The favourite dish of the Discworld‘s, eponymous anthropomorphic personification of DEATH is of course a good Klatchian Curry. The customary Ankh-Morporkian version of which traditionally contains plenty of Swede. Which apart from telling the reader a lot about Ankh-Morpork, says a lot about British attitudes to foreign food, Which is in essence find the key ingredient of a foreign dish and add to it a combination of meat and vegetables the original cook wouldn’t have been seen dead using, and in some cases possibly wouldn’t recognise. Another key feature of British cooking of course is that after we have finished with the ingredients almost no living creature would recognise them either.
Klatchian immigrants to Ankh Morpork come under a lot of fire in the Discworld book Jingo. This is a quite interesting book not just for the elements of multiculturalism and themes of equal opportunities contained in it, but also for its exploration of the cultural dynamics of the pointless war. Of course along the way Sir Terry gives a pretty good adventure story to boot. As an added bonus Leonard of Quirm makes an appearance who for the purposes of this piece is my third favourite Discworld character. Just to add colour Nobby Nobbs gets to try on a frock for the first time, and the Patrician gets the Donkey down the minaret.
The premise for the war is the transient floating and sinking Island Of Leshp, a wonderful metaphor for somewhere no one has ever heard of but now care passionately about but forget as soon as the political agenda moves on to something else. Somewhat similar to the existence in the British popular consciousness of the Falklands Islands. Which for all practical purposes appeared as soon as the Argentineans’ invaded and disappeared shortly after all the Argentineans’ were rounded up and sent back to Argentina.
Leshp gives sir Terry all the excuses he needs to play with how the less, shall we say thoughtful, stereotype foreigners, and immigrant populations. Being his normal Ironic self uses Sergeant Colon as a stereotypical bundle of prejudice that Alf Garnet would have recognised as a Kindred spirit almost instantly.
In Jingo, Colon’s character represents the kind of person most people have met who begins a conversation about foreigners or immigrants with a phrase akin to, “I’m not a racist but. . . .”. The Klatchians are something of a mishmash of Arabic Asian and Indian cultures, which in itself manages to demonstrate that prejudices tend to collapse different cultures in on each other. Something which Sir Terry throws back at the reader at various points by including something which doesn’t fit any of the cultures the reader has assumed Klatch represents. Klatchian mist for instance, which is for all intents and purposes Scotch Mist.
You may or not believe me, but there is one particular diatribe from Colon that I have heard variations on more than once, that demonstrates the plain ignorance of the working class thoughtless racist (Much less dangerous than the thoughtful kind) and no it wasn’t someone having me on.
“ ‘I heard this wizard down the University say that the Klatchians invented nothing. That was their great contribution to Maffs, he said. I said “What?” an’ he said they come up with zero.’
‘Dun’t sound that clever to me,’ said Nobby. ‘Anyone could invent nothing. I ain’t invented anything.’
‘My point exactly,’ said Colon. ‘I told him, it was people who invented numbers like four and, –’
‘–right, who were the geniuses. Nothing didn’t need inventing. It was just there. They probably just found it’ “
Which apart from anything else demonstrates Sir Terry’s capacity to tangle up a dozen themes in a single short cameo.
In one sense it is just a play on words, yet it also demonstrates that some people will spin ideas round to reflect their prejudices. That some people will go along with others because it is easier than not doing. If other people come up with something it’s by accident, if we come up with something there was purpose behind it. If other people come up with something it couldn’t have been difficult.
A Second category of thoughtless racist that comes in for the Pratchett treatment in Jingo is the Upper class thoughtless racist, who is just thoughtful enough to manipulate the thoughtless working class ones into joining the Army and signing up for a life of adventure, foreign travel, and experiences of other cultures and people. The experience being of course watching ancient temples and palaces that have stood for a thousand years burn ,and stepping over the by then lifeless bodies of the local inhabitants. Ok so I know you were expecting that but it is just so axiomatic I couldn’t resist.
Without getting into too many spoilers, a nice sub plot is the political shenanigans between Vetinari, Vimes and Lord Rust. Rust of course is a hard line authoritarian who is going to show all these wet liberals a lesson, and ends up completely outmanoeuvred. Somehow it all seems quite topical to me following the recent riots in the UK, with David Cameron, being forced to acknowledge ‘Criminal Behaviour’ has causes, and that the British Police don’t really need American ‘expert’ help. Which somehow reminded me of a scene where Lord Rust is demanding the release of a ‘local businessman,’ who hasn’t been arrested and is originally from Klatch, whilst having just demanded the arrest of all Klatchians, for being, well, Klatchian.
However the most bloodthirsty ruthless and pitiless warrior in the entire book, turns out to be Sam Vimes’s polite genteel mannered Butler, Willikins, who’s footballing skills seem to have been learned from Mike Tyson. Which nicely demands that the reader shouldn’t judge any book by it’s cover.
All of these themes resonate enormously with the far rights attempts to raise a moral panic about Muslims in the UK. Jingo was published in 1997, and though the themes were clearly relevant then, somehow it still seems remarkable that this was 4 years before 9-11. Of course the themes concerned are to some extent applicable in a multitude of circumstance, but my hat is still of to Sir Terry for how all this slips in under the radar so to speak.
In all this Pratchett is also able to ask important questions about how the Klatchians living in Ankh-Morpork think about themselves. The most important characters in this regard are the Goriff, Family, who suffer the brunt of the ’anti-Klatchian’ mob’s anger. Even though most of the mob in question were buying a genuine Ankh-Morporkian Klatchian Curry at the same shop the day before. Ordinary people living ordinary lives, mostly the same and just a bit different from their neighbours, just like everyone else.
But they are all Ankh-Morporkian, either by choice or by birth, or by having no memories of anywhere else. And Inevitably Sir Terry Delivers us poignancy , reality and humour in the same package,
Of course it all turns out right in the end, (Not a spoiler, Pratchett’s books always do) and everyone who counts comes out a little better.
If only Sam Vimes and Vetinari could have been put to work on the Afghanistan problem?