Pratchett’s Thud! – Part 2, the Ladies Night Out Scene
Terry Pratchett is a master of fiction, and his Discworld novel Thud! is a masterpiece. While I am not fully though the book, I felt compelled to share this commentary while it is fresh in my mind.
One scene that stood out to me as representative of Pratchett’s humor and brilliant characters was the scene in Thud! where the main female cast goes bar hopping. Strangely, I often find myself drawn to Pratchett’s female characters. Being a male writer, I am often concerned with the portrayal of my female characters, where they ring true and honest. Writing from perspectives you have no experience with seems to be a gamble. It is one that Pratchett often wins.
(My discussion on the topic and more Pratchett analysis can be found here. )
Below I will share the text of the scene interspersed between my analysis and comments. Since I enjoy my Discworld in the form of audio books, this passage is derived from ear and from quotes found online. As such it may have different formatting from the original text.
The Ladies Night Out Scene:
The drinking had started in The Bucket, in Gleam Street. This was the coppers pub. Mr. Cheese, the owner, understood about coppers. They liked to drink somewhere where they wouldn’t see anything that reminded them they were a copper. Fun was not encouraged.
It was Tawneee who suggested that they move to Thank Gods It’s Open.
Angua wasn’t really in the mood, but she hadn’t the heart to say no. The plain fact was that while Tawneee had a body that every other woman should hate her for, she compounded the insult by actually being very likable. This was because she had the self-esteem of a caterpillar and, as you found out in any kind of conversation with her, about the same amount of brain. Perhaps it all balanced out, perhaps some kindly god had said to her: Sorry, kid, you are going to be thicker than a yard of lard, but the good news is, that’s not going to matter.
And she had a stomach made of iron, too. Angua found herself wondering how many hopeful men had died trying to drink her under the table. Alcohol didn’t seem to go to her head at all. Maybe it couldn’t find it. But she was pleasant, easygoing company, if you avoided allusion, irony, sarcasm, repartee, satire and words longer than chicken.
One great thing about Pratchett’s work is the incredible world he built. The city of Ankh Morpork–the core location of the Discworld where the Watch series and many other stories take place–is clearly based on London, though in a very warped and cynical way, the negative aspects of urbanism overpowering the positives. There is a river passing through the city, which is a key to its geography and identity. The headquarters of the Watch–the police force in the city–is located at Pseudopolis Yard. These are clearly drawn from real-world London.
Over thirty-odd years Pratchett was able to create a world of incredible depth–much like the development of Ankh Morpork itself–by building right on top of what was laid down previously. In the passage above we see him create a new space in his city, the Thank Gods It’s Open pub. This is added to already established locations such as The Bucket and Gleam Street. I would not be surprised to see it mentioned again in the future.
The scene continues:
Angua was tetchy because she was dying for a beer, but the young man behind the bar thought that a pint of Winkles was the name of a cocktail. Given the drinks on offer, perhaps this was not surprising.
“What,” said Angua, reading the menu, “is a Screaming Orgasm?”
“Ah,” said Sally. “Looks like we got to you just in time, girl!”
“No,” sighed Angua, as the others laughed; that was such a vampire response.
This was the exchange that stood out to me, which made me want to share this scene. The timing and rhythm of the joke is simply perfect, masterfully delivered by the audiobook narrator Stephen Briggs.
The whole purpose of this whole scene is to develop a character bond between Angua and Sally. Angua is tired, emotionally and physically, and Sally suggest going out for drinks and time off. Up until this point, their relationship always focused on the fact that one is a werewolf and the other a vampire, mortal enemies that could never possibly be friends. Here the animosity begins to break down.
The scene continues:
“I mean, what’s it made of?”
“Almonte, Wahlulu, Bearhuggers Whiskey Cream and vodka,” said Tawneee, who knew the recipe for every cocktail ever made.
“And how does it work?” said Cheery, craning to see over the top of the bar.
Sally ordered four, and turned back to Tawneee. “So … you and Nobby Nobbs, eh?” she said. “How about that?” Three sets of ears flared.
The other thing you got used to in the presence of Tawneee was silence. Everywhere she went, went quiet. Oh, and the stares. The silent stares. And sometimes, in the shadows, a sigh. There were goddesses who’d kill to look like Tawneee.
“He’s nice,” said Tawneee. “He makes me laugh and he keeps his hands to himself.”
Three faces locked in expressions of concentrated thought. This was Nobby they were talking about. There were so many questions they were not going to ask.
“Has he shown you the tricks he can do with his spots?” Angua said.
“Yes. I thought I’d widdle myself! He’s so funny!”
Angua stared into her drink. Cheery coughed. Sally studied the menu.
This whole scene is about characters, and here we start to see how varied they can be. We get a impression of the main girls–Angua and Cheery–the reputation of Nobby (the ladies of the Watch assume him to be a lecherous hound, but we are given a different perspective here), and we start to unravel the new character Tawnee. All delivered with humor and great care.
The scene continues:
“And he’s very dependable,” said Tawneee. And, as if dimly aware that this was still not sufficient, she added sadly, “If you must know, he’s the first boy who’s ever asked me out.”
Sally and Angua breathed out together. Light dawned. Ah, that was the problem. And this one’s a baaaad case.
“I mean, my hair’s all over the place, my legs are too long and I know my bosom is far too…” Tawneee went on, but Sally had raised a quieting hand.
“First point, Tawneee…”
“My real name’s Betty,” said Tawneee, blowing a nose so exquisite that the greatest sculptor in the world would have wept to carve it. It went blort.
“First point, then … Betty” Sally managed, struggling to use the name, “is that no woman under forty-five…”
“Fifty,” Angua corrected.
“Right, fifty… no woman under fifty uses the word bosom to name anything connected to her. You just don’t do it.”
“I didn’t know that,” Tawneee sniffed.
“It’s a fact,” said Angua. And, oh dear, how to begin to explain the jerk syndrome? To someone like Tawneee, on whom the name Betty stuck like rocks to a ceiling? This wasn’t just a case of the jerk syndrome, this was it, the quintessential, classic, pure platonic example, which should be stuffed and mounted and preserved as a teaching aid for students in the centuries to come. And she was happy with Nobby!
Here we really start unpacking the character of Tawneee. She’s described as divinely beautiful, something that she doesn’t realize. She is clearly quite slow, but is kindhearted and humble in a way that defies revulsion.
We also see Pratchett’s take on gender in the concept of “jerk syndrome.” This is further defined later in the book, but essentially means the situation where a woman (or hypothetically a man) is so attractive that the opposite sex is too intimidated to ask her our, feeling he is far our of her league. In such cases, only a jerk who is too stupid to realize he is lesser than her will ask her out.
(A decent explanation of Jerk Syndrome can be found here )
Angua assumes Nobby is bad for Tawneee because he is remarkably ugly (the running joke being he must carry papers certifying he is indeed human) and she beautiful. This is how the main girls judge the situation, in very standard way, but Tawneee offers a quite different point-of-view. She appreciates Nobby for his kind personality (which seems to be, in fact, well established in Pratchett’s books). This clash of perspectives only helps to deepen the characters involved.
The scene concludes:
“What I’ve got to tell you now is…”she began, and faded in the face of the task, “is … Look, shall we have another drink? What’s the next cocktail on the menu?”
Cheery peered at it. “Pink, Big and Wobbly,” she announced.
“Classy! We’ll have four!”
Of course Pratchett felt the need to end the scene with a joke, which had me giggling. Its a good wrap-around to the original drink-name joke, and it also anchors the scene on its key discussion, sex and relationships. That is part of how Angua and Sally ended up at the bar, the former jealous of her significant other’s approval of the latter, the latter wanting to diffuse tensions with the former. What we get is an examination of the complexity of relationships and how simple concepts cannot fully explain human bonds and relationships. And we get some good humor at the same time.
This scene represents those aspects that draw me to Pratchett as a reader, as a devotee of strong and complex characters. The writing is not lofty, convoluted or self-important. It is direct, meaningful and humorous. That is the appeal of Pratchett. There is a reason why he has sold more than 80 million copies worldwide.
The literati might not like Terry Pratchett, but I love the man. I wonder how I will get by after finishing all the Dsicworld books. Only seven left. I get teary just thinking about it.
The scene analysis above is not thorough or deep, I just needed an excuse to share this great piece of writing with you!