Strange Territories, A Year on Discworld: Book 21 — Jingo

In a quest to escape the reality of 2020 and recapture my youth, I’ve set myself the goal of reading all 41 Discworld novels in one year. Join me on this voyage of discovery which definitely isn’t a complete waste of time. Mild spoilers, probably.

Art bu Josh Kirby

Jingo is another entry in the Watch Cycle of Discworld novels. This time around a mysterious island has risen from the Circle Sea creating tensions between the surrounding nations of Ankh-Morpork and Klatch. Add to that the assassination of a Klatchian prince during a diplomatic visit to The Big Wahoonie and Commander Sam Vimes, Captain Carrot, Angua, Nobby, Colon et al, find themselves trying to keep the peace while being joining a war.

It’s good. The Watch cycle as a whole is coming out as the strongest element of the entire series. But before I get to whatever highfalutin subject the story woke in me this week I need to mention some practical problems I need to overcome to finish my Discworld challenge. I’m at the halfway point, with only half as much time remaining to finish as it took me to get here. That means I’ve got to knuckle down over the next four months. My excuse is I’ve been distracted by a massive ongoing project I can’t tell you about, and the realities of job hunting, a recession, a pandemic, and money are all starting to eat more of my time. Depressing stuff out of the way, let’s crack on.

I find myself running out of new ideas.

Given I’m halfway through 41 novels, Pratchett’s work is fully consistent now and I’ve written about a lot of the ideas that come from looking at nostalgia mixing with escapism, the fantasy of youth, the politics of the bizarre. I find myself running out of new ideas. I did want to look at how Pratchett writes about the night and the desert in Jingo — which I particularly enjoyed — but those hit on a similar theme to what I wrote about after reading Hogfather and Small Gods. I highlighted a few phrases here and there but realised they covered political ideas I’d raised in almost every other Watch entry.

The idea of what I should write to me came as I pondered where the Watch cycle would go next; specifically how it would solve the Carrot/Angua problem.

“But here’s the thing, as much as I like both of those characters — one of Carrot’s in-universe characteristics is that he is impossible to dislike — their relationship is dull.”

Carrot is the perpetually positive and unflappable Watchmen who starts out as the series major protagonist but as it continues, has to make room for and be the foil of the cynic Sam Vimes. Angua is one of the Watch’s first diversity hires, in that she is a woman and a werewolf. Carrot and Angua are dating.

But here’s the thing, as much as I like both of those characters — one of Carrot’s in-universe characteristics is that he is impossible to dislike — their relationship is dull. It hasn’t gone anywhere and I want Pratchett to destroy it so at least Carrot, will face an obstacle he can’t easily overcome.

This got me thinking about shipping. Not naval concerns (although I do class the practice as a form of navel-gazing) but the desires of an audience for characters to be together. To mock it now is probably like mocking fan-fiction, and seen as elitist and exclusionary. I’ve no problem with fan-fiction but I’ve long hated shipping and will accept any labelling of being out of step with literary trends so long as I can still moan about it.

“…damaged men thinking Tyler Durgen/Rick Sanchez/Don Draper is the hero, comics fans wanting to keep politics out of comics, Star Wars fans caring about Rey’s parents, that sort of thing…”

From a nostalgia perspective, I was introduced to the concept in my teens by a friend who spent some time on forums discussing shipping in witchy romance series Charmed. My initial annoyance grew from the fact Charmed is awful, it seemed overly romantic and girly, and he was doing it to impress a girl I didn’t like. But, even as I grew out of the regular teenage misogyny and learned that there are many stupid things you’ll do to impress girls, my dislike of shipping never went away. Charmed might be better in retrospect but I’ll never commit to finding out, sorry.

“…will-they-won’t-they narratives are only interesting as long as they won’t…”

For a while now I’ve thought about writing a long piece about all the ways fans fail to understand what they love — damaged men thinking Tyler Durgen/Rick Sanchez/Don Draper is the hero, comics fans wanting to keep politics out of comics, Star Wars fans caring about Rey’s parents, that sort of thing, — and shipping would be in the list.

Outside of the romance genre, where the point is that characters must overcome obstacles to fall in love, will-they-won’t-they narratives are only interesting as long as they won’t, while randomly selected two characters you like and thus think should together seems to be open defiance of the reality of the fiction you are consuming. To me, it demonstrates an unusual relationship with the story and the author that I can’t quite articulate but falls between control, dependence and ownership.

“I’m a strong believer in the theory writers should chase their characters up a tree, then throw rocks at them.”

Part of me believing is this comes from the fact I’ve long been interested in how stories are constructed and there are certain rules I think to stand the test of time, namely drama comes from conflict. Shipping to me largely seems to be the want to eradicate conflict and is the enemy of good storytelling. But how did I jump from not liking shipping to… ship-sinking? It one thing to want to change a story and to leave it how it is.

Well, aside from the fact splitting up Carrot and Angua would be more dramatic and thus immediately better, I’m a strong believer in the theory writers should chase their characters up a tree, then throw rocks at them. The difference between what I think and what I think a shipper thinks is this. They want the characters they like to fulfil some potential the audience has decided on, and this will bring them happiness. I think a writer’s potential is to torture their characters before giving them happiness, and that will bring me entertainment.

“So for the greater good, better storytelling and my own enjoyment, I have to commit not just to shipping agnosticism but shipping anti-theism.”

What is interesting to me here is Pratchett has seeded that the characters might break up in an earlier book, with Angua almost leaving Carrot and changing her mind at the last moment, so there is potential. Aside from the enjoyment of the torture of characters, it would give to me, I also think Carrot need more development. He’s purposely a winner, in every sense of the word. He is nice, charming, good in combat, intelligent, caring and destined for greatness. He shares the super-power of moral correctness with the likes of Superman and Captain America, and his narrative purpose is to stand in stark contrast to the world view of Vimes as his plot function is to effortlessly overcome challenges. But unlike Superman and Cap, Carrot seems to be willfully oblivious to the cynicism and unfairness of the world he lives in. He does the right thing by nature, not by choice. Because of this, he is likeable to read but without a character arc. His victory is a foregone conclusion.

But something like being dumped, as even the greatest optimist will tell you, tend to change how you view the world. So for the greater good, better storytelling and my enjoyment, I have to commit not just to shipping agnosticism but shipping anti-theism.

Journalist, author, comics writer and rambler. I like odd things. Comic found here www.hocuspocuscomic.com/ — Support my writing here https://ko-fi.com/rikworth

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