Book Review: Monstrous Regiment
“The enemy isn't men, or women, it's bloody stupid people and no one has the right to be stupid.”
It's already the end of August in 2021 as I write this and looking around me, I can only once again marvel at how succinctly Terry Pratchett captured my mood and, I believe, the moods of many people around the world in Monstrous Regiment.
Because right now. in order of stuff that showed up on my Twitter feed:
- infrastructure collapsing from Hurricane Ida;
- the deliberate inaction of Western nations regarding Afghan refugees;
- people railing against vaccine mandates;
- people taking horse medicine and shitting out their intestinal linings.
I wish I were joking about all of it.
One thing I feel Pratchett did not write into Monstrous Regiment was that people can and will choose cruelty to everyone else if they themselves stand to profit. At the core of his writing, Pratchett believed that most people can be better versions of themselves. I do believe that too, but the world too often shows me the opposite.
In any case, I didn't turn to re-read Monstrous Regiment out of nostalgia, but because not too long ago there was a commotion online where transphobes claimed that Pratchett would support them in their narrow, hateful views.
Pratchett who wrote Cheery Littlebottom, with her well-groomed beard and sharp axes, declaring herself female in dwarf society that was, until her, presented each individual dwarf as male; who wrote the golems Dorfl that gave himself a voice and Doris that chose to be viewed female; who wrote a young girl deciding to be a wizard rather than a witch; who in his final book had a young man determined to become a witch. These people claimed to believe that Terry Pratchett, who wrote an entire novel on women pretending to be men in order to do men's thing discovering that it isn't necessary to be a man to do men's things, like fight in a war, would ever support the vilification and stigmatizing of transgender people.
When all you need to be a man is a pair of socks.
(One sock, and you can be a bigoted, narrow-minded, cowardly transphobe.)
I shan't link to the actual nonsense online because it is incredibly stupid, given that there were idiots who not only challenged Terry Pratchett's good friend Neil Gaiman but also his daughter Rhianna Pratchett on what Sir Pterry would have supported. These aforementioned idiots were also people who read Discworld, and somehow I can't help feeling that they have been reading the books without involving their brains.
Polly/Oliver Perks is an engaging lead, who is smart enough to pick up clues and smart enough not to appear too clever. However she is led by Sergeant Jackrum, who is one of the finest characters Pratchett ever crafted for a single story, a crafty, intelligent old soldier who has seen all the tricks and came up with more. (If you have never read Monstrous Regiment before, pay close attention to the pronouns.)
War in Monstrous Regiment is theater. It is performed by men (for a given value of men) for men (again, for a given value of men). Women hardly ever feature in books about war, other than as prizes to be won or victims to be mourned. But the women in this book are each fully developed as individuals with their own motivations, performing as men for an audience that is predominantly male. And the messy underpinnings of War are put on display.
The ideas of "heroes" and "glorious last stands" are given a thorough skewering; the real reasons soldiers fight is because they don't want to die, and the only way they can see themselves not dying is by killing the other bastard - someone's son, someone's father, someone's brother - first. Patriotism is both put under a microscope in several scenes, asking "Why should we defend this land and its people?" When the answer is "Because it's ours", the follow-up is cutting and quick: "So what?" Capable people focus so much on fighting everyone else that they don't see what needs doing or changing.
“People build something that works. Then circumstances change, and they have to tinker with it to make it continue to work, and they are so busy tinkering that they cannot see that a much better idea would be to build a whole new system to deal with the new circumstances. But to an outsider, the idea is obvious.”
What stuck out to me most about the novel when I first read it took place in the climactic scene. Without spoiling anything, this line: "Too many hands clasped, that could more gainfully answer your prayers by effort and resolve!" made this one of my favorite Discworld novels to revisit. Praying for malicious stupidity to go away won't make it go away. We all have to take action to reduce it or negate its effects.