In Praise of Pratchett: Making Money


Terry Pratchett ended the first Moist von Lipwig book by having the Patrician offer a similar route to social utility and redemption to the rather more dyed-in-the-wool Reacher Gilt, who instead opted for Door number Two, with embuggering consequences for his mortal self. Gilt’s mission, should he have decided to take it, would have been to tackle the Royal Mint. However, we still have von Lipwig available, and Albert Spangler’s misdemeanours have not been totally absolved, so…
Making Money came out, as usual, in the autumn, and we read it and enjoyed it. Then, in December of 2007, Pratchett announced that he was suffering from early-onset Alzheimer’s Disease, a devastating announcement that all of us who had read and loved his work for twenty years felt like a personal loss. The knowledge of this disease, and the fear of its effects, would lie behind our reception of every book that he would publish thereafter.
Nor can we divorce ourselves of that idea when considering Making Money. It was the last book before the announcement, but whilst I thoroughly enjoyed it, it was a much less successful book than Going Postal, lacking the depth and complexity of most Discworld novels.
Some of this is due to the format of the story. As with Moist’s first appearance, the book is divided into chapters, with short, predictive comments as to their respective contents (though, curiously, this book does contain a Chapter 8, abandoning that old fantasy meme). And von Lipwig is no longer an unknown, striving to turn an out-moded operation around: he is the Postmaster General, he is a raging, public success. When circumstance, Vetinari, an elderly lady who sees right through him and a bulgy-eyed dog conspire to put our confidence trickster hero in as Master of the Royal Mint (and boss of a prominent bank), he does not face the kind of opposition that made Going Postal into such a powerful, anti-capitalist book.
Instead, von Lipwig – who was getting bored with life being peaceful and placid, things going swimmingly well, and Adora Belle ‘Spike’ Dearheart being off in Uberwald, hunting golems – finds himself up against only two, much less fearsome pockets of resistance.
A book of this kind can stand and fall on the quality of its villains, and we are not talking Reacher Gilt here. On the one hand, we have the litigious Lavish family, personified in Cosmo Lavish, who begins the book showing the early signs of obsession bordering upon sanity, and ends the story a long and irrecoverable distance from any boundary whatsoever. On the other, we have the preternaturally serious and sober Chief Clerk, Mr Mavolio Bent, with his overlarge feet, and unusually pedantic manner of stepping.
Cosmo’s a crook, a typically rich, venal, self-centred rich man who wants more. In fact, he wants the Patricianship and is practicing being Vetinari to the point of trying in every respect to become Vetinari, except that he hasn’t got any of the qualifications. Oh, he’s not stupid, but part of his effectiveness comes in Moist having grown so safe and secure this past year that he has to become stupid in order to give Cosmo a chance against him.
And Mr Bent may be completely opposed to coming off the gold standard, as Moist intends, but he’s not a crook. In fact he’s gorgeously, unpredictably, incredulously something else entirely.
Pratchett does provide one other angle of opposition for von Lipwig, in the form of the crude, cruel, denturally-challenged confidence trickster Cribbins, who recognises Albert Spangler from a photo of the Postmaster General on the cover of the Ankh-Morpork Times.
Cribbins is slightly more of a danger than Cosmo, even though Moist’s softness gives him the initial breakthrough upon which he can build, but Cribbins’ power is that he is telling the truth, and the only way to defuse him as a danger is for Moist to tell the truth first, in his best brazen-it-out, flying-without-wings style.
Where it might all have gone wrong is rendered moot by the arrival in Ankh-Morpork of Spike’s golems: thousands of them, forty feet tall, without chem, made of solid gold and answerable, it seems only to Moist von Lipwig.
And that’s the point at which the book sags. Moist’s task, as Master of the Mint, is to get Ankh-Morpork to accept paper money instead of coins that contain less gold than seawater. His economic theory is that gold is irrelevant, that it is not required to back up the paper dollar. Given the success of his stamps, which are being used as de facto paper money already, that’s easy, though his main opponent on economic theory is Mr Bent, who argues that ‘money’ is without value unless backed by solid gold.
Moist can take the public with him, they’re all for the paper dollar, but he cannot shift them from their belief in a currency backed by gold, and he is only ultimately successful by abandoning entirely his theory, and basing the Ankh-Morpork currency on its golden golems. His success is admirable, and it opens the door to Lord Vetinari’s Undertaking (which we will never get to see), but he’s actually defeated in this book.
Nor does Making Money have anything it in remotely resembling the fury Pratchett displays in Going Postal towards Thatcheresque economics. The old economy not only wins, but faces no visceral argument, no ultimate challenge.
As for Cosmo Lavish, he and his litigious family effectively defeat themselves, they through their crassness and stupidity, Cosmo through his ultimately insane attempt to become Vetinari. Opposition melts away without ever putting up a real fight.
And, in contrast to his tightness of plotting in every book so far, Pratchett leaves a loose end: Heretofore, Cosmo’s private secretary, who he uses to obtain the phoney little things that Cosmo believes come from the Patrician himself, spends most of the book afraid for his personal safety, Cosmo not being the kind of guy who leaves witnesses to anything around, and then disappears from the story, his fate forgotten.
A worrying moment, and an indicator for the future that, a few short months after this book appeared, we were told was upon us.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s