Terry Pratchett Book Club: Unseen Academicals, Part II

Story


Who’s up for practice? Who wants Rincewind on their team? (Me, I do.)

Summary

Glenda and Juliet head back to the university to give themselves an alibi for not being at the match. Ottimony comes in to tell them all about it after leading the wizards there, and he swears that Juliet looks like the girl at the match. Glenda is summoned to the Stollops because Juliet’s dad got a letter from Vetinari, asking him to attend a dinner with the wizards to talk about the future of football. Trev finds Nutt asleep at the university, having eaten a large quotient of Glenda’s pies. He tells Glenda and Juliet what happened, and when Nutt comes to, he start up his work again. But he says a few things about how Trev really feels about his late father that sends Trev catatonic. Glenda asks Nutt how he knows all these things, how he managed not to die, and where he comes from. Nutt isn’t entirely sure; he only knows how he came to be in Ladyship’s castle and that there’s a door in his mind that he can’t access. Nutt thinks about writing love poetry for Trev to give Juliet, and Juliet bothers Glenda the next day about going to a fashion show, which has an ad in the paper next to an article about the origins of football going back a millennia. Glenda agrees to the show, but only after she gets a chance to listen in on the University Council meeting.

The wizards are putting together thoughts for what they need as a team, including the pies, the uniforms, and the fans. Glenda is bemused by the whole conversation and accidentally interjects herself, letting them know that they’ve got it largely wrong—they won’t be able to change much about how football functions, and they won’t be able to dictate how people enjoy it. She also tells them not to make their uniforms sport a UU across the front, or it’ll make the team look like they have bosoms. Ridcully asks what she does, and they all learn that she runs the Night Kitchen and makes the incredible pies they’re all so fond of. After she leaves, Ponder notes that Glenda’s talk of football invoked memories in the group, whether or not they had them; it was a kind of religious experience. Glenda goes with Juliet to a dwarf chainmail fashion show run by Madame Sharon, who has her assistant Pepe measure Juliet and asks them to help her because her model dropped a pickaxe on her foot. Glenda negotiates a hefty sum for Juliet to model the new cloth-like micromail. The wizards begin their first practice round of football, which they don’t rightly understand.

Glenda sees Juliet through her first fashion show. She’s very drunk and stumbles into the next room after it’s over, having a talking with Pepe, who turns out to have converted to being a dwarf with Madame Sharon’s help. They want Juliet to keep working for them, planning to pay her lots of money travel her around the Disc. They know Glenda is the key to her cooperation, so they ask her to consider it, and Glenda decides they’re going home for the night first. Despite the fact that Ridcully promised never to use it for these sorts of purposes, he demands that Ponder let them in to the Cabinet of Curiosity so that it can make them a proper football—because they don’t have one. They can only keep the ball outside the cabinet for about fourteen hours before causing trouble, so Ridcully stops Trev and Nutt in the hall and asks them if they know where to have the ball replicated. He gives them money for the job and they set off. Glenda tells Juliet that they’ll open up a bank account for her so that her father can’t get at her money. Trev and Nutt run into Andy again, and when he threatens Trev, Nutt threatens to break his hand. They make it to a dwarf shop, and ask him to replicate the ball in exchange for money and a university license to make more of them.

Juliet decides she agrees with Glenda about staying in her job at the university, which makes Glenda feel wretched; the next day her picture is in the paper. Trev goes to pee out back while Nutt and the dwarf artisan are working and sees two vampire women outside, which Butt later tells him are protection for Ladyship. Nutt delivers the love poem he wrote for Trev to Glenda, so she can give it to Juliet. Glenda reads the letter for Juliet and knows that Trev didn’t write it, but doesn’t tell her. Pepe wakes to Times reporters in their store and everyone asking about Juliet. King Rhys has the paper sent via clacks, and the grags are in a tizzy about Juliet’s appearance, deeming it undwarfish. Ponder returns the Cabinet’s ball to the Cabinet and they begin creating teams again. (Rincewind tries to get out of this to no avail.) The (former) Dean has arrived at the university, but the game is interrupted by Nutt, who means to tell Ridcully that they’re playing the game all wrong, and more strategy is needed and, indeed, more theater. Trev comes to Nutt’s defense to make sure no one gets upset with him for speaking out of turn, but Ridcully is amenable to the idea. Glenda sells a lot more for Stronginthearm and gives him ideas for whole new troll fashion lines.

Commentary

There are several overlays going on with the Juliet and Trev story, one of them obviously being the Romeo and Juliet angle that you get from her name and the “two houses” being their two football teams. This is mostly funny to me because I saw some Tumblr post just a few days ago that was pointing out that the Montagues and Capulets being “both alike in dignity” as houses did not preclude any level of poshness—they just needed to be the same. Hence, footballer families.

But the more intriguing slice here is the Cyrano parody, at least to me. Nutt is effectively playing the Cyrano part, writing letters on Trev’s behalf, who’s in the Christian role. But the intention isn’t to make a direct parallel, of course, because Nutt clearly isn’t interested in Juliet—he likes Glenda. And I appreciate the lack of conflict, but moreso, I find myself appreciating the fact that someone who’s as bright as Nutt isn’t really interested in someone who’s pretty if they’re not particularly thoughtful? Juliet’s not his type, so no issue there.

And conversely, Juliet’s route to becoming a fashion model for micromail is endearing too, namely due to Glenda learning some things for herself about snuffing out the desire to dream a little bigger. Do I like that it’s helped along by too much sherry? Yes, I do. I wish sherry talked to me like that. Tequila does, though, so I can’t complain too much.

We’re getting more clues on Nutt’s true identity as we go, but I do appreciate that the mystery is drawn out and viewed from multiple character perspectives, making it that much harder to guess point blank.

The bits where the wizards are practicing football are favorites for me because it reads like it’s written by someone who feels exactly the same way about sports that I do. There’s no sense, no real interest in the game itself, nor any inclination toward athleticism (aside from Ridcully’s own personal interest and physical prowess). The only time things make sense is when everyone is thinking about how exciting the game should be, how to generate narrative around it, how to make it a spectacle. I get that part. The rest is just window dressing.

Asides and little thoughts

  • Of Vetinari being the wrong sort for Juliet despite being the only available “prince” around, Glenda thinks: Besides, no one was sure which side of the bed he got out of, or even if he went to bed at all. Meaning: We’re honestly not sure if the man is gay, straight, or ace.
  • “By his own admission, he would rather run ten miles, leap a five-bar gate and climb a big hill than engage in any athletic activity.” Me too, Ponder.
  • Ridcully’s entire response to the concept of possible gayness—that could really just be some wizard having an affair with a married woman and he’s not getting it—being that there’s not enough love in the world and also “Well done, that man!” (which is, itself, actually in response to people playing football and grabbing his attention) is pretty perfect, all things considered.

Pratchettisms

It has been said that crowds are stupid, but mostly they are simply confused, since as an eyewitness the average person is as reliable as a meringue lifejacket.

Ponder had found a gray hair on his comb that morning and was not in the mood to take this standing up.

The city’s walls corseted it like a fetishist’s happiest dream.

“Thank you for you input, Mister Stibbons, but may I gently remind you who is the guv around here?”

But authority must back up authority, in public at least, otherwise there is no authority, and therefore the senior authority is forced to back up the junior authority, even if he, the senior authority, believes that the junior authority is a tiresome little tit.


Next week we’ll read up to:

“I know how to do that,” said Nutt. “Mister Trev, I would be glad if you would come and help me with the bellows.”

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