“Look out! He’s got a daisy!”
That’s what Moist von Lipwig shouts at one point in Terry Pratchett’s Making Money, his 36th Discworld novel, and, even as he does, Moist thinks to himself:
I just shouted “Look out! He’s got a daisy,” and I think I’m going to remember forever just how embarrassing this was.
Yes, this is a Terry Pratchett novel, and silliness is part of the core equation. Sure, there is a reason why Moist shouts what he does — he’s in the presence of seemingly mad clown. Still….
Of course, because this book, published in 2007, is by Pratchett, there are also moments of thoughtful, insightful commentary by one of the characters, such as Lord Havelock Vetinari, all-powerful Patrician of the city-state of Ankh-Morpork, i.e., the tyrant although a rather reasonable one, who, at a later point, notes that clowns aren’t funny.
“They are tragic, and we laugh at their tragedy as we laugh at our own. The painted grin leers out at us from the darkness, mocking our insane belief in order, logic, status, the reality of reality. The mask knows that we are born on the banana skin that leads only to the open manhole cover of doom, and all we can hope for are the cheers of the crowd.”
As I said, thoughtful. And then followed immediately by more silliness as Moist asks:
“Where do the squeaky balloon animals fit in?”
A name and a shape
Somewhere between the silly and the thoughtful are the sort of wry observations that are also part and parcel of a Pratchett book. For instance, early on, Moist is introduced to a character named Hubert, and Pratchett writes:
Rightly or wrongly, Hubert is one of those names you put a shape to. There may well be tall, slim Huberts, Moist would be the first to agree, but this Hubert was shaped like a proper Hubert, which is to say, stubby and plump.
He had red hair — unusual, in Moist’s experience, in the standard-model Hubert. It grew thickly, straight up from his head, like the bristles of a brush; about five inches up, someone had apparently cut it short with a pair of shears and a spirit level. You could have stood a cup and saucer on it.
Hubert is the nephew of the late chairman of the Royal Bank of Ankh-Morpork, Joshua Lavish, who left 50 percent of the bank to his wife Topsy, a former chorus girl — now “a very small, very elderly, gray-haired woman” with a laugh at least sixty years younger — and one percent to his ugly little dog Mr. Fusspot.
That was to keep control away from the rest of his family, including his two children by an earlier wife, Cosmo and Pucci, owners of the other 49 percent.
In Pratchett’s 2004 Going Postal, Moist, a career thief and con man, was saved from the hangman by Vetinari and put to work reinvigorating the Ankh-Morpork Post Office. He did so well that the Patrician wants him now to straighten out the Bank. Moist, though, says he’d rather not, and the tyrant bides his time.
Not long actually. That’s because Topsy, in poor health, dies and leaves her 50 percent of the Bank to Mr. Fusspot — and, in a typical Pratchett turn — leaves Mr. Fusspot and his now 51 percent to Moist.
So, Moist gets the job he didn’t want and Cosmo and Pucci and assorted others as enemies he certainly doesn’t need.
“Can’t blame a body”
But not before Pratchett brings Death onto the pages of the book, as he does in all but one of the Discworld novels.
Topsy, ever on guard against assassins, fires two crossbow bolts at the figure who enters her office before she realizes his identity.
“Well, you can’t blame a body for trying.”
I AM NOT CONCERNED WITH YOUR BODY, MRS. TOPSY LAVISH.
“It’s been quite a while since anyone was.”
THIS IS THE RECKONING, MRS. LAVISH. THE FINAL ACCOUNTING.
“Do you always use banking allusions at a time like this?
I TRY TO ACKNOWLEDGE THE AMBIENCE.
A few moments later, Death tells Topsy that it is time for the audit, and she says she’s fine with that and not ashamed of anything. “THAT COUNTS,” Death says.
“Small and rather dull”
As is usual in a Pratchett novel, Making Money has many startlingly vivid if also whimsical descriptions.
For example, there’s the cavern that is the Mint of the Royal Bank of Ankh-Morpork, and it is filled with sheds that are built into the walls and hung near the ceiling and scattered across the uneven floor any old way, no one shed like any of the others.
Wisps of smoke spiraled through the thick air. Against one wall a forge glowed, providing the dark orange glow that gave the place the right stygian atmosphere. The place looked like the after-death destination for people who had committed small and rather dull sins.
“Reach through and grab”
Sins and gods and belief and priests and religions are woven throughout Pratchett’s novels.
Moist, a guy who has spent his life making his own breaks (if often with the help of greedy co-conspirator/victims), was taught as a child to pray every night before bed. His parents were adherents to the Plain Potato Church which was in sharp disagreement with the Ancient and Orthodox Potato Church.
He’d hated praying. It felt as though he was opening a big black hole into space, and at any moment something might reach through and grab him.
This may have been because the standard bedtime prayer included the line “If I die, before I wake,” which on bad nights caused him to try to sit up until morning.
That’s pure Pratchett. And so is Making Money.
Patrick T. Reardon