Anti-discrimination, equal opportunities, multi-culturism, and the Discworld: Part 1 Dwarfs.


Image by Dunechaser via Flickr


Issues of equal opportunities in the Discworld books seem to me to be most evident in the Ankh-Morpork City Watch, which is famously a equal opportunities employer. Less obviously but equally significant is the rehabilitation of witches as ‘Wise Women’, in the Witch stories, and the Tiffany Aching books. One of my favourite anti-discriminatory narratives in the Discworld books has been the development/illumination/exploration of Dwarf Culture. This has three main elements as far as I can tell: Captain Carrot, Language and Dwarf Women.

Captain Carrot

In the City Watch Discworld books Captain Carrot seems to occupy half a dozen different roles. On the one hand he is an almost Arthurian figure, a once and future King, except he doesn’t want to be king, though one suspects he would be king if that was the moral thing to do, but it isn’t so the thought doesn‘t even occur to him. Or at least if it does he disguises this extraordinarily well.

On another hand (There could be more hands here than Mrs level has eyes, {or indeed Zaphod Beeblebrox had arms, – – I must write something about the interplay between Pratchett and Adams at some point}) Carrot is also a doorway, or window, or perhaps most appropriately a lift down the mineshaft, of Dwarf Culture. Because he is technically a Dwarf. OK so he is a six foot two dwarf, by adoption, but a dwarf nonetheless. The simple incongruity of Carrots Dwarfishness allows the exploration of all sorts of interesting themes. Not least among these is, that who someone is, is about who they think they are, rather than who everybody else thinks they are supposed to be.

On another hand, Carrot is also a simple country boy in the big city, and writes reassuring letters to his parents in his home mine. He seems naive to city folk, but somehow always seems to be a step ahead of the streetwise Ankh-Morporkians. Carrots naïve innocence is somehow so endearing that hardened thugs about their guild approved business in the Shades, suddenly feel a need to hide knives in pockets and seem suddenly surprised to discover that a club has unaccountably leapt into their hands, when confronted with Carrot expressing wonderment about how it could have got there, and shortly afterwards dropping and clattering on the cobbled street next to their feet..

On another hand ( Mark Wing-Davey improvised a fourth hand for Zaphod in one episode of the radio {and best} version of Hitchhikers’ guide to the Galaxy, but DNA didn‘t continue the gag) acceptance as a dwarf by dwarfs has two particular narrative consequences. Firstly it allows him to be very accepting of others, specifically Sergeant Angua’s particular problem, and therefore set up his love interest in the books. Secondly Carrot has to explain all things dwarfish, to Sam Vimes, such as Martial Baking for instance.

Carrot also gets to explain Dwarf language.


This is not about Grdz Dch Ak Gradzach or the other apparently random dwarfish sprinkled like reluctant salt through the Discworld books, rather it is about Dwarf language as one of the most sophisticated explorations of discriminatory language I have encountered. The only equivalent one I can think of is, ‘White Comedy’ by poet Benjamin Zephaniah, which is more direct and less subtle, which is it‘s strength, whilst Sir Terry’s indirect subtlety is his.

Read White Comedy here:

Dwarf language reverses things, creating a situation where the reader not only has to think upside down, but upside down and the right way up at the same time. The things that are low are important in Dwarf society, so when the reader meets the Low King of the Dwarfs, it is clear that he (or She) is very important. Deep down dwarfs have the inherited power among dwarfs, not the high ups. To a dwarf to be told something they have done is Low Class is a compliment, of the hig .. . Er Lowest order.

This creates a tension, because the largest Dwarf City beyond Uberwald is now Ankh-Morpork, where the majority of Dwarfs live above ground most of the time and don’t do all the deep down low things that Dwarfs traditionally do. Concerning themselves with using their Dwarfish metal working skills to do that most Ankh-Morporkian thing, Making money, lots of money. But these dwarfs are still concerned with showing they are dwarfs, they want to send money and goods home, they want the Uberwaldian and Ramtop dwarfs to think well of them, so they hold on to Dwarfish traditions, in the strange setting of Ankh-Morpork. Which pretty much sums up any immigrant population in any city/country in the world we might like to think about.

So here with the simple trick of turning language upside down for dwarfs, sir Terry opens up the possibility of exploring how people stay in touch with their heritage, when they are living and integrating with a completely different culture. It opens up the possibility for misunderstandings which have narrative consequences. It also introduces the very real problems that language can pose when not everyone in a given conversation is agreed about what particular words mean, or should mean.

A naive diplomat for instance could start a protracted and difficult war, simply by thanking the low King for his (or Her) ‘highness’’ time.

Throw into this mix, ‘the campaign for equal heights’, and there is also all sorts of room for debunking some of the more extraordinary examples of ‘political correctness’ that have blundered their way into popular consciousness.

Dwarf Women

The issue of Dwarf Women is a subject that Carrot is reluctant to discuss, at least to begin with, so Sir Terry hands this arduous task over to Cheery Littlebottom. A dwarf recruit to the Ankh Morpork City Watch. Who throws everyone’s expectations by beginning to wear makeup, progressing to skirts and generally becoming more feminine, revealing of course that she is a Dwarf Woman, much to the horror of deep down dwarfs. From one point of view this is a parody of what is little more than a footnote in Appendix A of J.R.R. Tolkien’s, The Lord of the Rings, “Durin’s Folk”, which describes Dwarf Women as ‘usually mistaken for a male.’ Except of course we are talking about Terry Pratchett here. so it very quickly becomes half a dozen other things as well.

In some ways Cheery, and other dwarf women progress through a reverse feminism, in which their femininity, rather than their social power is oppressed, it is strongly hinted that the Low King is in truth a dwarf Woman, so systemic power isn‘t really an issue. Cheery changes her name to Cheri, and by the time plots have progressed to the events of Unseen academicals an entire fashion industry has grown up around female Dwarf attire. I mean seriously a party needs a much more ornamental and showy battle axe than one would take, well, take into battle I suppose, and high heeled iron shod boots conjure all sorts of images.

The odd thing about the liberation of Dwarf Women in the Discworld is that partly it seems to be about the real social reaction of women in western Roundworld culture to the austerity of hard-line feminism. The reclaiming of femininity which seemed to take place from the 1980’s onward. In another way it seems to be a reflection of the ‘discovery’ of femininity many women from non-western cultures appear to have made in and from Western society, not least among these Muslim cultures.

In yet another way, there are echoes of the liberation of sexual identity and gender expression in western culture over the last 40 years or so, with dwarf Women talking about ‘coming out’ as women. Often the shock of characters encountering dwarf women identifying as women, reflects the kind of shock many people experience when they discover that the burly rugby playing ex-boxer they have worked with for 20 years, has a boyfriend at home.

As I wrote this It became clear to me that there was far to much in the subject to cover it all in one post, and even by focusing only on dwarfs I really have only scratched the surface of that particular topic. Sir Terry presents us in the context of dwarfs, with both a humorous take on political correctness, and an insightful exploration of what differences are, where free expression might take us, how we define ourselves, how different cultures interact, and how migrants relate to the lands they left. And because we have been laughing all along the way we hardly notice at all.

In the next post in this particular mini-series, I think I might try a Klatchian Curry.


About Transremaxculver

An entirely fictitious username I created for posting on 'alt.religion.scientology', Scientology is something of which I am highly critical. For those of you who don't know, the Church of Scientology have a habit of making life very uncomfortable for even the most legitimate of critics, which is why this username is completely anonymous. Anyway I have become quite fond of this username, and although it has to some extent outgrown it's original purpose, I think a blog is perhaps the right place for me/it to continue to grow and develop.
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