In the fourteenth part of Raising Steam, Harry King has a soft spot; Vetinari gives an order. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Discworld.
Trigger Warning: For brief talk of death.
I don’t think we’ve had this conversation for a while on this site, but this is a perfect time. Y’all, there are some tropes that just butter my bread. That float my boat. That I love despite their overuse or ubiquity, that make me so happy, that can endear me to an otherwise subpar or mediocre story.
Two of these tropes appear IN JUST THIS ONE SPLIT. Two! It’s a beautiful gift! So let’s start with Dick Simnel. I want to note that this isn’t the first time this trope appears in regards to Dick. Very early in the book, Pratchett used this archetype, and there’s also a similarity between him and how Captain Carrot has been written over the series, too. But y’all: I love a character who everyone assumes is simple or uncomplicated, and they actually turn out to be HIGHLY COMPETENT. There’s an element of that in Carrot, sure, but more so in the beginning of his arc, since he climbs the ranks in the Watch and becomes highly respected and feared. But most people are meeting Dick Simnel for the first time, and his appearance is constantly referenced by Pratchett. He’s greasy. Like… literally greasy. Moist has to constantly remind him of this. (And now I can’t find the line, but doesn’t either Moist or Harry tell Dick to change into a suit at one point?)
No one expects his competence or his sincerity. Which is wild to me because HE BUILT ALL THOSE ENGINES. He’s clearly a genius. But he speaks so plainly; he says exactly what he means; he is so damn SINCERE. It’s hard to twist or spin what he says, though Hardwick of the Pseudopolis Daily Press still tried it. Seriously, what a ridiculously rude question! To him, Dick’s father’s death is a means of posing a gotcha; he clearly didn’t care about the man as a person. Yet even then, Dick gracefully address how dangerous live steam is, and he does so in a way that inspires confidence.
I LOVE THIS TROPE. I TRULY DO.
But there’s a trope I love even more than that, and it appears in Harry King. I love characters who have a tough, thorny exterior, who for whatever reason are hardened by the world, but the truth is ON THE INSIDE THEY ARE A BIG SOFTIE. They’re emotional. They’re deeply empathetic, but they protect themselves and others with a mask or a shell. Oh, there’s just SO MUCH MATERIAL for me to love.
He is a tough character, make no mistake. But he’s tough because he knows how hard he’s worked for what he’s had. So there’s a part of me that gets why he’s so frustrated by, for example, the concept of sharing what he’s created. Though I do want to make a distinction here: Dick Simnel made it; Harry King provided the funding. It’s a vital piece of this, of course, and the railway would not have progressed as it has without Harry King. So, naturally, Harry King still wants to control everything, including the very idea of the railway. Which isn’t rational. You can’t control an idea or claim a patent on something so vague. Thankfully, Mr. Thunderbolt explains this to him, but Harry still wants more. He built one empire, and he doesn’t want this one taken away from him.
I don’t think it’ll be, for what it’s worth. I love that Moist and Mr. Thunderbolt take their time later in the split to explain why it’s important that Harry change his expectations for the railway, particularly investing in steel. I bring this up as a long way to lead into discussing the trope: Harry King is a deeply, deeply emotional person. There’s this mistaken idea that men like Harry aren’t emotional, but most people are. Harry just chooses to channel his emotions into this persona of his, but what’s he actually like? Yes, he probably would punch you if you called him a philanthropist, but he’s not hoarding his wealth. He has a lot of money, and he spends it to do good things. He’s one of the only employers in the whole city who offers up a pension; he randomly pays excessive hospital bills; he rewards his employees handsomely. And then there’s that whole trip to see Mrs. Wesley. The cynical part of Moist is able to recognize how Harry’s kindness will be twisted into good PR for the man, but the truth is that Moist honestly believes that Harry helped Mrs. Wesley out because it was the right thing to do.
He’s a big softie. I LOVE IT. I love it SO MUCH.
I did want to address some other things that don’t fit the trope conversation. Knowing that Rhys Rhysson is actually female, I feel as if Pratchett intentionally used she/her for the dwarf scene, where a member of the grags finally realizes that she’s on the wrong side. Seriously, it was bold enough of her to have that outburst where she properly labels the whole group as criminals. But since these dwarfs have a very close-minded approach to gender, it seemed purposeful that this dwarf was a woman. Unfortunately, she doesn’t escape the grags, who kill her before she can see the light. (Literally, since it all transpired in the darkness underground.) But this line in particular interested me:
And then there were eight left in the cavern and those watching in the darkness watched more closely to see who would be next.
Is this the actual number of Ardent’s supporters? Is that all that’s left? I figured that they were a minority in the dwarf world, but this was WAY smaller than I expected. That makes sense, though; it’s rare that fundamentalist groups like this are a majority. But my actual favorite part of the book so far is at the end of this POV:
The grags came down heavily on those who did not conform and seemed not to realize that this was like stamping potatoes into the mud to stop them growing.
I genuinely think this is one of the most profound things Pratchett put in his books. It hits so HARD, especially since I can think of a number of people that this applies to in my life. How many times have people tried to crush my desires or my dreams? SERIOUSLY, THIS IS A PERFECT METAPHOR FOR ALL MY TEENAGE YEARS. I can’t deal??? It’s so good? Look, my mother told me that heavy metal and punk music would send me to hell, and look at me know. All those people who tried to shame me for liking horror? For being gay? For wanting to be an author when I grew up? NONE OF YOUR SHAMING OR SPIRIT-BREAKING WORKED. It had the genuine opposite effect that these people wanted.
One last thing: Vetinari’s demand. Do I think Vetinari actually expects Moist to get things done in record time? Actually… yeah, I do. But Vetinari is more complicated than that. On the surface, it seemed so bold of him to just invoke being a tyrant and then order Moist to stop everything so that an express line to Bonk can be built. The man just watched Moist struggle with trying to get a line to Quirm. It’s been months, and Moist hasn’t even begun to negotiate for land rights to get to Uberwald. He knows exactly how long it took to build a line to a place a couple hundred miles away, and he knows that Uberwald is over five times that distance away.
So why threaten Moist?
My guess is because he knows it will work. Moist is going to take the time he needs to, and he’ll come up with a ridiculous solution. Why? Because whenever the man is under pressure, his brain does magical things. EVERY. TIME. And I think Vetinari just created an artificial sense of pressure on him. Look how quickly he convinces Harry King to invest in more steel! However, here’s where the real hint to the future is:
In desperation Moist said, “We don’t have enough workers, sir! Not enough people to man the foundries! Not enough people to dig the ore! We’ve probably got enough stock now to get halfway, but it’s all about the workers.”
“Yes,” said Lord Vetinari. “It is. Isn’t it. Think on that, Mister Lipwig.”
So, I’m possibly deeply, deeply wrong. But who could man foundries? Who could dig the ore? Who hasn’t been involved in the process of the railway because of the recent acts of terrorism against the clacks and the railhead?
My theory: Vetinari has just planted the seed of an idea in Moist’s mind. He wants him to start involving the dwarfs. WHICH WOULD BE VERY DIFFICULT, MIND YOU. They’re in the middle of a schism! Okay, they’re always in the middle of one, but this one’s pretty serious. It’s a pretty solid theory… I think? So, yeah, why not just commit it to this review and hope I’m right?
Lord, I hope I’m right.
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