Carpe Jugulum (Discworld, #23) - Terry Pratchett

~~Moved from GR~~


Carpe Jugulum

by Terry Pratchett


It never occurred to me before, but I guess Carpe Jugulum is basically Twilight, but with a slightly more rational cast of characters and a little de-Sueing of the protagonist.[1] As Pratchett proves, even the smallest touch of reality to that starry-eyed plot leads to a radically different outcome.

Agnes Nitt, apprentice witch, is our heroine. Unlike Bella Swan, Agnes isn't the "oh-look-at-me-I-have-low-self-esteem-in-an-apparently-adorable-and-captivating-way-and-I'm-actually-drop-dead-gorgeous" style heroine that seems so popular in contemporary YA. Agnes is (very) overweight and therefore falls outside societal norms for beauty. And then along comes Vlad the vampire. And he may seem to sparkle in the sunlight, but vampires will be vampires...

Of course, there's more to it, since Agnes isn't the only witch in Lancre. Oh, no. There's Granny Weatherwax, who's in a snit over not being invited to the royal christening, Nanny Ogg, who is becoming surprisingly moody, and Magrat, who is trying to come to terms with being a witch, a queen, and a mother while still being a bit of a damp dishrag. If that weren't enough, Agnes has to handle her "inner thin girl", Perdita, who is more than a bit of a bitch, a very lacrimose priest, a visiting Igor, and, of course, those darned vampires are in town, ready to set themselves up as the new cordial overlords of the bovine humans of Lancre.

I'd say this is not a good book in the witch subseries to start with, because a major plot point revolves around Granny Weatherwax, the "hag" of the local coven, behaving in a rather overemotional and primadonna-ish fashion. If this is your first time encountering her, it would probably be very difficult to understand or empathize, and personally, the remaining characters tend to rub me the wrong way. I like and sympathize with Agnes, but I think it should be possible for her to be on the scene for a page or so without a reference to her weight. Unfortunately, Pratchett doesn't agree, and the constant references to Agnes' "lumpish" form got on my nerves. I find Magrat extremely irritating and Nanny Ogg a mixture of entertaining and exasperating. In my opinion, other than Granny Weatherwax, none of the characters in the witch books have much depth or character growth, so it is important to understand Granny's background and why she behaves as she does in this story. With this background, I found Granny's actions rational and a little heartbreaking. I also actually spared a significant amount of empathy for the progress-obsessed vampires. They may be unapologetically coldhearted killers, but their overeager desire for superficial change is somehow as sympathetic as it is pathetic.

This book gets a five from me, but for a very strange reason: specifically, a segment that in total probably makes up only a few pages, but which has stuck in my thoughts for years. Other than Small Gods, I think this book is Pratchett's most direct discussion of religion, and his vision is acute and piercing. This book contains a very interesting discussion of just how hard it would be for true religious passion and true tolerance to coexist, and the struggles of faith of Mightily Oats, the local priest, felt uncomfortably familiar and close to home for me. When I was trying very hard to hold on to my religious beliefs, I tried to block out those pages because they stuck in my mind like a burr. Now agnostic, I look back on them as a cogent crystallization of some of my significant doubts and issues with religion. To be clear, Pratchett does not attack religion; in fact, I think this book is actually very sympathetic to those with strong faith. Pratchett mainly highlights the hypocrisy possible when tolerance and care begin to swallow up faith and passion.  Two of my favourite quotes:

“Sin, young man, is when you treat people like things.”

and the scene that stuck with me for years--Granny Weatherwax's response to Oats' weak attempts at conversion:

"People you can believe in, sometimes, but not gods. [...]

Now if I’d seen him, really there, really alive, it’d be in me like a fever. If I thought there was some god who really did care two hoots about people, and who watched ‘em like a father and cared for ‘em like a mother… well, you wouldn’t catch me saying things like ‘There are two sides to every question,’ and ‘We must respect other people’s beliefs.’ You wouldn’t find me just being gen’rally nice in the hope that it’d all turn out right in the end, not if that flame was burning in me like an unforgivin’ sword. And I did say burnin’, Mister Oats, cos that’s what it’d be.

You say that your people don’t burn folk and sacrifice people any more, but that’s what true faith would mean, y’see? Sacrificin’ your own life, one day at a time, to the flame, declarin’ the truth of it, workin’ for it, breathin’ the soul of it. that's religion. Anything else is just… is just bein’ nice. And a way of keepin’ in touch with the neighbours.

She relaxed slightly, and went on in a quieter voice. “Anyway, that’s what I’d be, if I really believed. And I don’t think that’s fashionable right now, ‘cos it seems that if you sees evil now you have to wring your hands and say, ‘Oh deary me, we must debate this.’ That’s my two penn’orth, Mister Oats. You be happy to let things lie.

Don’t chase faith, ‘cos you’ll never catch it.” She added, almost as an aside, “But, perhaps, you can live faithfully.”

Overall, a lot of fun, yet with a real emotional punch and some insights that I continued to think about for years.  Truly, an antidote to any Twilight-based ennui.


[1] It's a slightly unfair comparison, as I haven't read Twilight.  However, I have a good friend who loves the series and insisted on detailing the entire plot of each and every book to me. While this does mean I'm even less likely to read the books, I kind of know the basics now.