View Full Version : Discworld: Dwarfs and Sexuality

January 30th, 2008, 07:11 AM
It's always struck me as rather unfair that for a book to be worthy of academic study and analysis it has to be at least half a century old, if not a full century, written by either a radical female or a rather dull male. Don't get me wrong, the classics are all very well and good if you enjoy reading period drama - which on the whole - I don't. It is unfortunate that classic stories such as "The Time Machine" are so unfairly discarded because they are not dealing directly with the "real world". Sure Jane Austen presents a wonderful critique of society, particular the role of women and marriage, but this is not the only way to critique or evaluate our world.

As the Time Machine demonstrates science fiction literature can be an extremely effective medium for us to reflect upon where we are going, where we've come from, and exactly how much destruction we will cause or have caused in the process. Even "A Christmas Carol" generally remains unfortunately unobserved due to its supernatural content.

If such classic books can be so easily ignored despite incredible social commentary, what hope have modern day books, such as "His Dark Materials" or even, though not QUITE contemporary; "Lord of The Rings"?

It is as such that I turn to my main point of discussion. The Discworld Series of books by the good Mr Terry Pratchett are a remarkable set of fantasy stories that hold up a mirror to our own universe. But alas, due to it's fantastical nature of wizards, elves and magic, it is unlikely to be given serious attention by the academic world, or even those who flee or scoff at the first mention of a goblin.

The particular issue I'd like to bring forth (though I'm sure later in this thread others can be explored), is that of sexuality and dwarfs. Discworld readers will be familiar with the fact that the Discworld dwarf genders are indistinguishable and at some point during dwarf courting, a subtle investigation into the gender of one's partner must be made in order to avoid embaressment. Female dwarfs are expected to act just as "manly" (if such a term could be attributed to a dwarf without causing them severe insult) as the male gender of the species. Any reference to the act that the dwarf in fact lacks a penis is sevrely frowned upon.

But what interests me most is taken from I believe "The Fifth Elephant" in which Commander Sam Vimes and his wife attend a Dwarf opera, a story about two dwarfs in love. Vimes asks his wife which one is the male, at which point the reply is "They're both dwarfs Sam". In otherwords, it doesn't matter. For all Vimes is to know, they could in fact, be the same Gender. Though Pratchett never specifically states in his books anything about same gender dwarf pairs, it could then be interpreted that for Dwarfs gender only has any relevance if one atually wants to start a family.

Is this to imply that amongst dwarfs acts of a sexual nature are NOT gender determined as is the social convention of humans? Indeed one could possibly compare the dwarf culture to the ancient greek culture in which homosexuality was encouraged due to the strong bonds of friendship it could create, with hetrosexuality remaining with the core purpose of offspring and families...

So, I put forward a discussion, what can we interpret regarding sexuality and dwarfs in Discworld? Is Mr Pratchett making an interesting observation about human sexuality and the shedding of social restaint when it comes to pleasure? Or is this all just a silly interpretation of a fantasy book...?

January 30th, 2008, 05:10 PM
I completely agree with that post. I've asked those same questions myself, and I have no answer for you:).

One time I came across a webpage that listed all the references in a single chapter of a single Discworld book. The list was staggering. The sheer number of literary, cultural (classical, modern, and the pop of the time), and scientific references in Pratchett's works is unbelievable. I had no idea that I understand such a small percentage of the references he makes.

If he makes that many clever non-obvious references to things that are external to Discworld, I can't imagine that his social commentary is accidental in nature. Every time I re-read a Pratchett book I see something new and wonderful. He is a truly amazing author:).

January 30th, 2008, 07:58 PM
I whole heartedly agree. Science fiction is a window into the human condition

January 31st, 2008, 06:32 PM
Unfortunately, Sci Fi is still "too new" to be taken seriously as a whole and only a few exceptions are given any kind of literary notice. Even fantasy writing has had a tough time of it though being older it at least has that much on its side. I doubt you'll see modern fantasy stuff like LOTR before the century is up as a serious literary resource though.

Discworld may be good story writing but it won't be considered classic literature for a while. Though you should remember that certain famous stories now were panned by the literary circles of their time. If it can maintain its popularity for another 50 years then there's a good chance it might get noticed. Like LOTR though it's still a long shot.

January 31st, 2008, 08:18 PM
Also remember copyright law. It has traditionally been a LOT easier to access and reproduce uncopyrighted material. You have unrestricted access to the source material, and there is no need to constantly watch your back to make sure you aren't stepping on anyone's toes. I think we all know from recent experience in the past few decades that just because an user claims "fair use" doesn't mean they won't have their pants sued off. What is it... 50 years after the author's death in Canada, 70 in AU, US, and most of the EU? I understand the reasoning behind that (you don't want a publishing company killing authors so it can stop paying royalties), but 50 to 100 years seems excessive. Surely 35 would be good?

Even tLotR is still copyrighted! And it will be for quite some time yet (2043 by my count). So really, there isn't any modern fantasy or scifi that is truly accessible yet.

January 31st, 2008, 08:36 PM
True. I hadn't really considered the copyright law limitations that keep going further and further into insanity. At this rate, it'll never end and there will be a very limited literary pool to draw from that doesn't have some copyright holder behind it asking for money to reproduce parts of it for academia.