In the twenty-third part of Snuff, Vimes ponders what to do next. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Discworld.
Trigger Warning: For discussion of slavery
I’m glad that on the first page of this split, Feeney vocalized the truest reaction imaginable to this story:
“What happens now, commander?” said Feeney, leaning on the rail as they watched Quirm disappearing in the wake behind them. “I mean, what are we going to do next?”
Because I genuinely don’t know! Almost all of the pieces of the puzzle are in place now, and while Vimes basically knows how this all came to be, there’s not a direct path to justice here. Wee Mad Arthur freed the goblins in Howondaland. (Which I believe confirms that this was the only place they were sent; I would be genuinely surprised if Pratchett reveals there were other sites later in the book.) Vimes has arrested people responsible for being cogs in this horrible machine, and those he hasn’t arrested, he’s utilized to get more information. But if you follow the arrogance—as he recommends to Feeney in this split—it goes right back to the magistrates, to the people who truly believe that the law does not apply to them because of their status and place in this society. It’s not just that, though; they also know that the law is on their side in one regard, and that’s goblin rights. I imagine that if there is some big confrontation near the end of this book, we’re going to hear exactly that: Well, kidnapping and enslaving the goblins isn’t illegal, so there’s nothing wrong with it.
This is actually a notion that I’ve run into through experience and in activism, too, and it’s one of the most insidious problems to deal with. There are so very many people who equate the law with morality, who believe that something immoral cannot be enshrined in law, or who alternately believe that if the state does not legislate it, than it is immoral, too. These people place their faith in the state because they either haven’t been hurt by a governing body and the implications of its rules, or they are ignorant to the ways in which they are. In this specific case, these people see the boon that’s given to them by enslaving the goblins, and they view this success as evidence that what they are doing is just and fair. Some people know deep down that they’re wrong, but they make excuses based on other factors. And there are some who are so wholly convinced of their supremacy that they’re offended at the very suggestion that maybe this class of people deserve the same respect as them, the same chance to have a good, fulfilling life, the same chances.
How the hell do you dismantle that?
Well, you start small, and Vimes is clever enough to know that he’s not just going to take down a whole system overnight. That’s been the case throughout the book, too! As he’s changed his own mind about the goblins and become determined to give them justice, he’s challenged so very many people about their own biases. He knows it has to be on a person-to-person basis, at least at first, before minds can be changed on a greater scale. (Which I’d also argue is what’s happened across the Discworld series as a whole, especially the Watch books.)
But while this is unfolding, Vimes remains introspective, too, and I found that deeply interesting as a study of his character. Vimes has always existed in an interesting place as a protagonist because Pratchett hasn’t been afraid to portray him as being wrong, stubborn, bigoted, and difficult. But as Ankh-Morpork has changed, so has he. As he found love, he found a way to look at the world differently. And once he had a son, life was very much not the same as it once was. Vimes is still himself at the core, though, and there’s always going to be that darkness to him. It’s why the Summoning Dark was so drawn to him in Thud! and why it remains around him in this book, too. Vimes has been chasing after some of the greatest evils of humanity in Snuff, and he uses that time to reflect on how many of those terrible tendencies and instincts still exist in him. What better way to do that than to introduce a foil in Stratford, a character who refused to check any of their horrific tendencies? Stratford unnerves Sam Vimes because he’s so close to what Vimes feels deep down where he doesn’t let anyone in. (That makes me wonder how much Sybil is aware of this part of Vimes. Something tells me that as much as Vimes thinks it’s a secret, Sybil has seen that darkness, too.)
Anyway, there are some other neat realizations in this split aside from Vimes’s reflection of his sense of self. It took him a while, but Vimes finally figured out that one ramification of his work in the Shires was the installation of its first clacks tower. With a clacks tower comes information, and who thrives off knowing everything? Only our friendly local Patrician! Yet again, Vimes was gently… shoved? Yes, shoved into a situation that he took on and inadvertently did work for Vetinari. Whoops?
There’s another great moment while Vimes is on a walk with his son, and it’s the reappearance of Stinky, which confirms that Stinky led the goblins back to their home in the Shires!!! It really does make sense that they’d return here, even though I wasn’t sure where they disappeared to the last time we saw them. Stinky also found another job, and the clacks operator seemed pretty damn pleased with Stinky’s performance. It makes me think of what I said earlier: change is incremental in a lot of ways, but it can also happen rapidly. Would a human have allowed a goblin to work for them like Stinky does earlier in this book? I can’t forget that Stinky was just freed from becoming a slave, and now they’re already finding something else they enjoy doing without being exploited.
So… what happens next? Colon is cured and, like many of the other characters in Snuff, the experience he had has changed his opinion of the goblins. I think the clue to what comes next is in Vimes’s conversation with Sybil in the garden. In the Shires, there are still briers choking the rose bushes, and the solution is to cut them free, to remove them so that the bushes can grow and thrive. But how? How does Vimes cut these briers loose? Is it just the magistrates poisoning the world with their greed? What of Lord Rust’s son, who we haven’t even seen on the page yet? It was his idea to begin with, right?
I love that I only have three sections left of this book, and I still don’t know how it will end.
Mark Links Stuff
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