In the eighteenth part of Snuff, Feeney Upshot has his day, and Wee Mad Arthur makes a terrible discovery. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Discworld.
Trigger Warning: For discussion of slavery, torture.
Holy shit. It’s all coming together, y’all, and IT’S SO MUCH.
Cease and Desist
Like I said on video: I should have seen this coming. I really should have! The magistrates are constructed by Pratchett in a way that feels both deliberate and scathing: people of wealth and privilege will use the law to keep themselves where they are at any cost. In fact, the law only matters when it benefits them! And I found it fitting that the twist of the magistrates’s cease and desist came after Vimes’s long internal struggle with whether he’s doing the right thing. It’s fascinating because Vimes did not come from wealth, but he’s now a part of it. And yet, he constantly refuses to let himself fall into the trappings of wealth. He cares so deeply about being ethical, about not cheating his way to success, about making sure that he’s thought of all the possible angles that his case could be undone. And meanwhile, the other side is just straight-up cheating, and they know they can get away with it.
Well, traditionally. But they’ve never had to deal with Commander Sam Vimes. I love that his response here is not only to brilliantly disagree with Mr. Stoner, but to just leave. Like, who has the audacity to think they can arrest Vimes? AGAIN??? Let us also appreciate that Vimes, after years of working with Vetinari, channels him here in order to keep Mr. Stoner on his toes. It’s incredible seeing that happen, especially since it feels appropriate this far into the series. Vimes learned from the best at dealing with bureaucrats, aristocrats, and the rule of law in this context. Yet at the heart of it all is a strikingly emotional plea: Vimes needs these people to stop considering goblins as vermin. I don’t know about y’all, but one particular line here just took me OUT:
“Where will your magistrates put the ruler, Mr. Stoner? Then again we don’t use a ruler in Ankh-Morpork, because once the goblins are vermin, then the poor are vermin, and the dwarfs are vermin, and the trolls are vermin. She wasn’t vermin and she pleaded not to die.”
This is a theme that Pratchett has seeded throughout the novel, at times challenging even the most progressive of characters with their notions of the goblins. And it leads to this powerful moment, wherein Vimes names the specific suffering that this poor woman went through. She was treated like a pest, and she died begging for her life.
Yet it doesn’t even crack Mr. Stoner’s facade. Neither does Vimes’s attempt to appeal to the good nature of Constable Upshot, or the invocation of the fact that both Upshot and Vimes absolutely do not consider themselves above the law. They’re underneath it. If anyone is above the law, it’s the magistrates, and thus, Vimes refuses to keel to their “authority.” His refusal is both in-character and a thrilling moment in the story, especially because of what it leads to.
Chief Constable Upshot
I don’t want to skip over everything that transpires at the lockup, but I have to start with this incredible bit:
“Well done, Chief Constable Upshot, and this time I’m not laughing at you, Feeney, I’m not making fun, I’m not talking you down, and I cannot believe that you are the lad I met only a few days ago!”
I wanted to focus on this journey because this scene is the culmination of a ton of growth for Upshot. There is no uncertainty in this long scene as he addresses the violent mob that has come to take back Flutter. Pratchett is working with so much here: mob mentality. Privilege. The fact that the people of the Shires do what they’re told and how that contributes to the insidious complicity we’ve seen throughout the novel. Double standards. And one person who positions themselves in this moment at the center of it all is Upshot, who openly refuses to make the same mistake his father did. He isn’t going to look the other way as goblins are mistreated and tormented, and he certainly isn’t going to let these men bully their way into denying the goblins justice. The whole thing is one of those moments that makes you want to pump your fist in the air because it’s so righteous.
AND THEN THERE’S PROBATIONARY SPECIAL CONSTABLE STINKY. Holy shit, even Vimes was impressed as he watched Upshot trick all the men present into agreeing that the law applies to goblins, which therefore means they have rights, which means that Upshot has the power to make Stinky an officer. And just like that, with a single act, Upshot changes the world of the Shires. Just like that. Now, I personally don’t think that this is a thing that works outside the context of this book. Like, there’s a really common refrain you’ll inevitably hear when talking about issues around police brutality and systemic violence, which is that the solution lies in hiring more people of color in the police force. That has historically never really worked because the greater issue there is rooted in something completely different. In the Shires and in Ankh-Morpork, I think it’s easier to argue that this is DEFINITELY a good thing, you know? They need representation to deal with issues that are unique to them, and the power structure of the Watch doesn’t line up with the power structures we see in Roundworld.
Anyway! Just something I was thinking about as I was writing this. I appreciate that some of this works as a real-world analogy or reference, but it doesn’t have to in every context. The Disc is its own large, sprawling world, and this solution works here. The same goes for how Vimes deals with Mr. Stoner. Mr. Stoner is a lawyer who behaves as he does because he works for the ultra rich. He knows his actions have the slimmest basis in real law; again, it’s all about what these aristocrats can get away with, and Mr. Stoner definitely enables them! So what does Vimes do? He appeals to Mr. Stoner’s future; he invokes Mr. Slant! Yet that’s not the image he gives to the gathered crowd, and Vimes brilliantly makes it look like Mr. Stoner snitched on… well, someone. Doesn’t really matter whom. In this is the implicit confirmation of how ferociously the people of this community hate snitches. That’s why Jethro disappeared in the first place! It’s not bad enough that these people did something monstrous years earlier and continue to do it; they punish anyone who threatens the practice.
That does make me wonder: how many times since that moment three years ago have the goblins been kidnapped for labor?
Wee Mad Arthur’s Discovery
I’m not going to quote the brutal details, but this truly felt like one of the darkest moments in the Discworld series, right up with some of the stuff in Thud! and Tiffany Aching’s last book. Arthur has found the tobacco plantation where the goblins have been enslaved, and it’s… horrifying. That word feels so trite when I think about what he finds there and how open the evidence is of it. The overseers don’t even care to hide it, y’all. And why should they? No one has ever tried to stop this nightmare before, so they can just leave the evidence of the immense suffering for anyone to see. It’s so blatant, and that’s the point. These people believed that they were entitled to the bodies and labor of the goblins. The end.
And now it’s time for justice to finally come to light. I assume Wee Mad Arthur finds the surviving goblins in the other sheds, right???
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