Thursday, October 11, 2007

Making Money

The new Terry Pratchett has arrived. The star of the book is again Moist von Lipwig whom we last saw in Going Postal. In this one Vetinari, the despot who runs Ankh-Morpork, decides to put Moist in charge of the central bank. The Bank has run on the gold standard for years and Moist decides that the whole thing would run better on paper money. After all gold is a pretty useless commodity that you can't do anything with; it's not worth as much as potatoes. If you were shipwrecked on a desert island, which would you rather have, a bag of gold or a bag of potatoes? It would be far better to base the currency on the strength of the City, its entrepreneurship, energy and hard work.

Those who start here should know that Moist is in reality Albert Spangler, the notorious con-man whom Vetinari (clearly a pun upon Medici) smuggled out of the hangman's grasp to put his talents to work for the city. Von Lipwig is the man in the golden suit, the man who could sell sand to the Arabs and ice to the Eskimos. To sell the sausage, he says, you must be able to sell the sizzle. Moist can sell the sizzle without necessarily being able to produce the sausage.

The story is full of characters who are not quite what they seem. Another, rather dimmer, con-man appears to be as sort of priest of an obscure religion, a Chief Cashier at the bank is actually a clown, an Igor (a race of Frankenstein's monsters with a penchant for recycling bits or corpses) reveals that his lisp (or lithp) is not real but put on for show, a golem (large clay men with nothing in the trousers department)thinks it is a modest young lady and the chairman of the bank is a dog. But Cosmo Lavish, one of the Bank's shareholders, takes the cake. He imagines he is Vetinari, the ruling tyrant.

To know a man, walk a mile in his shoes. He takes things rather literally and gets his servant, Heretofore, to steal a pair of Vetinari's old boots (they are too small, but it's a good pain). He grows a goatee beard like Vetinari's, though it looks ridiculous on his heavy jowls. He has a ring made of stygium (a very strange metal - or alloy - that heats up when exposed to the light. It is engraved with a 'V' and it too is too small. His finger becomes a stranger and stranger color as the book progresses. Try as he might he cannot pull off his Vetinari impression (or the ring, for that matter). He is too slow, too fat, not fast enough on his feet, too maladroit. He ends up in a madhouse in a ward for megalomaniacs. Vetinari triumphs and Moist von Lipwig is clearly destined for bigger things. What task for the man that everybody loves to love? It looks like he is set to run the tax office. That will test his bonhomie.

Of course, Pratchett is funny because he comments on our existing society. Who is Moist von Lipwig? Why, who but Tony Blair? The man that everyone loves to love. The crook who could sell you your own hands and feet. We know he's a rogue but we enjoy being taken to the cleaners.

And who is Cosmo Lsvish? Who do we know who tries to be leader, but is too fat, too ponderous, can't think on his feet and used to run a financial institution?

David Cameron took him to pieces at the Dispatch Box this week at PMQs.


Anonymous said...

I never really thought about the true identity of Cosmo Lavish before you raised the you have, I simply must re-read the book :-)


Andy said...

I'm incredibly dithapointed!

Igor'th lithp ithn't real. What ith the world coming to.