Mark Reads ‘Snuff’: Part 17

In the seventeenth part of Snuff, Carrot and Angua visit a familiar face and learn a crucial detail about their case. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Discworld. 

Trigger Warning: For discussion of slavery, poverty, starvation, and death of a child

Well, holy shit, this got even darker. 

Even though this is very much a Vimes book, I love that there’s this long section with both Carrot and Angua. I’m start to grapple with the reality that I don’t know when I’ll be reading a character POV and it’ll be the last time I read for them in this series. Hi, that’s a horrible thought, I’ve spent over HALF A DECADE in this world and with these characters? WHO ALLOWED THIS? So I’m glad that even this far along in the series, so many of these familiar faces matter a great deal. Plus, it’s just good storytelling from a craft perspective! I like that in this particular story, we’re being shown how the oppression of the goblins affects more than just the local community in the Shires. This has massive ramifications for any place that benefits from the unpaid, stolen labor of the goblins. And now we know where this tobacco traveled from and where at least some of the goblins were sent after they were kidnapped.


More on that towards the end. Let’s talk about all the little details that Pratchett ties together here! Carrot and Angua’s trip to Sir Harold King’s establishment is such a great scene, and I always love it when Pratchett widens the world of the Disc with scenes like this. This is certainly not the first time we’ve visited King, but there’s still more revealed here about how a pseudo-capitalist economy works in the city. That was the first significant thing that I picked up here:

“I pay them half what I pay humans and I reckon they do twice as much work, and do it better. Be happy to hire another hundred if they turned up.”

“But you pay them far less than humans?” said Angua.

Harry gave her a pitying look. “And who else would pay them anything at all, love? Well, business is business. It’s not like I chain them down.” 

THERE IS SO MUCH TO UNPACK HERE. And I see real-world parallels to things like migrant labor, to the way we talk about immigrants here in the States, to the way business owners often speak about costs as if there’s literally nothing they can do. Look how Harry King throws his hands up. Business is business, y’all! It’s just how it works, right? Which makes it sound like those who are business owners have no real agency, that this is just some natural “force” that they have to obey. It’s a fucked up situation, too, because it’s not like he’s wrong about how the rest of the city won’t hire goblins. So yes, it’s decent that he’s offering them a chance to be a part of the workforce, but he’s still operating within exploitation: he knows he can get away with paying them half the normal rate he would because they can’t get hired anywhere else. And Pratchett presents this so plainly that it’s uncomfortable as hell. What can Carrot or Angua do in that moment? Nothing. Angua wrinkles up her nose, but Harry King knows that he is still gonna be able to do exactly what he wants.

Business is business, right?

And then we move into ANOTHER uncomfortable (but still entertaining!) section as we meet Billy Slick and his great-grandmother. (I’m OBSESSED with her.) Billy is perhaps the most unusual goblin in this book, in the sense that I did not expect to meet one who gladly assimilated into a different culture. Which is an entirely different phenomenon, and one I could devote so much time to. Mr. Slick occupies this interesting space because he wants to be seen as anything but a goblin, but he recognizes that this isn’t how the world views him. He expects Carrot and Angua to harm him. Is that because they’re human? Because they’re cops? Both? But there was one line in this that just took me the fuck OUT:

He looked at her defiantly, and she thought: and so one at a time we all become human—human werewolves, human dwarfs, human trolls… the melting pot melts in one direction only, and so we make progress.

HI, WHO TOLD PRATCHETT TO GO THIS HARD. Because he’s spot-on here: the dominant force still controls the narrative. Assimilation by nature happens in one direction. And while I can’t speak to what that’s like in Britain with any authority, you can see something eerily similar to this metaphor in the United States. What exactly constitutes American culture? It’s always assumed that straight, white, Christian, able-bodied, cis… that’s the framework by which people are judged in this country. If you deviate from that, you are an outsider, even if you were here first, even if you were born here, even if you contribute, even if this is the only life you’ve known. This is a simplistic view of the phenomenon, but it’s why you’ve got people who come to America and try everything they can to fit themselves within this system. They aspire to whiteness. They force their bodies and their minds into a specific shape, and they’ll step on anyone else in order to get closer to this arbitrary ideal. That’s the core of what a model minority is here, you know?

And so we see how Billy doesn’t want to be a goblin or be seen as one, yet he is fiercely proud of his granny and her being a goblin. So he respects where he came from and what her legacy is, all while trying to be different himself. Again, it is so amazing to me that Billy appears in a relatively small scene in this book, and yet he’s so ridiculously complex. That’s craft, y’all. That shows how much Pratchett is able to pack in with context details and dialogue. 

Which is a perfect segue to Granny Slick, who is just an ENDLESS delight. She’s fierce and funny as hell, and like her great-grandson, she reveals so much about the world of goblins. Initially—and completely understandably, I should note—she is resistant to sharing anything with these two members of the Watch. Why shouldn’t she feel that way? Humans have stolen from goblins for years without repercussions, and there’s no reason for her to believe otherwise here. So yes, get as much from these people as you can, Granny Slick! I thought it was interesting that even though Billy vetted Carrot and Angua (to an extent), she still made them “seal the bargain the old way.” It’s a bit of cultural tradition that the goblins have maintained, and that stuff is great to get within the text. I want to know those sort of things!

One of those things was produced earlier, and now we get confirmation of this: a goblin woman had to have consumed her child and put its soul into an unggue pot, to be born during a “safer” time, for it to have ended up in the possession of Sergeant Colon. We also know that Colon has to find a “goblin maiden” so that they can “grasp the pot, in hope one day of having child.” Unfortunately:

“And big problem for you, Mr. Po-leess-man, is that goblin girl these days are hard to find. None here. Maybe none anywhere. We shrivel and shrink like old leaves.”

WELL. This is new information. I was reminded of the Feegles in this, but I don’t think it’s the same thing. Why is it that this is the case? Historically, has this been the case, or is it BECAUSE of what’s happened in recent years as humans have fucked up the goblin population? I don’t actually know! It of course makes the death of the goblin girl in the Shires all the more tragic, since there are so few women. It also helped me realize that the dead goblin most likely CAN’T be the one who stuffed the unggue pot into a cigar. (Was that on purpose or accident, by the way? I’ve assumed thus far that it was on purpose, but what if it accidentally fell into a batch of tobacco?) 

So, what’s next? Well, thanks to the incredible work of Cheery Littlebottom and Wee Mad Arthur (and I would absolutely read an entire novel of them working together on a case), we have our answer. Well, part of the answer, that is. I felt there was a deliberate parallel between Harry King and Bewilderforce Gumption. (Still can’t get over his name. Both of them have immensely questionable business practices when it comes to morality and ethics, and yet both try very hard to distance themselves from that decision-making. It’s just that Mr. Gumption is a lot slimier about it than Harry King is. Even when Cheery makes it clear that they all know he smuggles, he still tries to dodge responsibility. Suddenly, there are just too many records, and it’s too difficult to determine exactly where a cigar came from. But once Cheery provides pressure, he relents, and I hope this means what I think it means:

We’re going to Howondaland.

We have spent virtually NO time there (perhaps not ever???) in this series, and not only that, but I believe this is the first time that All Jolson is confirmed to have come from Howondaland??? I don’t recall that being a thing in earlier books, but holy shit! That’s a big deal. I am hoping that we get to see a significant portion of this place because it’s a long time coming. Part of me is a little worried because there’s some possibly unintentional complexity here. Like… the first time we go to Howondaland, it’s in a story about slavery? Except the slaves are from this continent, so the metaphor is a bit backwards? I don’t know, I’m reserving judgment until I see how this is executed. At heart, I’m excited that we’re (probably) going to see scenes set there. How is it different? How much of it it is borrowed from the Roundworld counterpoint of Africa? I NEED TO KNOW.

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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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