Wednesday Weekly Blogging Challenge: A villain that I wish could be redeemed
With a confidence born of unemployment and too much time on my hands, I've decided to join in the fun and commit to the Wednesday Weekly Blogging Challenge hosted by Long and Short Reviews. Keeping in theme with my month of Discworld characters, my villain today is Dee.
Terry Pratchett was excellent at creating antagonists, ranging from classical evil to simply obstructive. But none are moustache twisting bad guys, all have their own strengths, weaknesses and motivations. The vast majority are the kind you love to hate, like Carcer, Lord de Word, Mr Gryle, The New Firm and Prince Cadram.
The big exception for me is Dee.
Dee is one of two primary antagonists in the novel The Fifth Elephant.
When Commander Vimes is sent to Überwald by the Patrician to negotiate a trade deal, he is forced to play diplomat. Amongst the cast of characters living in this wild county is Dee, the official 'Ideas Taster' for the Low King, the king of the dwarfs.
Okay, so to understand this, we're going to have to cover some dwarfish culture.
The Fifth Elephant is the first novel to delve into the society of Pratchett's dwarfs. In the Discworld, the dwarfs are all male. With no exception. They are all short, stocky, bearded men who wield axes, quaff beer and sing songs about gold. When dwarfs get married, one trusts that somewhere beneath all that armour, one was female and both knew which one that was.
Then Cheery Littlebottom had arrived in Ankh-Morpork and had seen that there were men out there who did not wear chain mail or leather underwear, but did wear interesting colours and exciting makeup, and these men were called "women."And in the little bullet head, the thought had arisen: "Why not me?"Now she was being denounced in cellars and dwarf bars across the city as the first dwarf in Ankh-Morpork to wear a skirt. It was hard-wearing brown leather and as objectively erotic as a piece of wood but, as some older dwarfs would point out, somewhere under there were his knees**They couldn't bring themselves to utter the word "her.” The Fifth Elephant, Terry Pratchett
A cultural revolution begins in Ankh-Morpork which threatens the values of the conservative dwarfs back in their homeland of Überwald. This is what sparks off the conflict we see in The Fifth Elephant.
This is what Dee is fighting for - the traditions of the conservative dwarfs.
By the way, if any of you are thinking - hang on, this sounds very much like the real world issue off X, Y or Z then, yeah. Pratchett was exceptionally good at addressing these issues by veiling them in Discworld language.
Warning: there will be spoilers for The Fifth Elephant.
Scone of Stone
Being Low King was never an easy job. But, to use one of your metaphors, we are all floating in the same boat. We may certainly try to push one another over the side, but only a maniac like Dee would make a hole in the bottom. The Fifth Elephant
Now stick with me, because this is where things get even weirder. We have to talk about the Scone of Stone.
The Scone of Stone (an obvious parody of the Stone of Scone) is the most famous example of dwarf bread and has seated the Low Kings since B'hrian Bloodaxe. It's basically their throne and is considered 'holy' in a dwarf way. It is also said to contain a pure grain of truth, which will burn red-hot if a lie is told in its presence.
In an effort to prevent Rhys Rhysson, an outright progressive, from being crowned, Dee grinds this stone scone into powder. Something so abhorrent to dwarf culture, almost no one could even believe anyone could do such a thing. No one except Vimes, of course, because he is admittedly a suspicious bastard.
This is an act of domestic terrorism, pure and simple. It's blowing up the monument to ensure it cannot be captured by the enemy. In an age where the religious extremist character is so easily demonised and so 'alien' most can't even begin to sympathise, Patchett channels a lot of empathy into Dee's situation.
That's the gift Pratchett gave me in this novel - I understood and emphasised with Dee in a way I struggle to do for real people. Despite the fact Dee knows he's destroyed the real Scone of Stone, under Rhys Rhysson, he still fears it. He knows that this new Scone of Stone is fake, he put it there himself, but he's so bowed under by his belief he still fears the pure gain of truth.
He's screwed up, he's enslaved by old beliefs, he can't let go, and why?
The ones in Ankh-Morpork! Wearing... makeup and dresses and... and abominable things!" Dee pointed a finger at Cheery. "Ha'ak! How can you even look at it. You let her," and Vimes had seldom heard a word sprayed with so much venom, "her flaunt herself, here! And it's happening everywhere because people have not been firm, not obeyed, have let the old ways slide! Everywhere there are reports... they're eating away at everything dwarfish wtih their... their soft clothes and paint and beastly ways. how can you be king and allow this. Everywhere they are doing it and you do nothing! Why should they be allowed to do this?" Now Dee was sobbing. "I can't! And I work so hard... so hard..." The Fifth Elephant
After Dee's hysterical confession, we don't see her again. In fact, when Cheery visits Dee, it's only to gather the names of her co-conspirators in Ankh-Morpork.
I feel sorry for Dee because she's so screwed up by the society and life she's lived. Her fear of the world outside Überwald and the march of progress has led her down a dark path. One she never pulls back from.
Her story ends in a prison cell. Honestly, maybe that's where it would always end. But I've always wanted more for her. A change of heart might be too much to hope for. Dee is, after all, battling the internalisation of thousands of years of culture. If nothing else, I'd like her to find peace with who she is.
Wednesday Weekly Blogging Challenge
So, that was a fun first foray into this new blogging challenge. I can't guarantee I'll be able to do all of them, but I'll give it my best shot! For the next Wednesday Weekly Blogging Challenge, we'll be thinking about Zombies... and, of course, they'll be a Discworld twist because obviously.
A big thanks to Lydia Schoch as I discovered this challenge through her blog. If you love your science fiction and fantasy like I do, hers is a site you should already be reading.