Monday, June 20, 2016
Review of Thud! by Terry Pratchett
Dwarf-troll relations are in a rough way. Becoming increasingly hostile, a war that happened hundreds of years ago has returned to contention—graffiti, street insults, bar fights, and public gatherings all leaning toward yet another. The City Watch required to mediate the resulting skirmishes, Vimes brings in reinforcements to help stem the tide. General peace pervades until an important dwarf is murdered. The dwarves producing a club as evidence it was a troll, it’s up to Commander Vimes to descend into the dwarves tunnels under Ankh-Morpork to investigate the murder scene. Discovering a lot of barely constrained hatred, some mysterious caverns and halls, and evidence that doesn’t quite add up, all is not what it would seem on the surface in the investigation. But with a second war threatening, a clock is ticking on Vimes to get to the bottom of the case, further bloodshed imminent.
Peculiar for a Pratchett novel, Thud! is stripped down, strangely deprived of the façade of humor Pratchett’s novels are known for. Looking at the novel in the context of the City Watch series, a series which has displayed some of Discworld’s most slapstick humor to date, and it becomes even stranger. As if to show Pratchett’s devotion to the issue, Thud! is a police procedural that focuses its energy on race/culture relations, or lack thereof. Dwarves and trolls re-invigorating age-old tensions which none living have an actual view of, the story follows the step by step escalation, meaning the details then, are key.
It’s a simple thing to point out ‘war is futile,’ thus where Pratchett earns his keep in Thud! is in the setup—the aspects of each’s culture which contribute to the hostility. Religion, cultural tradition, and a skewed view to history the primary points, each is worked, in relevant fashion, toward a conclusion both representative and transcendent. While it’s impossible to apply dwarf-troll issues to human reality, the symbolism remains pertinent.
Not everything black and white, naturally, Pratchett addresses only the major blocking points between the two sides. The symbolism of building a culture hermetically within another culture, for example, is so relevant to post-colonial concerns as to make the reader shake their head in silent appreciation of Pratchett’s imagination. It would be remiss to point out Pratchett’s message to such situations is not an iron-clad ‘Join or die” to cultural outsiders, rather something more balanced—awareness and effort required on both sides to integrate without losing significance.
In the end, Thud! is a novel for readers who appreciate Pratchett’s humane side. Seeming to intentionally lack a lot of his signature humor, Pratchett delivers a classic police procedural that culminates the interests of both plot and theme with only light, Pratchett-ian fanfare. There are still some good one-liners and occasional throw-away scenes for readers familiar with the City Watch sub-series, but above all the novel leaves the reader with the impression Pratchett was doing his darnedest to address some of the social and cultural tensions seen in the West, and most particularly parts of the West with the greatest racial and cultural diversity. And in Discworld terms, he fully succeeds.
Posted by Jesse at 10:31 PM