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Glom of Nit &c.

I had a first draft of my term paper due today at 1:15. As of last night, through no fault of my own (I blame it all on gogollescent ) I was still not finished outlining the book the paper is on, which happily was Going Postal, so I can fake it pretty well. That said, I was able to write an astounding five pages of an 8-10 page paper this morning, which is good enough for my professor apparently. Who da man?

I da man.

I always suspected.

Anyway, part of the reason I was distracted was because SOMEONE (mainly Gogol but I GUESS I am not totally free of blame here) got me all distracted and thinking about the next multi-chaptered fic I will be writing. Yes, it's officially on the schedule. As soon as Revolutions is done, I start anew on a piece so, so different from Revolutions your heads might actually implode.

. . . Trust me, when it shows up, you'll know.

Anyway, that aside, I figured I'd post what I have of my term paper here so you all can take a look at it. Critque, correct, whatever, please! It's being graded, I need all the help I can get hahahaha.

Through Mailslides, Fire and Glom of Nit: The Hero’s Journey of Moist von Lipwig
When a person calls another person or a character in a book a ‘hero,’ the word tends to stir very certain emotions in many people. The first image of ‘hero’ that comes to the minds of many people are heroes like Heracles and Achilles; ancient men of enormous strength and stature, who were able, through their abilities to complete immense tasks of physical power, to rise head and shoulders above the rest of mankind, and the cement themselves forever in the human record as a stereotype for the fluid ‘hero.’ For other people, though, the definitive hero is not large, or strong, or semi-immortal, as Achilles was, but clever and witty and able to think three or four steps ahead of his enemies, besting them in a way that lacks all of the force and power of brute strength but has all of the style of a genius at work. That hero is the trickster, like the wily Odysseus or the clever Raven. So it should be clear, from these two very different examples of heroes, that the concept of a hero is fluid in some ways – not all heroes are strong, and not all are clever. That being said, there are certain things that simply make a hero a hero, and crucial to the forging of a popular hero is the hero’s journey. There are many texts that detail different paths of the journey of the hero, some even go so far as to assign a point system and tally characteristics of a hero and his journey up to determine his true heroism (Somerset 180). The strongest text, however, and one considered definitive by many in the field of literary research is Joseph Campbell’s The Hero With a Thousand Faces. Campbell’s book describes, in detail, the many steps of the hero’s journey, though he makes it clear that all need not be completed to make a man a hero, as long as they seem to be represented in some way (38).
The purpose of this paper is to utilize Campbell’s work to explore the questionable heroism of the main character of Terry Pratchett’s Going Postal: Moist von Lipwig. At first glance, even from his name, the mind may begin to question this man’s heroism – his name even sounds slimy. How could he possibly hold a candle to the heroes of antiquity, like great Achilles or mighty Heracles? And the answer is, in sheer physicality, he cannot. That much is apparent from a simple read of the book – Moist shies away from overtly physical tasks, and there are several times along the way where he questions his own heroism, such as on page 239, when he considers “if he’d been a hero, he would have taken the opportunity to say ‘That’s what I call sorted!’ Since he wasn’t a hero, he threw up”. Be that as it may, when one thinks critically about Moist’s journey from convicted felon to Postmaster General of the steaming city of Ankh-Morpork, one can’t help but wonder about the true mettle of this man’s heroism. Certainly he is not a hero in the sense that Achilles was a hero, but perhaps a case can be made that he is a trickster-hero, cut from the same rough mold that cut the characters of Raven and Odysseus and Anansi and all the tricksters before them. What follows here is an examination of Moist’s actions in the Post Office and beyond, and the path he takes from his low starting point to an office that affords him the position of one of the most powerful men in the city, and incidentally comes with a hat. His actions will be compared to the typical hero-journey laid forth by Joseph Campbell’s book and, ideally, in the end will prove that while Moist is no towering behemoth of a man, he is a wily and clever man who with the help of a few people (and golems and dwarves and . . .) was able to reform the post office and overthrow the enemy Grand Trunk Semaphore Company and thus establish himself as a hero, whether he likes it or not.
When the reader first meets Moist, he is about to die. Not under his own name, of course, perish the thought, but under the assumed identity of Alfred Spangler. He has, apparently, always made a living as a con-man; he passes off fake money, offers to sell diamond rings to people for a regular steal and then, at the last minute, switches the real ring for a cheap glass one, and robs banks through the process of expert forgery and a good hand at drawing up false checks. He is not a violent man, apparently, and the reader is lead to be sympathetic to him, despite the fact he is clearly a criminal. In spite of the sudden attachment to him, however, Moist is hanged on page 17. Of course he wakes up, because if he were to stay dead that would not be very heroic and would make for a very short book. He comes to in the office of the most powerful man in the city of Ankh-Morpork: Lord Havelock Vetinari, Patrician (of which there is only one; Ankh-Morpork operates on a ‘one man, one vote’ system, and he’s the Man, so he’s got the Vote (terrypratchettbooks.com)). Vetinari offers Moist a government job: running the now-defunct Post Office and assuming the title of Post Master General, all while under his given name, of course, as Alfred Spangler, regrettably, was hanged that morning. The significance of Moist taking on a new name with his new job should not be overlooked: mythological heroes often experience a “new birth” when they are first called to their adventure, or an awakening to their true self, that they are more than they previously had been (Campbell 51). In this instance, it’s clear that Moist is being called by a herald, Vetinari in this case, to his quest: to run the Post Office, and indeed, that is the first step in Campbell’s hero-journey.
Of course, Moist isn’t going to give up on his life of crime that easily. He agrees to Lord Vetinari’s conditions, and is told to meet his parole officer outside the Post Office in ten minutes, although he is cheerful to note that he is expected to do so without an escort (Pratchett 21). No sooner has he left the Patrician’s Oblong Office than he has bought a horse from a livery and is riding fast out of the city, towards the neighboring city of Sto Lat. He plans to stop there overnight before continuing his flight, certain he will not be found by his parole officer. His parole officer, however, is a golem – a man made of clay – named Mr. Pump (formerly Pump 19), who is able to follow Moist tirelessly all the way to Sto Lat and, in the middle of the night, captures him and returns him directly to Lord Vetinari’s office. There Vetinari explains to him that Mr. Pump is not human, he does not tire, he can go anywhere on the planet, and he will simply bring Moist back should he try to escape again (Pratchett 27). Faced with no other option, Moist accepts the job at the Post Office.
This part of the story, in addition to be highly amusing, is an important one in the hero’s journey. Moist unwittingly takes the second step of Campbell’s archetypal hero: he refuses the herald’s call to adventure. The hero falls right back into his old ways, though he finds they’re not the same as before (Campbell 59). Moist does feel this way, but he puts it down to being hanged, which would certainly put a damper on anyone’s mood. The interesting thing about the call though, is that the herald’s call will follow the hero without tiring until the hero accepts (Campbell 61) and ultimately, that is what happens.
Moist has already taken the first two steps on the hero’s quest without knowing it when he first sets foot at last in the Post Office. He finds it to be a decaying, pigeon-dung-encrusted structure, stuffed to the brim with old undelivered letters. It seems that twenty years or so ago, the whole system of the Post Office simply ground to a halt; letters when undelivered, and while they did people kept posting messages, until finally the entire system collapsed on itself, leaving nothing to remember it by but an old shell of a building, picked clean by thieves and packed full of letters. He meets the only two remaining employees of the post office: Junior Postman Tolliver Groat, who is a clearly elderly man that fancies himself a natural medicine guru and Apprentice Postman Stanley, who was raised by peas and leans toward the light (Pratchett 33, 35). Groat explains the Post Office to Moist, and what happened to bring about its current state, and swears to Moist that should the new Postmaster ever need anything he and Stanley would be ready to spring into action at any moment (Pratchett 32). Here, Groat has stepped in as the third part of the hero’s journey: the supernatural aid. As Campbell states in his book: “the first encounter of the hero-journey is with a protective figure (often a little old crone or old man) who provides the adventurer with amulets against the dragon forces he is about to pass” (69).  While Groat does not initially give Moist a physical amulet, he supplies him with knowledge of what the Post Office was, and what it now is, so that Moist is better able to understand. The supernatural aid will occur several times throughout a hero-myth, constantly helping the hero to overcome his dragons, and Groat certainly does so – he is a constant source of knowledge about the Post Office and later he does give Moist an amulet: the old Postmaster’s hat, a decaying old thing covered in flaking gold paint with two musty pigeon wings attached to it. That, however, does not occur until after our hero crosses the first threshold, and will be explored in more detail later.

Of course, this does not change the fact that I still have 200 pages of Cold Mountain to read. But it does make it a little less painful.


( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 21st, 2009 11:40 pm (UTC)
You're clutching at scapegoats. You KNOW Mssr. A.V. born P.V is all your idea.

(That is who we're talking about, right? Haha whatever.)

I like your term paper incidentally. GROAT. FOR GRATE WIN. <3
Feb. 6th, 2009 07:55 am (UTC)
Analysis of Going Postal
I assume by now (Feb.6) you've noticed the full classic initiatory sequence in Chapter Five, from fetal position, pulled out by the feet, on through the hounds of hell, the maelstrom-mailstorm vortex, and the completing inspirational vision that is not observed by the others present.

Feb. 6th, 2009 08:32 pm (UTC)
Re: Analysis of Going Postal
Yup! Got all of that in there as Belly of the Whale/Road of Trials. Thanks. :)
( 3 comments — Leave a comment )