In the thirteenth part of Snuff, Vimes learns the truth about Miss Beedle. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Snuff.
Trigger Warning: For discussion of slavery, racism, abuse
I remain unprepared for this book and will continue to do so. I have accepted that.
BECAUSE WHAT THE HELL!!!! Look, I know that Vimes wondered why Miss Beedle would voluntarily decide to teach the goblins BUT THIS IS NOT WHERE I EXPECTED THE STORY TO GO. Anyway, I want to back up to something that happens before the big Miss Beedle reveal. In particular, I am interested in a distinction that Pratchett writes as Vimes thinks about complicity and guilt:
Gamekeepers, thought Vimes. He ran that across his brain and thought about who had actually rounded the goblins up three years ago. And then he thought, how important is that compared with the question who told them to? I think I’ve got the smell of this place: people do what they’re told because they’ve always done what they’re told.
I don’t see this as Vimes concocting an excuse for what the gamekeepers might have done, but rather him being exacting. He’s not looking for the symptoms or for collaborators, at least not in the immediate future. He’s far more interested in the magistrates and those in power who debated this decision and ultimately came down on the side of sanctioning slavery. It’s what he needs to be most careful of as well, as these people wield a lot of power over the Shires. And look what they were willing to do once Vimes seemed even vaguely threatening towards them. A goblin girl is dead, Jethro might be as well, and they attempted to frame Vimes for murder. He needs to go after the source first, to cut this violent, oppressive system off for good. And my hope is that the text doesn’t ignore those who are complicit either, that they are also expected to make amends.
Anyway, while this split does go to a dark, dark place, I’m constantly pleased at how often Pratchett includes moments of levity. One of those: EVERY scene with Willikins. ALL OF THEM. I remain so impressed and delighted by this character, y’all, and it makes me wish that Pratchett had used him way more in the past. He just works so, so well with Vimes. THEY ARE THE BUDDY COP DUO OF MY DREAMS. On top of this, there’s so much sweetness surrounding Vimes’s relationship with his son. While there’s been tension around threats to Young Sam and Sybil before, I still maintain how refreshing it is that these relationships themselves aren’t ever in danger. Vimes is a fantastic, loving father; Young Sam is a vibrant, brilliant kid who just wants to know more about the world; Sybil and Vimes are still deeply in love with one another. They are constant things in the story, and Pratchett finds other means of creating conflict. For me, that leaves these soft, loving spots in an otherwise stressful narrative, and I’m here for it. HERE FOR IT.
So, let’s get to Miss Beedle, because there is just so much here that resonated with me. I love that Pratchett chose to have Tears of the Mushroom in this scene, and it’s where I want to begin to discuss the notion of how prejudice and bigotry works. This shit is taught and ingrained at a young age, but it has to be introduced by outside forces: parents or teachers or media or entertainment or whatever. The list goes on and on. Notice how Vimes freaks out when he realizes that Young Sam is about to interact with Tears of the Mushroom:
…and suddenly the biggest raisin in his cake of apprehension was: what will Young Sam do? How many books has he read? They haven’t told him nasty tales about goblins, have they, or read him too many of those innocent, colorful fairy-tale books which contained nightmares ready to leap out and some needless fear that would cause trouble one day?
Even though Vimes is sure he’s been a good parent, this felt like a direct acknowledgement that even then, influences from the outside world can creep in to a child’s mind. What if Young Sam had read enough stories containing misinformation or stereotypes about goblins that he would be terrified of Tears of the Mushroom? Instead, what we see is often what I see when I’m interacting with kids, particularly younger ones. Children are simply more willing to be open-minded and to accept things that are “unusual” than adults are. Full stop! Unless they are taught otherwise, and I think that is one of the major reasons for Miss Beedle’s story. Her mother was raised by GOBLINS, y’all, which feels like a deliberate parallel to characters like Mr. Nutt or Captain Carrot. However, Pratchett takes this in a much, much different direction.
Because Miss Beedle’s mother’s original environment was loving and wonderful and SHE HAD A FAMILY. It was only because of the surrounding world that she came to understand that goblins were hated and despised. As Miss Beedle recounts it:
“She once told me that until she met my father, all her best recollections were of those years in the goblin cave.”
Her mother was happy. But no one else cared about that. They literally slaughtered ALL OF THE GOBLINS that Miss Beedle’s mother knew. Why? Because they thought they were doing what was best for the eleven-year-old girl that they found in care of the goblins. The participants in this massacre never questioned murder at all; it just made sense to eradicate the “vermin,” so to speak. But Pratchett takes it a step beyond this; look how Miss Beedle’s mother was cleaned up. It was hard not to see bits of my own experience in this! I thought about how often people in my life tried to “correct” me because I wasn’t masculine enough or I broke stereotypes and roles associated with my assigned gender; I thought about being threatened with conversion therapy; I thought about how ill-prepared my mother was to adopt two Latinx boys and how frequently she tried to keep us from relating to or adopting anything related to our born culture. It is a lonely, frightening thing to be threatening to another person just simply because you exist. And so I have a deep, deep respect for Miss Beedle’s mother, who refused to bend, who refused to give up this culture she loved and was a part of.
Miss Beedle comes from this history, and so it makes so much sense that she would fall into the life that she did. That she would write and tell stories that weren’t cruel, that helped to foster a sense of wonder in the children who read them, that she would be the only person in the Shires aside from Jethro who would view the goblins as worthy of respect and personhood. Miss Beedle refuses to be complicit, much like nearly everyone else in the Shires. No wonder the other people dislike her so much! OH MY GOD, THE DINNER SCENE MAKES SO MUCH MORE SENSE NOW.
Whew, this book, y’all. Again, I still don’t know how Vimes is going to help undo all of this! I don’t think it’s something he can do by himself. You can’t dismantle an industry alone, right?
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