In the eighth part of Pyramids, Teppic realizes that he can no longer idly obey… himself. Technically. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Discworld.
Trigger Warning: For talk of homophobia
It’s become apparent to me that this book was designed to infuriate. CLEARLY, PRATCHETT TRAVELED THROUGH TIME TO OBSERVE MY LIFE. I’ve long had a problem with authority figures in general, but that’s not because I’m uncomfortable with someone having power over me. It’s because my life has been full of people misusing that power. So as I read this section, I was just done with Dios. I don’t sympathize with him, I won’t feel bad about whatever fate awaits him, and I’m thrilled to see that Teppic is starting to challenge his authority.
But it’s more than that, of course, and while there’s a lot here that I related to because of my own past with organized religion, I’ll echo what I said at the end of my video reading of this: Pratchett’s parody of religion is vicious here. There’s no denying it anymore. It’s a part of the text and you can’t divorce it from the story! A lot of that is attached to Dios’s need to maintain tradition (WHY WHY WHY WHY) and how it reveals the horrible hypocrisies of this nation.
Let’s start with the court scenes, because there’s a blatant example of all of this. Teppic is, frankly, nothing more than a figurehead, meant to represent power and prestige and justice. But his voice means nothing at all because Dios ignores it while condescending down to Teppic. When Teppic tries to administer justice, Dios immediately contradicts him and THE WHOLE SYSTEM ACCEPTS IT. And seriously, that aspect of this is so rewarding to read because it’s so realistic. In terms of a religious power, everyone is complicit in maintaining. That’s not to say that those on the bottom of the social ladder are as responsible as those on top. Pratchett also makes this clear, since Dios is obviously the ringleader and the primary person who holds this all together. At the same time, we witness how individual “believers” uphold the entire system.
And it’s all flawed to begin with, and Dios knows it. He is not deluded by belief; he is not genuinely convinced of his faith, except when it guarantees his power. Then he’s certain. So it’s clear to me that when Teppic contradicts him, he knows that he’s bullshitting to Teppic in order to maintain the whole thing. He knows that he’s in control; he knows his judgments have nothing to do with justice; he knows that he’s got the horrible weight of history on his side.
That juxtaposition between reality and belief is part of Pratchett’s parody. We know for certain that Teppic’s judgment in the case of the cattle is about the most fair conclusion to come to, and we know that Dios’s decision benefits the temple. (Mostly. I actually did like the distinction made between what the temple gained and what Rhumusphut gained, since he now believes he’s gained a “greater stature in the Netherworld.” He is fine with injustice because it still benefits him.) I think this dynamic is even more glaring in the case of the tenant and land owner, where Teppic sides against legal right because he knows it is morally wrong for a rich, greedy owner to further marginalize a lesser tenant. (I WAS SO PROUD OF TEPPIC.) And then Dios forces BOTH PARTIES TO PAY MONEY:
“Is there any point in me being here?” he demanded in an overheated whisper.
“Please be calm, sire. If you were not here, how would the people know that justice had been done?”
IT’S SO GLARING. He’s literally telling Teppic that he’s not but a cog in this massive machine, and that his sole role is to just sit there and validate Dios’s decisions by… well, sitting there. So when Ptraci is brought before Teppic and the sheer absurdity of the wrong done to her is undeniable to him, he just sort of gives up. “Let her go,” is all he says, a message as plain as day, and this is how Dios “interprets” it:
“Tomorrow at dawn you will be cast to the crocodiles of the river. Great is the wisdom of the king!”
I mean… there’s so much at work here? There’s hypocrisy and disingenuous interpretation. There’s a fascinating subtext I could read into this concerning godly authority. LOOK, I USED TO BE A CATHOLIC, INTERPRETATION OF GOD’S WILL AND GOD’S WORD IS EVERYTHING TO US. So I like this idea that if we accept that Teppic is God, Dios is the one willfully misinterpreting Teppic’s “goodness” for his own end. It’s easy for me to see this within the text because… shit, y’all. Dios is the priests in church I knew who would lie about gayness. Dios is my parents, who built a fear in God in me that caused me to hate myself. Dios is my godfather and his family, who used their interpretation of God to put me on the street. (In the name of love, of course.)
So yes, I utterly adore that Teppic, using the very skills he learned at the assassin’s guild at the beginning of this book, disobeys his own judgment and tries to rescue Ptraci. It’s through this that Pratchett shows us the damage done by Dios and those who came before him. When Ptraci is offered the chance to escape, she can barely fathom the idea. That’s even more the case for the unnamed man who is locked up next to Ptraci. He willingly reported himself for swearing, despite that he could have kept it to himself. And when Teppic tries to free him? HE CALLS THE GUARDS ALL ON HIS OWN. Of course, then there’s this exchange, which I think highlights how screwed up this whole society is:
“I – I don’t want to die,” she said quietly.
“Don’t blame you.”
“You mustn’t say that! It’s wrong not to want to die!”
Within the context of Djelibeybi, this shows us how the promise of an afterlife is everything to these people. Their lives are but inconvenient tests for their eternity post-death, so it makes no sense to want to stay alive. But I also come from a history of Christian denominations that also mirror this sort of belief, so while I know this very well could not be Pratchett’s intent, I also see a parody of that line of thought. I was raised to believe that every little action of mine would determine whether or not I’d spend an eternity in heaven or hell. There were, of course, unforgivable sins, ones that would guarantee where I’d end up.
Guess which one was the most frequently mentioned. Guess.
So I’m intrigued to see what will become of Ptraci. She’s a character who exists in a space where she’s clearly ready to start questioning her place in society, but she’s still scared of the ramifications of it. Interesting enough, she doesn’t question her role as a handmaiden, and I want to learn more about them within this culture. She’s very unapologetic about sex, though this is all filtered through Teppic’s awkwardness. (This is a common motif with Pratchett, though, since the sexuality of women is almost always seen through the eyes of men. And few of these men are upfront about their own sexuality, instead choosing to view it like a teenager who suddenly saw a naked body in a health class in high school. Why is that? Why is this so frequent in Pratchett’s work?) Regardless, she’s alive, and she knows that she wants to stay alive. She’s certain that Teppic’s father did not want to be buried in a pyramid, and she is the only person Teppic has interacted with who sees some of the flaws in this culture.
It’s a start. I’m worried about Dios, though, as Pratchett seems to hint that Dios is aware that something happened overnight. Perhaps he doesn’t suspect that Teppic left the palace, but I’m uneasy. I’m uneasy when I think about Dios because I know he’s hiding something huge from us and from Teppic, and I am a little frightened to find out what it is.
The original text contains use of the word “mad.”
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