Unseen Academicals - a Fresh Perspective

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Unseen Academicals - a Fresh Perspective

Postby swreader » Thu Aug 23, 2012 1:43 am

I must admit that I didn't much care for UA when I first read it--because I thought then, and to some extent still believe, that Terry tried to put too much in the book. But after reading and re-reading the book, I've come to several (possibly heretical) conclusions.

First, this IS NOT A BOOK ABOUT FOOTBALL (either in the Disc or this world)! Terry is dealing with a society that has become vicious although it teeters on the edge of being moribund. Thus, everything is about "showing your colors" and not with any understanding of what this has led to. What was presumably a reasonable sport at some earlier time (even prior to Likely Senior's death), and teams tried to play the game and win, but not by seeing which team could deliberately injure or kill the other teams players. And this is one of the reasons Vetinari wants something done about it--the mob violence of the game has spilled into the streets, and is disrupting the smooth running of AM--something Vetinari will not tolerate.

To some degree it is a book about class (or neighborhood) assumptions which have little or no basis in reality. The UU team would have been hopeless had they stayed under the supervision of Ponder Stibbons (who takes the credit for the team, even though he never understands it and can't coach). The rout would have been all the worse because as it becomes clear (especially after the introduction of the new ball) plus the fact that combined team playing against UU is composed of the most vicious players on all the other teams with a few exceptions. Andy and his mates represent the kind of mindless and savage bullying that Vetinari wants to get rid of.

But the central and most important character in Unseen Academicals, I think, is Mr. Nutt--who transforms himself and those around him. He serves to open the eyes of a number of the characters (notably Glenda, Trev, Jools, and perhaps Lady Margolotta, to the wrongness of their long-held assumptions about themselves and others.

Nutt, when we first meet him, is working as a candle dribbler at the University and dealing with those who (like Andy) are bullies by nature and habit. But Nutt hasn't come to recognize his own worth at this point and lets himself be bullied and used by almost everyone. But he begins to show his innate worth when he takes over the "coaching" of the team and uses all sorts of radical new ideas which would probably have worked even better against a normal team. One of the striking points he teaches them is that the team must work together, that the point of the game is for the team to score the most goals--not to see who on the team can kick the ball the most times. What becomes quite clear is that neither Ridcully nor Stibbons understand the game or what Vetinari is trying to accomplish.

And amusing as his pedantic learning is (Terry is so fond of parodying German scholarship), Nutt is able to psychoanalyze Trev and get him to deal with his father's death and his own sense of inferiority. Without Nutt, furthermore, there would never have been the union of Trev and Jools. Nutt knows perfectly well that Glenda will have to "translate" the poem he wrote as Trev to Jools. As he tells Glenda later, he actually wrote it for her (with a tip of the hat to Andrew Marvell's "To His Coy Mistress"). And in trying to help Nutt, Glenda comes to know (with help from contact with those who have brought dwarf high fashion to AM) that she is indeed "in the crab bucket". Both she and Nutt can climb out of their old assumptions if they want enough to do so.

Finally, through Glenda & Vetinari, Lady Margolotta is forced to acknowledge that orcs were created and used by men--they are therefore not responsible for what they were forced to do. Nor are they innately evil. This is driven home (and leaves Lady M speechless) when Nutt says he will go "civilize the remaining orcs", but who is she going to send to civilize the humans.

I know I'm given to long posts, so I'll stop now and let anyone who wants comment on this. I started this as a new thread because the old one deals with two books, is (in my opinion) full of utter nonsense which prevented any sensible discussion of UA. So, if you agree with me (or don't)--here's a chance to comment.
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Re: Unseen Academicals - a Fresh Perspective

Postby Molokov » Thu Aug 23, 2012 4:58 am

Great analysis! I also didn't care much for it on first reading (having no understanding nor care for competitive spectator sports of any kind), but I do think it's quite funny in parts (especially after having seen the stage adaptation). I shall have to keep your analysis in mind on my next re-read.
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Re: Unseen Academicals - a Fresh Perspective

Postby Tonyblack » Thu Aug 23, 2012 6:09 am

There's a heck of a lot of real thoughtful stuff in UA and, I agree that there is almost too much to take in on one reading. It's very much a book about human nature and the way that humans tend to follow the crowd rather than finding their own way. And the way that people let all sorts of emotional garbage and dodgy loyalties hold them back from finding their own true worth. :)
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Re: Unseen Academicals - a Fresh Perspective

Postby wildvet » Thu Aug 23, 2012 12:28 pm

"Terry is so fond of parodying German scholarship"
I didn't even know there was such a thing as German scholarship. Sounds prejudice and cheap. Isn't that exactly what TP is trying so hard to preach not to be? Mind you, I'm not German.
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Re: Unseen Academicals - a Fresh Perspective

Postby raisindot » Thu Aug 23, 2012 3:27 pm

Sharlene, your analysis is spot on as usual. I don't disagree with anything you've said.

But, as we've debated before, I just personally don't think UA is a particularly great DW book. Pterry's portrayal of Nutt as a 'monster with human attributes' didn't work for me, mainly because, for me, he simply seemed too perfectly competent in every way. Much as I dislike Snuff, I think Pterry did a much better job in 'rehabilitating' the cultural worth of the goblins through the few simple scenes with the little goblin girl harpist than he did with all of Nutt's achievements.

Throughout the DW books, Pterry makes an concerted effort to turn the 'monsters and lawn ornaments' of fairly tales into races with complex cultures, traditions, histories, and human-like emotions and conflicts. Sometimes he does this gradually. The evolution of Detritus from a troll chained to a wall to a married, intelligent, and diplomatically savvy member of the Watch is one of his finest achievements. The evolution of vampires from standard blood-suckers to city shakers (Dragon), misguided progressives (Vampyrs) and 'cooperative' partners with humans (Otto, Lady Margolotta) is another. The incredible history and society he's built around dwarves and the humanity he's given to even their worst villains is one of his finest achievements.

But what all these 'evolution' in these races have in common is that they seem to be done 'naturally,' i.e., it doesn't appear to be a conscious transition. In AA, on the other hand, Pterry's effort to demonstrate the transition of a maligned race into a worthy race is very self-conscious; you can almost see him thinking, "What else can I do to convince people that Nutt isn't a monster but is a really good lifeform that has had some bad breaks?" For me, this effort is so evident that it makes Nutt's journey seem labored; one of many things I still find labored and flawed about the book ever after repeated readings.
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Re: Unseen Academicals - a Fresh Perspective

Postby swreader » Fri Aug 24, 2012 4:27 am

Raisondot, I really don't disagree with you significantly. I think this is one of the weakest books (for whatever reason--Terry's health, the lack of a better editor), but all I am saying is that I think Terry intends Nutt to be the transformative character.

I'm not at all sure that Nutt's own transformation works partially because I think there is no real explanation of why he is so convinced that he is "worthless" and throughout the book struggles to continually acquire, or as Trev says "top up" his worth. Some of this comes, I suspect, from the fact that the concept of the orc is not Terry's but Tolkien's. And we know that Tolkien's orcs were created as evil creatures. It seems possible to me that this is where the problem arises. Nutt's sense of self-worth has been so warped (by Terry, and as he has other characters react to him) that in spite of the fact that he is incredibly talented, brainy, physically as strong at least as the Vampires--he himself feels he has no value.
But Terry never explains why he has these feelings--which are only cured through his psychoanalysis.

I know that being told as a child that you are worthless, unlovable, and the like can have an incredible effect on one's self-perception. So, perhaps I see that in Nutt. But, I agree that Terry doesn't handle this idea (if I'm right about what he was trying to do here) nearly as well as he does even in Snuff. I also think that he wanted to write a "last" wizard book--and there just isn't enough about them to write a book. Thus, the real focus of the book is on what appear to be minor characters. Does that explain my agreement --at least in part-- with your feelings about the book. It's a slightly different take, but not a huge one.
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Re: Unseen Academicals - a Fresh Perspective

Postby swreader » Fri Aug 24, 2012 4:37 am

wildvet wrote:"Terry is so fond of parodying German scholarship"
I didn't even know there was such a thing as German scholarship. Sounds prejudice and cheap. Isn't that exactly what TP is trying so hard to preach not to be? Mind you, I'm not German.


Welcome, wildvet, as I haven't talked with you before.

There are a number of jokes about "German scholarship" -- mainly directed at the idea that everything they do is done to the last gasp. There is a story which I suspect Terry knows about the American, the Brit, the Frenchman, and the German who are given grants to write something about the elephant. The American (so the joke goes) comes back in 6 weeks with a paperback "Raising Elephants for Fun and Profit". The Brit comes back in 6 months with a book (beautifully bound and illustrated) called "Tracking the Wiley Elephant", the Frenchman comes back in a year with a brown paper covered volume called "Love among the Elephants." And six years later the German staggers in with a 12 volume work called "A Short Introduction to the Elephant."

That's the kind of thing which circulates certainly in academic circles that I think Terry is referring to. It's something of a problem because Terry throws in references to things which appear to relate to something that is particularly British--for example, I only learned today from Tony that the reason Horace (the Lancre blue cheese in Wintersmith) hums is because the Brits use that word to describe something that smells bad or off. And he does it with all sorts of other spot the reference items. Just his way.
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Re: Unseen Academicals - a Fresh Perspective

Postby =Tamar » Fri Aug 24, 2012 10:21 pm

swreader wrote:I'm not at all sure that Nutt's own transformation works partially because I think there is no real explanation of why he is so convinced that he is "worthless"[snip]
But Terry never explains why he has these feelings--which are only cured through his psychoanalysis.


Terry shows us that Lady Margolotta specifically told Nutt that he had no worth, but that he could earn some. So even the person who took him in and encouraged him to learn also told him he was worthless. She also told him he was not allowed to defend himself. When he managed to break through that limitation, he also broke through the lingering traces of belief in his own worthlessness.

I believe that Nutt is intended to be the easily-identified transformed character. Terry has spoken at times of the problem he had with Tolkien's orcs, that there was no chance at all for them. There is a species that Terry wrote who are also portrayed as having no chance at being non-evil: the elves. In UA, I believe he made one of them, if not un-evil, at least less evil: Pepe. I believe that Pepe is intended to be another of the transformed characters in UA. In Moving Pictures, there is a comment that there are elves working in Holy Wood. In Lords and Ladies, Granny Weatherwax explains that there are elf-human cross-breeds that are vain and silly but not as evil as the full-blooded elves. I believe that Pepe is a part-elf; like Tolkien's elves, he creates magical armor. Like Discworld elves, he can look graceful and elegant in anything he chooses to wear. As a part-human, he can live and work with other species, unlike the elves who don't care to get along with anyone. He is a sort of Willikins type, except that he didn't choose to go into service.
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Re: Unseen Academicals - a Fresh Perspective

Postby RedOrangeGate » Sun Aug 26, 2012 5:15 pm

I enjoyed this book much more than Snuff and thought the message and the characters were a lot more fleshed out. Snuff disappointed me but it had some good moments.
Unseen Academicals was a lot sharper. One scene in UA that has fixed itself in my mind (and I expect many other readers), is the story of the mother otter and her young feeding off the Salmon and her babies. There were many others and the second time I read it I found things that I had missed. I love it when that happens.
I wonder if we will read about Nutt again, or if he's served his purpose?
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Re: Unseen Academicals - a Fresh Perspective

Postby raisindot » Mon Aug 27, 2012 1:05 pm

=Tamar wrote:There is a species that Terry wrote who are also portrayed as having no chance at being non-evil: the elves. In UA, I believe he made one of them, if not un-evil, at least less evil: Pepe. I believe that Pepe is intended to be another of the transformed characters in UA. In Moving Pictures, there is a comment that there are elves working in Holy Wood. In Lords and Ladies, Granny Weatherwax explains that there are elf-human cross-breeds that are vain and silly but not as evil as the full-blooded elves. I believe that Pepe is a part-elf; like Tolkien's elves, he creates magical armor. Like Discworld elves, he can look graceful and elegant in anything he chooses to wear. As a part-human, he can live and work with other species, unlike the elves who don't care to get along with anyone. He is a sort of Willikins type, except that he didn't choose to go into service.


Alas, Tamar, I think this is another one of your literary theories that while interesting doesn't hold up under the evidence.

There's no evidence whatsoever that Pepe is an elf. Elves don't 'make' anything; they STEAL what already exists. There's no 'magical armor' in UA; just very strong armor reflecting new advanced manufacturing methods. And plenty of DW characters make 'magical' items from ordinary materials. Jason Ogg can make 'magical shoes' for ants, unicorns, or Binky. The 'cubes' and 'devices' the dwarves find underground are metallic objects with magical properties.Tiffany makes magical cheese. Mightily Oats 'created' a magical axe that mortally wounded a vampire. Sam Vimes' cry of despair in the caverns of Koom Valley literally 'shook mountains.' Humans created golems, being of magical stone, some of whom ultimately evolved to became sentient beings on their own. Are all of these races elves? Certainly not.

And lots of DW characters look great and graceful in anything they choose to wear; Sally, for one, Carrot for another, "Betty" the pole dancer a third. Are they elves? Pterry's elves have certain characteristics that don't change: They're stupid, they never LEARN, they 'glamor' people to gain power over them and make them feel useless, and they attempt to enslave ALL humans. Pepe has absolutely none of the characteristics of Pterry's elves at all.
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Re: Unseen Academicals - a Fresh Perspective

Postby Tonyblack » Mon Aug 27, 2012 8:00 pm

It's Jason Ogg who is the Lancre blacksmith, not Shawn. ;)
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Re: Unseen Academicals - a Fresh Perspective

Postby raisindot » Tue Aug 28, 2012 12:34 pm

Tony, I don't know what you're talking about. Look at my message and you'll CLEARLY see that I mentioned Jason, not Shawn. :lol:
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Re: Unseen Academicals - a Fresh Perspective

Postby Tonyblack » Tue Aug 28, 2012 2:00 pm

Wow! I must be going blind in my old age . . . :lol:
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Re: Unseen Academicals - a Fresh Perspective

Postby OrangeEyebrows » Wed Aug 29, 2012 2:25 am

swreader wrote:There are a number of jokes about "German scholarship" -- mainly directed at the idea that everything they do is done to the last gasp. There is a story which I suspect Terry knows about the American, the Brit, the Frenchman, and the German who are given grants to write something about the elephant. The American (so the joke goes) comes back in 6 weeks with a paperback "Raising Elephants for Fun and Profit". The Brit comes back in 6 months with a book (beautifully bound and illustrated) called "Tracking the Wiley Elephant", the Frenchman comes back in a year with a brown paper covered volume called "Love among the Elephants." And six years later the German staggers in with a 12 volume work called "A Short Introduction to the Elephant."


That is a completely gorgeous story and I'm in love with it. But frankly I thought the business with Nutt and the Uberwaldian psychologists was just a very straightforward "tell me about your mother" Freud joke. Mind you, there have been layered Terry Pratchett jokes it's taken me years to twig, so I could very well be wrong.
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Re: Unseen Academicals - a Fresh Perspective

Postby =Tamar » Wed Aug 29, 2012 5:41 am

raisindot wrote:
=Tamar wrote:There is a species that Terry wrote who are also portrayed as having no chance at being non-evil: the elves. (snip) Pepe

Alas, Tamar, I think this is another one of your literary theories that while interesting doesn't hold up under the evidence.

Possibly not.

raisindot wrote:There's no evidence whatsoever that Pepe is an elf. Elves don't 'make' anything; they STEAL what already exists.


The elves that are sealed into, and can't leave, the parasite universe nevertheless have some things, therefore they make some things. The Fairy Feller was using an axe, the various fairies had clothing, etc.

The point I am trying to make is that Sir Terry, having in the past criticized Tolkien for making an unredeemable race, wrote one of them himself. Since redeeming a claimed-to-be-unredeemable race with the same name as the one Tolkien used (orcs) is the main topic of UA, I felt that possibly pTerry had decided to sneak in a redemption of his own unredeemable race using the hints he had previously written that there were some less-vicious part-elves around, but sneaking it in so as not to distract from the main story.

raisindot wrote:There's no 'magical armor' in UA; just very strong armor reflecting new advanced manufacturing methods.


I beg your pardon... a loose assemblage of open links suddenly locks together and becomes an inertialess barrier, and furthermore does it before the threatening object has time to make an impact? That's magic.

The other characters mentioned are straw men, having nothing to do with my point. However, I never said that other characters couldn't make magical items. I just said that Pepe made magical armor, and I don't recall anyone on the Disc actually having magical armor before (despite the short-lived beliefs of some Heroes -'you can't hurt me, I have magical ar-rgghhh').

raisindot wrote:Jason Ogg can make 'magical shoes' for ants, unicorns, or Binky.

Jason Ogg makes shoes of ordinary metal, using the talent he receives which is a magical gift. The shoes are not magical. Even Binky's are non-magical when they are first made and put on; it's being on Binky that makes them become magical.

raisindot wrote:The 'cubes' and 'devices' the dwarves find underground are metallic objects with magical properties.

We don't know that the dwarves made them, either. They may have been creations of one or another god.

raisindot wrote:Mightily Oats 'created' a magical axe that mortally wounded a vampire.

No, Mightily Oats used a non-magical axe to kill a vampire. Any axe can kill a vampire. Oats's axe is just very sharp, and he has made it a symbol, but it is not magical.

raisindot wrote:Sam Vimes' cry of despair in the caverns of Koom Valley literally 'shook mountains.'

Hyperbole, and I'm pretty sure it's all yours. I don't recall the caverns shaking - if they had, the more delicate stalagmites would have come down. The mystical connection between Sam Sr and Sam Jr is more impressive, being essentially telepathy.

raisindot wrote:Humans created golems, being of magical stone, some of whom ultimately evolved to became sentient beings on their own.

Golems are of clay, not stone. The magic that makes them live is put in by the use of the correct prayers, which is arguably religion, rather than ordinary magic. They are all sentient from the start, but were made to behave like machinery.

raisindot wrote:And lots of DW characters look great and graceful in anything they choose to wear; Sally, for one, Carrot for another,

Carrot? No, he's not "graceful", he's strong. And when he chooses to wear a Mr Potatohead hat as a disguise, he doesn't look great in it.

raisindot wrote: Pterry's elves have certain characteristics that don't change: They're stupid, they never LEARN, they 'glamor' people to gain power over them and make them feel useless, and they attempt to enslave ALL humans. Pepe has absolutely none of the characteristics of Pterry's elves at all.
Well, that is essentially my point: that Pepe, as a part-elf, has inherited some human characteristics yet retains some elven ones as well, specifically a certain degree of viciousness along with the style sense and a form of magic that owes something to Tolkien's elves. Although it apparently suited Sir Terry to make fashion into a kind of dream of freedom for species that hadn't previously had that opportunity (trolls, dwarfs), at its worst fashion is literally a glamor that gives the fashionistas power over any human that falls for it and makes them feel bad about themselves for not looking like models. It's practically elvish that way.
[edited to fix a quote-mark]
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