In the twenty-fourth and penultimate part of Raising Steam, Rhys tells the truth. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Discworld.
I figured that, in the end, Ardent would be a coward. His whole behavior has shown us that while he believes fervently in the idea that dwarfs are losing what it means to be dwarfish, he knows that, ultimately, what he’s done is wrong. If he thinks he has been so righteous, why did he wait until Rhys was physically gone to try to take the Scone? For that matter, why didn’t he ever take the Scone? And why, after he has murdered or had murdered so very many people, all in the name of protecting the world of the dwarfs, does he have nothing to say about himself? Nothing to defend? Nothing to proclaim?
I think that Ardent’s silence speaks louder than any attempt at a speech.
But backing up a moment, I think there’s so much to be said for Ardent’s movement if we look at those who followed him. Like Moist, I expected a massive fight in Schmaltzberg. Look, there were so many heated and opposing opinions in this community, and the grags were CONSTANTLY willing to murder other people over it! And yes, many of them were manipulated or exploited or compelled to kill, but I don’t think that necessarily matters to all the victims this group left behind. Where it does matter is in the construction of Ardent’s hierarchal community. He sat at the top, and he had a trusted group close to him, but this was a (temporarily) successful endeavor not because of a shared common interest or belief. No, I would argue that the main thing that motivated the bulk of the grags and delvers was fear. Fear of the Other. Fear of those unlike them. Fear of Ardent’s retribution if they didn’t do what he wanted them to.
So what happens when Ardent can’t wield that fear? What happens when he’s probably spent all this time saying their mission is guided by Tak, and yet they’ve lost at every step of the way? As the Iron Girder got ever closer to Bonk, how many of Ardent’s followers began to see Ardent for who he was? How many might have believed in his ideas, but became pragmatic as Rhys inched toward Bonk? How many really only cared about being behind whomever was currently in power?
And like Moist, I also misjudged dwarf culture, as I was expected something closer to Koom Valley. But thus far, there hasn’t all that much violence from one dwarf to another, at least compared to how many humans have been killed. So, when all of Rhys’s dwarfs arrive, there is some fighting, but for the most part?
“That’s dwarf-on-dwarf war: a hell of a lot of shouting and accusing and spitting, a lot like cats really, but that’s dwarfs for you. They’re not that stupid. Bags of bravado and saber rattling, but no one really wants to get hurt. You fight, hoping for a small wound that looks good afterward. Something to show the grandchildren, but really, when it comes to it, dwarf against dwarf, it generally settles down.”
That speaks more to dwarf identity and tradition than anything Ardent put forth. Even after all the shit these dwarfs have been through, their “war” turns quickly into a post-brawl get-together. Like, it literally feels like some huge fight broke out in the pub for maybe ten minutes, and now everyone feels a little ashamed of what they’ve done, so they’re nursing one another’s wounds and also nursing more alcohol.
But this is not the end for the dwarfs and this plot. Indeed, while Pratchett closes much of the storyline, there’s a lot here that’s been left to the future, and to be honest? I’m super into it. When Rhys takes the Scone, she comes into her own by shedding the moniker of “Low King” for the “Low Queen,” and in doing so, she sets forth a future where the dwarfs have to choose who they’re going to be. There’s no more of Ardent telling dwarfs who they have to become. Instead, Rhys offers a strange sort of mercy to Ardent rather than execute him, and in doing so, she’s setting a new precedent. How is justice achieved? What can this community do with people like Ardent, who are sure to pop up again? The easy answer would have been execution, but instead, by offering a trial (with victims’ families part of the proceedings), Rhys lays down a new standard. What if justice can involve those who are wronged, rather than Rhys just having someone killed? What if closure can come by other means?
It is, of course, the smaller of the options that Rhys puts before her people. She very proudly and defiantly opposes the culture of secrecy around gender, and that act ends up having immediate and heartwarming ramifications. I talked about this on video, but much of this feels like how coming out narratives work. In particular, this made me very happy:
…a great many of the dwarfs she was talking to were already openly declaring themselves females who had been waiting for this moment for a very long.
How many other ways has she changed this world just by being herself out loud, in front of everyone? This is why so many of us in this community have said how important coming out is. When someone lives their truth, it’s infectious. How many more dwarfs will we see like Rhys in a month? In a year? Also: how many people will change because of what Albrecht said and did? Because allies can have an immense influence on others as well. In this context, Albrecht’s reputation is so solid and sure, and yet he still admitted that recent events changed his heart.
Who else will experience this change in their heart, too?
I was also fascinated by Rhys’s solution to those she knew were guilty of working for or with Ardent. She’s opting for social shame to do the job that would otherwise be solved by bloodshed. This community is so close-knit that dwarfs will know who did something terrible. Does she expect that this community will also police itself in a sense? That through shunning and shame, the perpetrators are punished for what they did? It’s certainly a much more peaceful option than… well, the much more bloody option. She wants her reign as the Low Queen to begin with understanding. With peace. With empathy. With eyes open to a bright and different future than the ones the dwarfs have imagined before. That might even mean re-thinking what justice and mercy are in this new world.
There’s one more thing in this split to talk about. The Iron Girder goddess! AHHHHH, I was actually right to postulate that the magic of belief on the Disc would imply that Iron Girder could be alive. I love that Pratchett didn’t create a human-esque goddess either. No, this goddess is STEAM. Because of course she is!!! And Pratchett calls back to the very, very beginning of the book, and I’d like to think that’s what the title references. Steam has been raised, first as a love and an interest in the Simnel family, an idea born of trying to imagine a future in which this chaotic entity could be controlled safely and consistently. Once that idea grew beyond Dick Simnel, though, it was raised into the entire world. Or raised by the world, I should. Look what steam has become after all of this. Not just transportation, but the world has become both smaller and bigger. Smaller because places that were impossible to travel to are now within reach. People like Knut can now imagine a world outside of goats. (Nothing wrong with goats, mind you.) But it’s also bigger. For people like Albrecht and Moist and Vimes, and anyone else who has seen just how varied and diverse the Disc is. Their horizons have expanded, so to speak.
All because of an idea. Something made of nothing, whose time has come to be.
Mark Links Stuff
– You can now pre-order my second YA novel, Each of Us a Desert, which will be released on September 15, 2020 from Tor Teen!
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