Time to talk about golems and gender and gendered golems?
Moist catches Adora Belle up on all that’s happened, including Gladys believing herself to be a woman (and possibly having a crush on him). Mr. Bent meets with Cosmo and mentions the run-in with Cribbins. Adora Belle explains what really happened out there during her mining operation to Moist; they’re fairly certain they’ve found four gold golems that were made by the Umbrians, but rather than take them out, Adora Belle had her own golems fake a tunnel collapse so that the golems underground could get out via the water and head straight for the city. Moist knows this is going to anger the dwarfs, who will consider golden golems partially theirs according to the mining agreement Adora Belle struck, but she insists that this won’t be an issue because the golems are alive and leaving on their own steam. They head to meet wizard John Hicks, Head of the Postmortem Communications Department (basically restyled necromancy), to conduct their ceremony to meet Professor Flead. He agrees to translate the Umnian on Adora Belle’s golem arm, though it will take time. Mr. Bent is in the midst of a self-effacing breakdown, uncertain of who to trust as the bank changes.
Mr. Bent lets Hammersmith Coots know he has made an error in his clerical computations only to learn that he is wrong for the very first time in the bank’s history. Cribbins researches Moist via back issues of the Times, knowing this is his shot at the gravy train. Back at the bank, Igor has bled so much of Mr. Clamp’s anxieties away that he can no longer produce good art, so Moist tells Igor to put him back the way he was. He gets up to the floor to find that Mr. Bent has vanished and the clerks are worried about him; they genuinely think he’s good at running their department and treats them all like people. Moist decides to see if he’s gone home and Miss Drapes volunteers to be the one who comes with him. Igor has made the Glooper impossible to adjust because it’s become like a witch’s wax doll, a thing Hubert could use to actually change the economy—but the Glooper is currently indicating that the bank has no gold. Heretofore tells Cosmo that he thinks he can get Lord Vetinari’s sword stick (he can’t, but he’s been making a replica), and Cosmo is delighted. Vetinari tries to relax with a number puzzle, bothered by the fact that even he doesn’t know the truth about Mr. Bent’s past.
Moist and Miss Drapes go to Mr. Bent’s rooms, but he’s not there. He heads back to the bank, having drawn the conclusion that Mr. Bent is a vampire. Adora Belle arrives at the bank for dinner (seemingly disappointing Gladys), and Moist takes her downstairs to see the new dollar bill that Clamp has drawn up. It looks brilliant and he’s decided to keep the first name Owlswick. Adora Belle also meets Hubert, who is incredibly shocked to be in the presence of a woman and insists that they haven’t done anything wrong with their work on the Glooper. Moist and Adorable Belle head upstairs to find Mr. Fusspot missing and Gladys standing over the pot holding their dinner. Moist briefly panics, assuming the worst, but Mr. Fusspot shows up with Peggy. Cribbins leaves the Times office with Ms. Houser, who is very interested in his opinions as a “reverend,” and is found by Heretofore, who means to take him to Cosmo. Moist and Adora Belle discover hidden drawers in Joshua’s old desk and then his sex cabinet. In it, Moist also find his journals and looks for information on Mr. Bent. As they sit down to dinner, Moist realizes that Mr. Bent is likely in the gold vault of the bank.
Unable to get into the vault because Mr. Bent has left the key in on the other side of the door, Moist realizes that Bent’s desk is right over the vault and he and Adora Belle asks Gladys to break the floor to get to him. Constable Haddock hears the commotion and asks Moist to explain it to him. Because Moist has lock picks on him, Detritus is called in, and because he can’t understand why this is happening, Carrot is called in. Carrot manages to corroborate most of what Moist tells him, but that still leave the matter of the bank vault being empty of gold. Cribbins has a meeting with Cosmo and tells him who Moist used to be, getting himself employed. Professor Flead shows up in Hicks’ office to tell him that he knows what kind of golems are coming, and he wants to see the fun for himself. Moist is being held at the bank, while Adora Belle is in the Watch cells for trying to step her stiletto heel through Detritus’ foot. In the course of all the commotion, Moist did manage to learn that Sergeant Angua is the Watch’s werewolf rather than Nobby. He heads down to see Hubert, and Igor fixes him a cup of splot, traditional Uberwaldian drink made of herbs (many of which are poisonous). Then Moist prays to Anoia to help him out of this mess, and decides he should probably wing it.
I forgot how weirdly this book is laid out. For the most part, I like it, because it’s genuinely unexpected? But it also feels like the elements for a few different books tied together in oddly portioned amounts. Instead of a neat little carousel of different parts, we’re weighted in one direction or another at random intervals. Sometimes you get way more Cosmo Lavish that you’re expecting, and sometimes way more golem history, and so on. It’s bemusing how little time we actually spend on the concept of the banking system and what Moist means to do with it. The ploy is in there, but it’s utterly secondary to literally every other plot in the book. Which, again, speaks to the difficulty of trying to make a story about Building a Better Capitalism. It doesn’t actually make for great reading.
What we get from the other arms of the plot more than makes up for this, by and large. The golem piece is particularly interesting in my mind once we get to the overview of how golems came to be the way they are. There’s always a need to catch people up on the actions of previous Discworld novels in these moments, but it occurs to me that this might be the first time it’s ever couched fully as myth within the narrative? Often we get explanations by way of a close omniscient third person dump, or even one that’s aligned with a specific character. But this time we get the story of golems as it’s likely told, where Carrot’s role in changing the golem way of life is not noted as a historical fact with a name attached, but as part of a legend:
Someone did that. Some person who is a function in this story. The first name in the story is Dorfl’s because this is a story about golems and how they came to own themselves, and I love the choice to write it that way within the book.
I need to dig into Gladys’ journey for a moment because it’s such a sharp yet simple way of handling fiddly gendered stuff. It is incredibly funny that Adora Belle Dearheart devotes all of her time to helping golems, yet can’t quite get her head around the idea that their genders are constructs that they can easily choose. I mean, it’s not surprising, in that it’s frequently difficult for activists and socially aware folks to get all those intersectional angles when thinking of how oppression functions, but the fact that she finds Gladys choosing femininity strange while never once questioning the concept of a male golem is silly. Or it is to me, at any rate, because this is where my brain lives, and it’s always amusing to watch others accept it at face value.
Gladys’ journey here could be taken as a argument that gender (the way humans tend to stereotype gender, I mean) is entirely a social construct back-to-front; Moist is blaming the counter girls without acknowledging that this is Gladys’ environment, what she’s learning day-to-day from the women that surround her. And being surrounded by them, she’s adopting what they teach her. They think of her as a woman, so she’s assuming that she must be one and acting accordingly.
And this is where we come back around to the idea of the invisible default that I mentioned in part one: The only reason no one considers it strange that many golems have come to consider themselves nominally “male” is because male is our societal default, and therefore considered a “neutral” state of being. Being female then becomes “weird” as a choice because it’s a step away from that default, the simplicity and lack of thought we’re meant to believe it carries. (Because being male isn’t actually simple—it comes with just as many rules. We’re just taught to think of those rules as more “universal” when they’re not.) I’d love to know how many of the golems we’ve encountered so far truly consider themselves male as opposed to accepting the default that humans project onto them.
This becomes even funnier when you get into the decidedly gendered argument that Moist and Adora Belle are having over her actions with the golems, insisting that “only a man/woman” could think the way each of them think, which then ends on Adora Belle telling Moist not to be “hysterical.” Adora Belle Dearheart is completely aware of how everyday sexism might shape her life and the world around her, but she doesn’t seem to notice the myriad of ways that she bucks “traditional” femininity herself because she’s still mired that sexism regardless.
Having said that, Moist and Adora Belle are easily among Pratchett’s best-written couples. Their dialogue is crackly, yet easy—they feel like two people who understand and genuinely enjoy one another, who banter in a manner that feels far more modern than most of his relationships on the page. Okay, maybe I’m biased because I think that more fictional couples should accidentally stumble on giant fetish closets.
What? It’s a great scene.
Asides and little thoughts
- Super curious as to what ’Tis Pity She’s an Instructor in Unarmed Combat is about.
- The story Heretofore tells about how Vetinari’s sword stick blade looks is one of those hilarious details that you could only pull off with a person who knows literally nothing about how swords work? (Which is more surprising in this world where they’re far more common to wield and carry.) The fact that Cosmo thinks the blade is flecked with red because it’s got blood on it when no self-respecting user of sharp weapons would ever leave blood on a blade—and also blood doesn’t stay red, but that strays even further from the point—is endlessly funny.
- Vetinari deciding to keep tabs on anyone who can do a crossword puzzle as well as him. That’s it, that’s the entire thought, along with a gif of me silently screaming. (He’s right, of course. That’s the kicker.)
Next week we’ll finish the book!