by Terry Pratchett
Gold and Silver
Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory
All That Glitters is Not Worth Stealing from the Indigenous People Who Had It First
When you think about it, gold is like soap suds: shimmery, soft, luxurious ... and totally useless. "One small piece of gold was worth more [to trousermen] than a really good machete, which showed how crazy they were" (6.285).
Gold, as a mineral, just isn't that practical. Any armor made out of it would be too soft to protect its wearer against sharp objects made of steel or other metal. Any weapon made out of it would break or bend like rubber. Yet people go nuts for the stuff. The world's desperate desire for gold is like one big Christmas Eve fight at Wal-Mart over the last Tickle-Me-Elmo left in town— but on a global scale.
There are a few instances of useless gold in the book, one major one being that giant honking gold door to the cave of the gods. It serves strictly an ornamental purpose, and ends up being a great bargaining chip for Mau, letting him trade for things that are, you know, actually practical.
It also proves to Daphne's father that no Europeans had even been on the island before. How? "It's still here!" (15.147). If anyone had been on the island before, they would have used their five-fingered (well, it's really heavy, so maybe five-hundred-fingered) discount and sailed away with it.
We also have Mrs. Gurgle's gold teeth. They shine "like looking at the sun" (12.84). They're useless because they're not the right size, but they sure seem to make her happy.
Finally, we have the royal accoutrements of scepter and crown. At least the islanders like the scepter because it's really just "a shiny club." (15.230) You can hit people with it! That's useful! And bonus that you look pretty cool doing it.
The crown though, well, it "sparkled in the sunlight but didn't do anything useful" (15.230). Kind of like trousermen themselves (or Edward Cullen), except they're more likely to burn in the sun than sparkle.
Gold is pretty much a symbol of greed for greed's sake. The lesson: it's not worth fighting for. But if you do find yourself fighting for it, we hope you're not fighting with it. That's a losing battle for sure.
Gold's fraternal twin brother is silver. They go hand-in-hand like peanut butter and jelly or roast beef and horseradish sauce. Now, there's no tangible silver in the book, but a lot of things have a silvery appearance, and it usually means something good.
Both Mau and Daphne talk about a silver thread to the future: "There was a shining silver thread connecting [Mau] to that future" (1.102), and "[Daphne] sees the silver line into the future, and tries to pull herself toward it" (5.41). It doesn't seem like this is forcing them to do anything. It's just a gentle suggestion tugging them along. We like shiny things too, so can you blame them for wanting to follow this shimmery path?
Fish are silver too, especially in the Dark Current between life and death. Running from Locaha, "[Mau] was overtaking the fish, which panicked away, leaving silvery trails" (8.163). And when Daphne returns from the Dark Current, Mrs. Gurgle picks a silver fish (not one of those gross little insects! Blech!) from her hair.
Then she eats it. Yeah, we're so glad it's not an insect. But it's okay: "It was only a dream fish, but such things are good for the soul" (9.23). (What's for dessert after a main course of dream fish? Moon pies? Ha. Ha.)
This Silver's For You
What's the best thing to wash down a silver dream fish? Beer, of course, which is also silver in the world of Nation. If Nation (and Budweiser commercials) has taught us anything, it's that beer is a good thing once you're over the age of 21 and not planning on driving anywhere. And in moderation, of course. Too much can kill you. And make sure you sing to it first, okay? Everyone loves a good drinking song.
We're not sure if silver is fate or dreams or what. We do know that gold means trouble, so in a choice between gold and silver, we're picking silver every time.