Just in case anybody didn't quite assign the lesbian aspect that was most definitely Tonker and the seriously deranged Lofty...
I certainly don't 'need' Terry to be funny and, with the 2 novels closest to MR (Jingo
and Small Gods
, the latter being unshakeably my favourite book still and the former a really enjoyable deconstruction of poltical posturing on both sides of the fence with a farcical raison d-etre in the occasionally surfacing island of Leshp) on paper I was more than prepared to like MR at first reading and certainly on re-reading which is usual for me and all of Terry's books (yes even the Moist ones as I now love to hate him!
I've nailed why I don't and won't ever like this one, but I do applaud it for trying to raise the 'nastier' areas alongside the more 'frivolous' reasons for girls signing up to get killed - especially the characters of Tonker, Lofty and Wazzer. Also for Shufti as well whom, it could be argued joined the army more because she didn't want to end up in the bad girl place like the other three, than for finding her sleazy love and making him marry her. That's righteous satire when she finally wises up and clouts him a good one after he's been hunted down amongst the PoWs and I really
like her end story with finding a kind, if rather dopey man and father in Paul and providing Polly with an excuse to leave the Duchess once more.
But going back to the workhouse girls, why three of them? Tonker's a dead end from the messianic aspect, but in several ways Lofty and Wazzer are very close to being the same character who would certainly have attracted Tonker's protection as a lover as well as a guardian in either case, in terms of how they were abused, although poor Wazzer was clearly the more persecuted and systematically crushed. There are hints of abuse by the maniac priest (who plagued Polly's family too away from the workhouse) and that got such a slight mention in dialogue I think Terry purposely almost glossed himself clear of the very thorny subject of institutional abuse across all the planes it's possible to be abusive in, which is all too prevalent in such places. So Tonker and the incendiary Lofty carry most of the focus for the less palatable aspects of joining up as both are clearly death-seeking, with the army being the only route they can take that's 'safe' in their desparate bid to escape being hounded in their sorry homeland.
So yes, there had to be three workhouse girls in there. The Duchess is MR's Om and Wazzer is her Brutha, only not as compelling because really all you can do with her is use her as a vessel for sympathy and accrued shame that someone could be that broken and terrified, with nothing really to cheer on as she is so obviously delusional and with such a negative and misguided fixation on the pointless 'sanctity' of the Duchess. The Duchess in whose name so many good people have gone to their deaths is also a pathetic figure throughout the book. Husbandless, childless and also friendless in a way because of the violence and ignorance practised in her name and for her 'glory'. I find Terry's treatment of her and Wazzer peculiarly touching with her saying that she hears the Duchess crying when she sleeps and so gradually builds on what Wazzer has joined up for. What I don't
find too satisfying or indeed logical with how Terry's written them, is the way in which insight and mania to the point of charisma of the religious
variety are so closely allied with pain and degradation (my favourite word in this debate apparently
). Again shades of Small Gods in there (not to mention the suffering of Christ before he gets crucified) and what I think Terry did with Wazzer in some ways, was to create a fusion of a 'reversed out' Vorbis as well as Brutha in her? The first time I read the book I was completely astonished that this was the aetherial, damaged little person doing the Joan of Arc thing - I basically couldn't see how she was capable of doing it because Terry had written her as this ineffectual broken little girl - someone who couldn't say boo to a very small pacifist goose.
Haven't quite worked that one out yet, so I would be very interested in everyone's views on the metaphysical side of this book and the lack
of exploration thereof, that might
have given Wazzer more justification in how the deadlock was resolved, rather than have her as some kind of faintly embarassing, frail possessed zombie almost, with consequent shock value?