea into the book.
But even then, where do the Ramkins fit within this understanding of aristocrats? I admit that I was surprised once Willikins started revealing that the Ramkin family has a history of actually doing good things that added value to society. There’s science (Malus equilibria) and technology (Rubber Ramkin and the flying machine) that they contributed to, and again, is that what Lady Sybil was referring to? Is that how she saw her family as having value? Because I don’t see Black Jack Ramkin as fitting into this either, though in terms of pettiness? I DEEPLY RESPECT HIM. He does fit in to the notion that out in the country, it’s more “straightforward.” Willikins explains:
“That’s why they liked him, because they knew where they stood, even if he was about to fall down.”
And what I see is an immense challenge on the part of Vimes, who is struggling to understand this world he’s suddenly been thrust into. Because the truth is that he doesn’t know where he stands, and the staff doesn’t either. He’s apparently the Duke of the place, but he certainly does not behave that way. Is he the man or the master? I’m not sure that Vimes is currently interested in finding out the answer to that. He’s just going to continue being himself, which exists somewhere in between the two extremes. But he IS going to have ask himself these questions. What has he inherited by becoming a part of this family? What information does he want to pass along to his son? There’s a legacy in the Ramkin crypts that Young Sam is going to inherit. And there’s Old Stoneface, sure, and even the legacy of Duke Sam Vimes. Commander Sam Vimes. Blackboard Monitor Vimes. Is he just going to be a character “interesting enough to materially add to the endless crazy circus show” of Ankh-Morpork or is he really going to be just as valuable as Lady Sybil thinks he is?
(I mean, it’s already the latter. I know that.)
Vimes has already left a legacy behind with his good works; but what does he think he’s leaving behind? And how does he go forth into this future and in this house while clinging to who he is? Should he cling to that?
ALSO HE IS DEFINITELY GETTING LOST ON THIS WALK, ISN’T HE
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