In the twenty-fourth part of Unseen Academicals, the game begins. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Discworld.
Holy shit, this was BRILLIANT. I feel like there’s a very meta joke here, which is that narrating an entire football match within a book could get very, very tedious, so Pratchett finds a way to… narrate the football match. Every detail of it. THROUGH A CHARACTER WE HAVEN’T SEEN IN A WHILE. And it’s so funny and absurd and not the least bit boring. Honestly, y’all, this whole split is such an accomplishment??? I’m sure I’ll be able to say the same for the entire match itself, but let’s just focus on what happens.
Because holy shit, this is a lot. Pratchett does a wonderful thing here by building up the sense of grandeur to this game. Right from the start, we are well aware that this is perhaps the biggest event in Ankh-Morpork that we’ve ever encountered in the Discworld series. I mean, sure, giant dragon attacking the city might technically count as an “event,” but this feels so different. Everyone seems to be headed to the hippo for this showdown, and it adds to the suspense, to the dread, to the unknowable future that’s about to unfold. The city knows: something huge is about to happen, and it’s most likely gonna be real violent. And what do Ankh-Morporkians love more than a public spectacle of violence? Actually, I don’t know. The point being: Pratchett briefly sets this up, then filters it all through the eyes of Sam Vimes, who makes a hilarious and foreboding appearance here to warn the wizards that when shit inevitably goes down in this stadium, the Watch is not going to step inside it to stop anything. And why would they? Vimes is well aware of how this will go down and how it will look, so why risk it? (As a side note: I love the definitive answer that this is placed in the aftermath of Thud!)
Basically: all of this is an excellent use of setting, it’s a masterful way to build suspense, and it all feels deeply in character for those involved and Discworld as a whole. I haven’t really commented on this in a long, long while, but it’s so nice that I never truly question this world? Discworld is what it is, and even though this book introduces things like the popularity of football, the “unseen” staff at the university, and both orcs and goblins, it doesn’t feel out of place to me. I recognize from reading the comments on recent posts that this wasn’t necessarily the case for the whole fandom, and your mileage obviously varies in any fictional world that’s lasted this long. Despite that these are all “new” things, I believed they’d always been there, and thus, it helped me sink into this scene, to surround myself with the sheer excitement of this game that has been set-up for well over 450 pages.
And then the National Anthem hit, and Trev had his epiphany, and OH LORD, I can’t believe I didn’t realize what Henry had actually done. Like Trev, I assumed that this was an issue of willpower, that the wizards would just promise not to use magic, and then just… wouldn’t do it? But nope!
He has done that, we all saw him! He’s kept his own staff inside the field where you can’t do magic. He looked at Andy and Andy nodded. Yes, he had worked it out as well.
So, Pratchett has taken two possible failsafes—the Watch and the wizards—and immediately removed them from the equation. Unseen Academicals has neither one left to protect them. Trev’s panic is very apt! I would be panicking, too!!! And yet, I expect Andy and the other bullies to immediately go after the other side. Why waste any time? But their plan was so much more insidious, y’all, and I curious if they really did intend to let Unseen Academicals have some success before taking advantage of the situation.
But before I get to that: Mr. William de Worde. Y’ALL!!!!! I was pleasantly surprised by his appearance and even more thrilled that Pratchett allowed us to watch the action through him. It’s so goddamn funny, first of all, but it also let Pratchett provide the experience of a live commentator within a book without just a huge block of dialogue. Because we get his notes, there are asides, bonus jokes, and a play-by-play of the action. I LOVE IT. Plus, it’s not just that; Pratchett still weaves in the general third-person perspective on this, too, which is how we get that great moment where Mr. Hoggett is furious that UA gets the kick off after they’ve scored a goal.
So, the game itself. UA scores TWO GOALS, because Professor Macarona is a BEAST, and the Librarian has an incredible throwing arm. And really, that’s not surprising in hindsight. We knew Macarona was talented, but I suspect that this was a sign: the other team is not all that invested in winning, are they? Oh, I think they believe they’re going to win, but they’re not going to do so by being better. They’re gonna do it this way:
‘I’m watching Andy and Andy is watchin’ Bengo. They’re bindin’ their time. They’re lettin’ the poor old buggers get into a hell of a fix and then they’ll just take over.’
And it’s not like Trev is wrong. Again, I understand why Mr. Nutt didn’t really get this. He was observing the gameplay, not the terrifying undercurrent of the game. So of course Mr. Nutt would think they were doing well and that there wasn’t much to worry about! I wonder, then, if y’all agree that Ridcully may have inflamed things further with his little psychological game. He gives Ankh-Morpork United one of the two goals scored by UA, and it’s not long after this rather brilliant strike at their ego that Macarona is horrifically injured. Not gonna quote that part because I have a thing about knee injuries after I injured my own many years ago. But maybe that’s why Andy and Jimmy finally decided that this was the best time to take out Macarona. The other team was gloating about how good they were.
Even if that isn’t the case, this is the first major escalation, and it makes me nervous. I still think UA will be fine in the end, but at what cost? Mr. Nutt’s about to take the field to replace Macarona, and there is no doubt in my mind that the other team is going to ruthlessly go after him. They despise Mr. Nutt, yes, but he’s also really fucking good. And strong! At some point, Trev will play, too. Right??? That’s definitely going to happen. So… who the hell else gets removed from the game—probably due to injury—for that to happen? I’M SCARED.
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