Up to Snuff

Well.  It’s late at night, and I should probably be getting to bed, but dangit, I’m going to post a blog in the hour or so before I really, REALLY have to go to bed, because I’ve already gone two or three weeks without sticking anything up, and from the looks of things the next two weeks are NOT going to be open.  So.  Quick blog about something.  Anything.  Just because I can.

The next couple weeks are going to be busy largely because of Robinson Jeffers, an obscure Californian poet who apparently used to be famous back in the WWI era.  Why do we care about him?  Well, largely we don’t, but we have to to some extent, because I have to write an 18 page paper on him by the end of this week.  Which means this coming week is going to be REALLY busy.  I wouldn’t mind so much if I didn’t detest Jeffers so much.  I’m sorry, Jeffers’ lovers, I ‘m sure he’s a great poet, I’ve hated lots of great poets.  But his poetry is practically written like prose, his imagery seems inconsistent, he has very few memorable lines, and he has an unfortunate fascination with incest.  Add in a pantheistic view of God-as-the-Universe and a firm conviction that humanity is a horrid dirty bunch of apes who should never have come out of the trees, and you wind up with someone I have NO interest in reading at all.  Two weeks back, when I was trying to read ahead for this project, I found myself conflicted between reading another 100-page poem about a guy who kills his brother or reading Terry Pratchett’s newest Discworld novel, Snuff.


Guess which one won out.  I was up till 4 that night reading, fortunately I had nothing better to do the next day.  Snuff, in case you’re interested, is another Discworld novel following the adventures of Sam Vimes, night watch guard (or, as he’s become, Commander of the Watch, Duke of Ankh, and Blackboard Monitor).  Vimes is a grumpy, down-to-earth man who seems to be incredibly conservative and resistant to change, but in reality he’s simply an incarnation of a grumpy progressive.  Vimes, despite working for the establishment, is ALWAYS against the establishment, and usually at the forefront of any de-segregation movement.  Growling.  For most of the Night Watch series, he was always grumping about the new soldiers Vetinari was making him stick into the Watch–dwarves, trolls, etc.–and his guiding call was “No vampires.  I draw the line at Vampires.  Not alive and not dead enough.”  And then in the last NW book, Vimes hired a Vampire with practically no fuss at all.  Here, in Snuff, he has Vampires, gargoyles, imps, and even a Gorgon on the Night Watch force.

In Snuff, Pratchett decides to address that horribly under-explored shame of the modern age–racism.  Or specism.  Vimes, while on vacation in the country, learns that the nearby tribe of goblins are being hunted and executed like animals.  This is perfectly permissible under the law of Discworld, but Vimes, after a visit to the Goblin caves and talks with the goblin elders (who he can understand, thanks to a memento from Thud!) realizes these things are human and sets out to right some wrongs.

I’m mostly curious as to WHY Pratchett has suddenly become so enthusiastic about racism/equality.  Most of his earlier books just dealt with the matter in passing: “There was no racism on the Disc, having lost out long ago to the much more popular specism, where black and white alike ganged up on the green,” and left it at that.  There was an eternal grudge between the Dwarves and the Trolls, but that was initially just for fun.  Specism exists in the early books, but it’s just there, part of the dark, meaningless world that Pratchett makes fun of.

So why the sudden interest?  An awful lot of his recent books have harped on this theme, from Thud! which finally ended the eternal Dwarf/Troll feud to Unseen Academicals, which dealt with an unhappy ORC overcoming prejudice.  Interestingly, in that story, the orc was pretending to be a goblin and seemed to be treated just fine, so Pratchett more or less pulled this whole social injustice bit out of nowhere.

Honestly?  I don’t know.  I rather doubt Pratchett has suddenly encountered some glaring incident of racism that has awakened a fervor for this cause in his soul–the guy is suffering from dementia and probably kept far from any such stressors.  And it’s not as though he cares deeply about the subject in general–as I said, his earlier books just glossed over it, as another meaningless ideal in a world full of meaningless ideals.

The only explanation I have is that Pratchett just wanted to invert the standard fantasy presentation of goblins as evil.  Which, to his credit, he does very well–Pratchett’s goblins are very humanised and pitiable.  Perhaps it was something he felt just had to be done for Discworld, as goblins were one of the few races who HADN’T been equalized with the others.  Either way, it’s a hackneyed moral but an enjoyable story.  Go read it, unless you have a paper to write.  Then it’s just an immense waste of time.


2 thoughts on “Up to Snuff

  1. I think that this should be the thesis of your paper: “His poetry is practically written like prose, his imagery seems inconsistent, he has very few memorable lines, and he has an unfortunate fascination with incest.” If you consider the first point to be merely a statement of fact, then the next three could be your subtopics. 🙂


  2. @WildAboutLondon – Unfortunately, though the first and last statements are facts, they’re too obvious for a thesis, and neither is particularly supposed to be a BAD thing in literary circles.    And the second to last one–about having few memorable lines, is really hard to prove, as it’s incredibly subjective.  So the only one I can really make an argument out of is the use of inconsistent imagery.


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