I read a few Terry Pratchett books in middle school (namely because my brother’s National Geographic Kids said he was DanRad’s favorite author), but I don’t really remember them. They all sort of blended together in a blurry humorous fantasy world. In Unseen Academicals, I actually found the humor to be somewhat lacking, or perhaps of a sort that I enjoyed more when I was younger. UA‘s redemption, however, was found in two particular themes that I found very interesting.
In a small, small nutshell, UA is the story of Unseen University’s decision to field a football (soccer) team for the first time in years. With rival teams and their fans constantly wreaking havoc both on the field and in the streets of Ankh-Morpork, the wizard professors decide to reinvent the game as a more civilized form of entertainment and sportsmanship. In doing so, they unintentionally deprive the local riffraff of the source of satisfying violence and excitement that the sport had become.
The first half of the book contains a handful of encounters between fans of rival teams, all of which carry the threat of street violence. Of course, everyone is familiar with the undying Romeo and Juliet theme of rival gangs warring in the streets, but after watching The Outsiders while in the middle of UE, I thought long and hard about said theme and its applications in the real world. The characters in both works are in very real danger of being jumped in public in broad daylight—or significantly worse. I’m the first to admit that I’ve lived a sheltered life. Growing up in a quiet neighborhood, I’d—perhaps unwisely and certainly to my parents’ distress—never though twice about walking alone at night until around the age of 20. Even after spending last year volunteering at a sexual assault hotline, I’ve never felt seriously afraid of or threatened by someone coming around a dark corner (fact: you are far more likely to be assaulted by someone you know in a private setting). Now, (obviously) the dark corner type of danger is not confined to the works of Shakespeare and Sondheim, and you might just see this as the ramblings of a naïve girl with too much time and security on her hands. But this is why I love to read (and watch movies)! So that I can see what living with the daily threat of physical harm must be like!
In the second half of the book, these football-(soccer)-playing street toughs get a little more human when they’re blindsided by the government and university’s decision to regulate their favorite pastime. The toughs are drunk, illiterate, and frankly have no idea what’s going on. As a football (real football) player myself, I understand the need to get a little violent on the playing field. It’s satisfying. It makes you feel like you’re doing something worthwhile. And to have that taken away from you by a self-proclaimed tyrannical government? I mean, sure, Ankh-Morpork was dealing with civilian injuries and deaths at practically every football (soccer) match. But they signed up for it, right? Even the fans! And the players who died young of head injuries and the like—they still had the glory, didn’t they?
Disclaimer: I’ve known people who have died or been permanently injured while playing a sport. I don’t mean to trivialize or excuse that. But—coming from a fictional standpoint—don’t you think it would be just a bit tough to have something you love taken away because higher-ups didn’t like it? I mean, haven’t we all felt that way about our parents at some point or another?