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"We know enemy forces are in the area. Currently they have no boots. But there will be others with boots aplenty. Also, there may be deserters in the area. They will not be nice people! They will be impolite!"
The 28th Discworld book, and one of the few recent Discworld books not to center around one of the major character sets (The Watch, Death, Rincewind, or the Witches), though William de Worde from The Truth and Sam Vimes make a few appearances.
The setting of the story is the fantastically aggressive country of Borogravia, a constantly-at-war theocracy under the apparently mad god Nuggan, probably the only god on the Discworld to update his holy text (mostly with Abominations against things like garlic, the color blue, and babies). The young heroine, Polly Perks, leaves home, dresses as a boy, and joins the military to find her strong but simple brother Paul, who is the only eligible heir to the family inn and who vanished a year ago after going off to fight the Zlobenians.
Polly signs up under the alias Oliver with an infantry regiment, the Ins-and-Outs, alongside a motley handful of other recruits, including four young humans (who quickly earn the nicknames "Tonker", "Lofty", "Shufti", and "Wazzer"), Carborundum the troll, Maladict the vampire, and an Igor. Lead by novice officer Lieutenant Blouse and the far more savvy (and intimidating) Sergeant Jackrum, the recruits are hurried to the front, learning more than they wanted to along the way about the sad state of their country and the vast alliance mounting against Borogravia.
Spoiler Alert: There is one slowly-building twist that it is all but impossible not to reveal in a discussion about this book, so read on at your peril: Polly comes to learn that she's not the only fighting "man" in her squad with something to hide...
- Actually, I Am Him: Polly talks to a worn-looking lowly sergeant from the Ankh-Morpork forces, unaware that he's actually Vimes.
- Addiction Displacement: Maladict replaces blood with coffee.
- Otto remarks that maybe this may have not been the best thing to replace an addiction with - "dying for a cup of coffee" is far too easy to say.
- Ambiguously Gay: Most of the Regiment, especially Tonker and Lofty, Blouse, and Maladicta seems to have a thing for Polly.
- Auto Cannibalism: Discussed.
It's not done to eat your own leg, is it? You'd go blind.
- Ax Crazy: Tonker will slice you open if you touch Lofty, Lofty will torch the world if it does something she doesn't like, and Wazzer will try to take on someone 3 times her size if they bad-mouth the Duchess. The results are not pretty.
- It's not tearing their heads off that doesn't come easily to Mal.
- Badass: Very nearly landing three hits on Sergeant Jackrum in a bar brawl is something to be proud of.
- Balls of Steel: Polly is bitten in the crotch by a horse when disguised as a man, and only the horrified reaction of a male onlooker makes her realize she should be bent double in agony.
- Batman Gambit: When the regiment captures a Zlobenian sergeant, Wide-Eyed Idealist Lieutenant Blouse decides to take him prisoner. Jackrum acquiesces ... and puts him under the guard of the two wimpiest members of the regiment. When the sergeant breaks loose and takes Blouse hostage, Jackrum is "forced" to shoot the man dead. As he explains to Polly later, there was no way they could've realistically kept him alive and a prisoner.
- Vimes apparently learned a few tricks from Vetinari. He actually helps Polly's squad because he realizes it will make an impressive story that Borogravia can rally behind, and which his own people will find amusing, thus proving the enemy isn't all that bad.
- Becoming the Mask: see that page.
- Berserk Button: Never, ever, ever go after Tonker's girlfriend. Or insult the Duchess where Wazzer can hear you. Or interfere with Mal's coffee.
- Big Damn Villains: Repeatedly, Polly and the rest are saved from having to actually kill someone. First by Jackrum, then the other Borogravian soldiers.
- Blatant Lies: Subverted hilariously by Jackrum, who has a tendency to say "on my oath, I am not an x man" before doing something that falls firmly in the category of "x," such as violent, dishonest, or somesuch. She is being completely honest, we learn. She is not an anything man.
- Boarding School of Horrors: The Girls' Working School. Blouse's "school for young gentlemen" wasn't as extreme, but the other soldiers have to wonder "what kind of life an officer could have led that inclined him to like scubbo."
- Break the Cutie: The Girls' Working School did a number on Tonker and Lofty. What it did to Wazzer went through Break the Cutie, down past the Despair Event Horizon and out into Cloudcuckoolander country and pure insanity.
- Boisterous Bruiser: Sergeant Jackrum.
- Bunny Ears Lawyer: Blouse initially looks like a spineless, naive fop without the first idea of what war is actually about. But when the chance arises, he gets the chance to show off not only his own specialized skills (in certain areas he has a mind like a steel trap) but also a surprising amount of steel. He even makes Jackrum sit down and shut up.
- Catch Phrase: "Upon my oath, I am not a dishonest/violent man."
- Chekhov's Armory: The first scene with Vimes lays out a batch of Chekhovs Guns that fire around the climax of the book.
- Chekhov's Skill: Polly's birdwatching know-how lets her catch on to how the group is being kept under surveillance, as Swires' buzzard doesn't seem right for the region. Lofty's pyromania also comes in handy in a tight spot.
- Combat Pragmatist: Practically everyone at some point, but particularly Polly and Jackrum.
- Continuity Nod: Vimes was mistaken by Polly as a lowly sergeant from Ankh-Morpork. He was a Sergeant(-at-arms) thirty years ago.
- Presumably he also held that rank for part of the intervening time, since he had slowly risen from Lance-Constable to Captain when we first meet him.
- The "helicopters" conjured up by Maladict's coffee-jonesing hallucinations keep aloft using air-screws rather than rotors, as conceived and eventually used to paint a ceiling by Leonard of Quirm in The Last Hero.
- Crosscast Role: Lieutenant Blouse reminisces about playing one of these in an all-boy's school.
- Cute and Psycho: When Wazzer snaps she snaps hard, and you don't want to be in the vicinity when it happens. (Polly is continuously unnerved while she is "speaking to the Duchess" with a sabre in her hand!)
- Dangerous Deserter: "They will not be nice people! They will be impolite!"
- Deconstruction: At one point of the Bawdy Song; also, the book in a way deconstructs the Closer to Earth idea that if women were in charge, there would be no more wars. This sentiment is uttered in the book by Wazzer in one of her more Cloudcuckoolander moments, but is utterly contradicted by its plot.
- Polly herself calls it out, saying that the only people who think that don't know many women, particularly the nosy old women who seemingly live to rat out people (especially younger women) for breaking Nugganic law and who are always in the front row for public executions.
- Deus Ex Machina: Wazzer channeling the Duchess's ghost, who then entreats the Borogravian military to make peace. Unfortunately for the Borogravians, Discworld isn't idealistic enough for even this to be a permanent solution. Though considering that a Deus Ex Machina is defined by lack of setup, this may be more like Doing In the Scientist.
- Does This Remind You of Anything?: Borogravia's geography and constant wars are reminiscent of the Balkan conflicts following the disintegration of Yugoslavia, while the treatment of women in Nugganic Borogravia is obviously based on the treatment of women in Afghanistan under the rule of the Taliban. As a starving country where the military is the only functional part of the government and the head of state is worshipped as a demi-god, it's also rather reminiscent of North Korea.
- The treatment of women in Nugganic Borogravia could be referring to the treatment of women under a lot of religions, in a lot of counties, at a lot of points in history. Saying that it is obviously based on a specific instance is reaching a bit. Polly's problem (needing Paul to be the nominal owner of the inn which she actually runs), could be set in any number of 18th or 19th century European countries. Polly's widowed father is believed to be having an affair with a widow, which no-one seems to disapprove of. Polly works in an inn, and no-one seems to think it wrong in any way.
- Ankh-Morpork involved itself in the war when Borogravia, without warning or provocation, attacked and destroyed the (clacks) towers of A-M.
- The "Abominations" of the Nugganite religion bring Leviticus to mind, especially the bit about Nugganites more or less disregarding the more inconvenient Abominations. Some of them are even direct riffs from Levitican abominations, such as crop rotation. They resemble the Taliban's diktats against a lot of things, such as kites and toilet paper.
- A young girl receiving messages from the local divinity, telling her to lead the army forwards and cleanse the land of foreign invaders, dressing like a man to do so: Wazzer bears a deliberate resemblance to Joan of Arc.
- Sam Vimes' mistranslation "Ze chzy Brogrocia proztfik" calling himself a cherry pancake instead of a citizen of Borogravia is a reference to the JFK quote in which he reportedly called himself a jelly donut. Of course, there is a key difference; "Berliner" means both a citizen of Berlin and a jam-filled donut, depending on what region of Germany you're in.
- The uniforms, the running gag about military leaders having articles of clothing named after them, the Duchess hiding in mourning for years, the first time where military forces relied on the mass media for intel... You could find similarities in the Crimean War, where the British had red uniforms, with Queen Victoria in a state of mourning, and one of the commanders the 7th Earl of Cardigan, and Russians were intercepting this new "telegraph" which the Times used to report the latest news...
- Dropped a Bridget On Him: In-fandom example. A number of heterosexual fangirls were quite disappointed about Mal's Reveal. On the other hand, a number of lesbian/bi/femmeslash fans were waiting for it hungrily.
- Dumb Is Good: Polly's brother.
- Ensign Newbie: Lieutenant Blouse. Plays the trope straight most of the time, but he does get one subversive moment when - in the face of Jackrum's protests - he uses what he learned while stuck in his desk job to intercept and interpret the Zlobenians' light signals. He's also very good at his original job as a clerk - he's only in field command because so many other officers have been lost. He's quite intelligent and a fast learner - he infiltrates an enemy compound as a woman (when the actual women is his squad couldn't), learns how to use a Zlobenian mobile clacks in five minutes, invents run-length encoding and avoids an enemy patrol by pretending to be their lookout and flat-out lying to them. He's just not good at fighting.
- Even Evil Has Standards: One pupeteer gets run out of town because the puppet was beating his wife with a stick with a thickness greater than one inch, a standard found in the book of Nuggan.
- Everyone Can See It: Blouse's immediate response to learning that Tonker's a girl is "And Lofty?" Apparently even he could tell there was something going on there.
- A Father to His Men: Sergeant Jackrum, so to speak.
- Field Promotion: Maladict.
- Polly, too. Twice; once when "storming" the castle and second when promoted to Sgt after the court-martial
- Flashback Echo of the Vietnam War: you know things are bad when Maladict starts seeing "Charlie" in the bushes. Of course these are side-flashes of someone else's past, so things don't start getting serious until he hears helicopters.
- Flock of Wolves: The entire squad and apparently, nearly a third of the Borogravian army (or at least a third of the top brass) is composed of women disguised as men.
- Flynning: Subverted. When Corporal Strappi picks out Polly to do a sword demonstration, she knows she's not supposed to hit his sword. This throws Strappi off completely, since he was looking forward to embarrassing an inexperienced new recruit and had adopted a stance designed to easily counter it but weak against a real attack.
- Foreshadowing: There are hints early in the book about Sergeant Jackrum's real/birth sex, but it takes most people a few re-reads plus advance knowledge of the spoiler to notice them. The biggest one is Jackrum's reason for getting stuck on recruiting party despite his in-universe Memetic Badass status: he got his leg sliced open, then bit the doctor who tried to treat him, and tended to the injury personally, allowing Froc to slap him with recruiting duty as a "reward" while he was laid up. While it's easy to pass off as a throwaway gag to enhance Jackrum's Badass status, it becomes foreshadowing when you realize that to treat his leg, the (presumably male) doctor would have either had to take Jackrum's pants off, or at least get close enough to notice that there were one or two things either missing or sock-enhanced. No wonder Jackrum bit him and did the work himself!
- If you've read Thud before this book, then the Reveal about Mal's gender is hinted at by the fact that the vampire never changes shape once, even when it'd be tactically useful for scouting purposes. Two novels later, we learn that female vampires wind up naked if they change into bats, then return to human form; therefore, Mal didn't dare use this power without exposing her sex and getting in trouble for losing her uniform.
- Freakier Than Fiction: Things declared Real Life "abominations" by Al-Qaeda include women buying cucumbers, and female goats, er, displaying their anatomy. Sex Is Evil and I Am Horny springs to mind.
- Friendly Neighborhood Vampire: Maladict, to the point of having Igor be ready with a stake if she snaps.
- From a Certain Point of View: "On my oath, I am not a dishonest man..."
- Gendercide: Far from complete, but one reason given for the prevalence of Sweet Polly Oliver is that the constant warfare has taken its toll on the population of more conventional combatants. The country was "running out of sons almost as fast as it accumulated widows."
- Genius Ditz: Blouse is a genius when it comes to anything that deals with numbers. He even figured out the clacks system in five minutes flat without every being near a clacks tower and suggested algorithms to improve it. Unfortunately he is a complete idiot when it comes to anything else.
- Genre Blind: Sam is disgusted that the Borogravians could be fooled by soldiers (some with mustaches) disguising themselves as washerwomen.
- Genre Savvy: The Zlobenians don't make the same mistake.
- It's implied that the Alliance let Blouse's charade go on so that the rest of his unit would come to the fortress and be captured.
- Or alternatively, that despite the laughably bad acting he showed the squad before he snuck in, that he's actually an amazingly good actor. He is one of the most unexpected bunny-eared lawyers in the series, after all.
- Gentle Giant: Paul is described as big, kind, slow and able to lift whole beer kegs like toys.
- Glad You Thought of It: Polly tries to get Blouse to "suggest" the idea of sneaking into the keep disguised as washerwoman. He does so, but assumes he's the only one with a chance of pulling it off. Amazing, he is!
- Gods Need Prayer Badly: What nearly happened to Om in Small Gods apparently happened to Nuggan; people stopped worshipping the god and started fearing the Abominations and worshipping the Duchess instead, and Nuggan faded in power and was finally murdered by one of his own irate worshippers.
- Alternately, the bard's saga about Cohen and the Horde might've revealed the truth that Nuggan was a fussy, annoying, undeserving little git, thereby discrediting him as a god everywhere that people still prayed to him instead of the Duchess. More than one way to use a lute as a weapon....
- It's actually mentioned that Nuggan is alive and well in other parts of the Disc, he's just an incredibly minor god, about on the level of pre-Moist Anoia, and in a way her opposite number (he's the god of paper clips and things being in their proper place).
- Those mentions were from The Last Hero, which pre-dates Monstrous Regiment. It's implied that Nuggan died at some point between the two books, and Hero even foreshadows this event when Offler ponders how Nuggan's strategy for attracting followers doesn't seem very good for the long term.
- And the reverse happens to the Duchess: an ordinary woman, after death, was elevated to something like godhood because so many people prayed to her.
- God Was My Co-Pilot: Everyone thought Wazzer was delusional, but apparently the Duchess had been guiding her footsteps the whole time.
- Groin Attack: Parodied, Lampshaded and deconstructed. "Sock Drawer" indeed...
- In another scene, Blouse's horse tries to bite Polly there, only to get the socks. When Polly notices, she quotes a few things she's heard in "rule-free bar fights" and punches it. Blouse faints, and when he comes to Polly explains that the trousers are a bit big for her, which he hastily accepts.
- Hide Your Lesbians: An in-character example; Polly discovers Lofty is a woman, and believes her to be following her love, Tonker. When she discovers Tonker is a woman too, Polly is rather confused and eventually decides not to think about it.
- Holding Hands: Tonker and Lofty.
They always held hands, when they thought they were alone. But it seemed to Polly that they didn’t hold hands like people who were, well, friends. They held hands tightly , as someone who has slipped over a cliff would hold hands with a rescuer, fearing that to let go would be to fall away.
- How Many Fingers?: Maladict doesn't think this is something an Igor should ever ask.
- Insult Backfire: Because Ankh-Morpork has theoretically sided with Zlobenia (or at least, refused to actively support Borogravia in their constant wars), important people in Borogravia have given Vimes the epithet "Vimes the Butcher" in an attempt to discredit him. It backfires; the main characters think it's because he's a ruthless, efficient warlord, and Polly is relieved to be talking to a grumpy but helpful sergeant instead of his bloodthirsty boss, and more than a little shocked to learn they're the same person. Vimes himself finds it rather amusing.
- Iwo Jima Pose: Predominantly featured on the book cover in most editions.
- Jeanne D'Archetype: Wazzer.
- Kill It with Fire: What Lofty does to places that made her miserable.
- The Lancer - this book, along with most other ones featuring Vimes/the Watch as less-important characters, fully establishes that Sergeant Angua is this to Vimes.
- Les Yay: Tonker and Lofty.
- Like an Old Married Couple: Tonker and Lofty; when Jackrum gets a bit fed up with their refusal to be out of each others' sight, he asks "What are you, married?"
- Locking MacGyver in the Store Cupboard: Discworld usually averts this trope, but it's played straight for once near the end, although the materials are only useful to someone who knows a lot about blowing things up. Of course, once the Borogravian soldiers find out they're girls, they're recaptured and stuck in one of the "subversion" cells.
- Lowered Recruiting Standards: The reason so many Sweet Polly Olivers, not to mention non-humans, manage to get into to he army
- Mad God: Nuggan and his weekly growing list of Abominations.
- Manipulative Bastard: Sergeant Jackrum, see Batman Gambit.
- Man of Wealth and Taste: Maladict, as a vampire, is incapable of looking scruffy - instead, it comes off as "deshabile - scruffy, but with bags and bags of style".
- Meaningful Name: Other than (obviously) Polly, it was subverted to hell and back with Blouse. When we're first introduced, it seems like his name is supposed to imply he's a bit of a wimp and a loser. Then as the story progresses the reader is convinced that perhaps Blouse is also a woman. Then (after it is obvious Blouse is not a woman), when it is mentioned that famous war leaders/strategists usually get an item of clothing or a dish named after them, the reader thinks, "Aha! The reason no one has made fun of his name is that they name the women's shirt after him!" (possibly because of his stint in the laundry with the washerwomen). Finally, we find out that he did get a piece of clothing named after him...and it's a form of fingerless gloves, which he was wearing throughout most of the book.
- Memetic Badass: Jackrum, in-universe.
- Memento MacGuffin: Subverted by Shutfi's boyfriend, who asked her for a sixpence, ostensibly so each could keep half of it and re-join the pieces when he returned from the war. Rather than bringing it to the smith to be divided, he spent the coin and abandoned her.
- Metaphorgotten: This exchange between Lieutenant Blouse and Sergeant Jackrum:
Blouse: The great General Tacticus says that in dangerous times the commander must be like the eagle and see the whole, and yet still be like the hawk and see every detail.
- Modern Major-General: Blouse plays with the idea of The Strategist, as his knowledge of tactical manoeuvres is shown as not very useful on actual battlefields. However, he does make up for it with his other abilities.
- Mood Swinger: Tonker, in her own words, doesn't have "middle gears". The quickest way to find this out is to threaten Lofty. (Could also be No Periods, Period rather painfully invoked.)
- Moody Mount: Blouse's horse.
- Must Have Caffeine: Maladict, though as a recovering vampire the coffee's really a way to get his mind off blood.
- My Country, Right or Wrong: Jackrum uses the exact phrase at the end of the book.
- My Name Is Not Durwood
- The Neidermeyer: Corporal Strappi.
- Noble Fugitive
- No Party Like a Donner Party: Said to be a common feature of winter warfare in the area.
- 's not cannibalism, not unless you eat a whole person. Milit'ry rule.
- Not So Harmless: Blouse seems to be the model Ensign Newbie, albeit one who really does care about his troops - right up until he displays an almost frightening degree of competence as a signals-intelligence officer. Manipulating the Ankh-Morpork Times, sending misinformation via a captured blinker, deciphering the use of said blinker in a heartbeat - it's no wonder that, at the epilogue, Polly goes to find him, noting that "there are other ways of winning a war - with intelligence".
- Only Sane Man: Polly. Being surrounded by characters like Blouse, Wazzer, and Jackrum leaves her as the most stable member of the regiment.
- Orphanage of Fear: The Working House for Young Women, which did a number on Tonker, Lofty, and Wazzer.
- Painting the Fourth Wall: Blouse can drop inverted commas around any term he considers "racy" while Wazzer can put capitals in a spoken sentence.
- Platonic Prostitution: Jackrum visits to maintain his image. He brings a book with him and tells the girl to get some rest.
- The Political Officer: Strappi.
- Pyromaniac: Lofty.
- The Quiet One: When Lofty says more than two words to anyone besides Tonker, it's both a noteworthy event and time to start asking some really specific questions about what, exactly, she has in mind.
- Ragtag Bunch of Misfits: You don't get much more ragtag than a hot-headed lesbian and her pyromaniac girlfriend, an expectant mother, the Discworld equivalent of Joan of Arc, a troll, an Igor, a coffee-crazed vampire, Only Sane Man Polly, and a naive clerk turned soldier. Fortunately, they've got a Badass sergeant watching their backs.
- Rape as Backstory: Lofty was sent to work at the flour mill where she underwent what Tonker describes as "Beatings. And worse." When she got back from the flour mill she was pregnant, consequently forced to have the baby, and then beaten again for having gotten pregnant. Then, strangely, the mill burned down.
- Reality Warper: Otto Chriek warns Polly that a Vampire going 'Cold Bat' hallucinates so badly that other people see them. Once Maladict starts muttering about 'Charlie' the forest starts looking greener, and Polly keeps hearing distant rotor blades.
- Reasonable Authority Figure: They're uncommon enough in Discworld that Blouse sticks out as one. He's got the good sense to let Jackrum handle the things he himself isn't suited for (ie: practically everything), is the first to crossdress his way into the fortress (his subordinates see this as a suicide mission), and has the perspective to take his platoon's crossdressing ...more or less in stride.
- Vimes, especially towards the end when he disabuses everyone of the notion that he is "Vimes the Butcher".
- Mrs. Enid, the head washerwoman, sees through everyone's ruses in an instant, yet is pragmatic enough to play along flawlessly in front of the Zlobenians, and fair enough to be supportive even though she's a devoted Nugganite.
- Recursive Crossdressing: The girls dress as soldiers dressed as washerwomen.
- Room 101: The Girls' Working School.
- Royals Who Actually Do Something: Vimes' adherence to this trope causes Polly to mistake him for an irreverent, scruffy sergeant who is blissfully between her and his bloodthirsty commander, "Vimes the Butcher".
- The Duchess wants to be one, but the collective belief of Borogravia isn't enough to grant her the power to do any good, which causes her tremendous grief.
- Sarcastic Clapping: Jackrum does this.
- Samus Is a Girl: Did you read the plot description?
- Sergeant Rock: Jackrum. And, obviously, Private Rock.
- Shoot the Hostage: Just his ear, mind.
- Shout-Out: After being deprived of coffee, Maladict starts suffering from "flashsides" and acting like an embittered soldier out of a movie about the Vietnam war, complete with references to Apocalypse Now and the anti-war song "Feel-Like-I'm-Fixin'-to-Die Rag".
- Also a brief nod to Predator, when Polly's justified sense that they're being followed is substantiated by a glimpse of something that bends the light around it. It's actually Angua who's following them, but Mal's coffee-deprived Reality Warper powers catch on to Polly's paranoia and create the illusion of something up in the trees.
- "I want my sixpence back, you son of a bitch!"
- Shrouded in Myth: Jackrum and his past heroics.
- Spoiler Title: Here's the Other Wiki article for those interested.
- Stealth Pun: A couple of characters, mostly Strappi, keeps accidentally-on-purpose calling Polly "Parts", instead of "Perks", her actual last name. Her rank is Private. This would make her "Private Parts".
- Stout Strength: Sergeant Jackrum. As he puts it, "People don't think fat men can fight. They think fat men are funny. They think wrong."
- Strongly Worded Letter: Nuggan (or what's left of him) is described as the divine equivalent of this sort of person.
- Supporting Protagonist: Polly reflects at the end that this was actually Wazzer's story, when all is said and done. Even aside from that, Jackrum carries most of the action. Polly is pretty much stuck as point-of-view character because she is the Only Sane Man and is not privy to any of the major twists in the plot.
- Sweet Polly Oliver: Spoofed to the point of absurdity.
- A Tankard of Moose Urine:
Igor:"Thith beer tatheth like horthe pithth. [...] I never thaid I didn't like it."
- Tomboy and Girly Girl: Tonker and Lofty, respectively.
- Truth in Television: (This is a way too much information spoiler-marking) As part of her disguise, Polly has practiced peeing standing up, and is very proud of herself for having "kept her feet dry." Female-to-male transexuals can tell you that this is a very legitimate and shared pride.
- Unusual Euphemism: References to one's "socks," which is what Polly uses to substitute for certain... missing parts.
- Waif Prophet: Wazzer is rather delicate and nervous, mentally unbalanced in a way that makes her seem a bit eerie, and eventually serves as the conduit for the Duchess's ghost.
- What Measure Is a Mook?: Quite bluntly averted with Polly and the other fresh meats.
- You Should Know This Already: The majority of the cast are female.
- note that he screws up a noun rather than an article as was said to have happened in real life