While Vikus and Solovet and the bats go to talk to Queen Athena, Gregor is left alone with Luxa, Henry and Mareth. Euripedes mentioned to Luxa that Gregor could use some tips on flying.
“You hold on too strongly with you legs. You must trust the bats. They will not drop you,” said Luxa. “It is the first lesson we teach the babies.”
“Huh,” said Gregor. Luxa had a way of putting him down even when she wasn’t trying.
Mareth is quick to reassure Gregor that it’s actually easier for babies and younger children to learn this stuff than it is for someone Gregor’s age or older. It makes sense, since younger children haven’t really learned to be afraid yet. The Underlanders have an expression about how courage “only counts when you can count”.
Henry scooped up Boots and held her at arm’s length, the way someone might hold a wet puppy. “Boots has no fear, nor will she when she masters counting. You like to fly, do you not, Boots? Go for a ride on the bat?” he said mischievously.
“I ride!” said Boots, and wiggled to get out of Henry’s uncomfortable hold.
“Then ride you!” said Henry, and tossed her right off the side of the pillar.
“Henry!” said Mareth, in shock.
IS THAT ALL
Of course Boots is fine. The bats caught her, and she’s perfectly safe with them. They would never let her fall. Still, it’s pretty messed up of Henry to just toss her off the side of the pillar like that, without even telling Gregor what would happen.
What happens next seems to be a cultural clash of sorts. Gregor didn’t think the bats would save her, he’s not used to this world. For Luxa and Henry, it’s pretty much always been a given that they can jump off anything and be caught. So when Gregor starts yelling at them to brings Boots back to the pillar, they don’t see why he has a problem.
“In truth, Gregor, she is safer with the bats than in human hands,” said Luxa. “And she is not afraid.”
“She’s two!” screamed Gregor, wheeling on her. “She’s going to think she can jump off anything and be caught!”
“She can!” said Luxa, not seeing the problem.
“Not at home, Luxa! Not in the Overland!” said Gregor. “And I don’t plan on staying in this creepy place forever!”
On the one hand, I get why Gregor is angry. Luxa and Henry are generally obnoxious and inconsiderate and they’re definitely being so here. On the other hand, Gregor is being pretty rude himself. Luxa and Henry aren’t sure what Gregor’s mean by “creepy”, but it’s clear to them that it’s meant to be an insult. This whole situation is basically a result of Luxa and Henry not being aware that what’s taken for granted in their world isn’t so in Gregor’s world, and vice versa, and both parties being kind of immature about it (though, again, it is understandable that Gregor would be angry). I really like that we’re given an example of serious cultural clashing between the Underland and the Overland, it kind of helps make the Underland feel more like a developed place.
After the argument, Luxa has the bats bring Boots back to Gregor. Mareth explains to Gregor that before he judges them to harshly, he should know that Luxa and Henry weren’t always like this. They became a lot more hardened when their parents were killed by rats.
Gregor nodded. He could never hate people very long because he always ended up finding out something sad about them that he had to factor in. Like this kid at school everybody hated because he was always pushing little kids around and then one day they found out his dad had hit him so much, he was in the hospital. With stuff like that, all Gregor could feel was bad.
Well… yeah, it is important to understand where a person is coming from, but a reason for bad behavior isn’t the same thing as an excuse for bad behavior.
The fliers have agreed to officially join the quest, so the crawlers are next. The crawler’s land is a huge cavern with a very low ceiling, low enough that it’s difficult for the humans to stand up straight.
The roaches come to greet Boots, who they still refer to as “the princess” and who they all seem to revere. To everyone’s suprise, Boots recognizes the roach that gave her a ride to the stadium. This makes a great impression on the roaches and on the humans, as it’s it’s a rare ability for humans to be able to tell the roaches apart. Once again, Vikus and Solovet go to speak to the roaches’ leader. Two of the roaches, Temp and Tick (Temp being the one who gave Boots a ride), stay behind to play with Boots.
When Vikus and Solovet return and call the group together for lunch, Boots orders Temp and Tick to stay close by so she can play with them more later.
“Boots!” said Gregor, embarrassed. “You don’t have to stay – she orders everybody around,” he told the roaches. “It’s just that she wants to keep playing with you but she has to eat first.”
“We will sit,” said one stiffly, and Gregor had the feeling the bug wanted him to mind his own business.
Stay in your lane, Gregor.
Vikus and Solovet break the news that the crawlers are not too keen on coming along on the quest. While they discuss how the roaches might be swayed to joining, Henry has an outburst about how the roaches are “the stupidest creatures in the Underland”. He says this while Temp and Tick are in earshot too, so like?? THANKS HENRY THAT’S A BIG HELP. True, the roaches don’t seem particularly bright, at least not in the same way as the humans or the bats or rats. But Henry’s just being an asshole.
Vikus reminds Henry once again of the roaches’ longevity, how they’ve been in the Underland countless generations and will likely remain for countless generations after the warmbloods have passed.
“That is rumor,” said Henry dismissively.
“No, it’s not. Cockroaches have been around, like, three hundred and fifty million years, and people haven’t even been here six,” said Gregor. His dad had showed him a time line of when different animals had evolved on Earth. He remembered being impressed by how old cockroaches were.
“How do you know this?” Luxa spoke abruptly, but Gregor could tell she was actually interested.
“It’s science. Archaeologists dig up fossils and stuff, and they can tell how old things are. Cockroaches – I mean, crawlers – are really old and they’ve never changed much,” said Gregor. He was getting on shaky ground here, but he thought that was true. “They’re pretty amazing.” He hoped Temp and Tick were listening.
Vikus smiled at him. “For a creature to survive so long, it is, no doubt, as smart as it need be.”
“I do not believe in your science,” said Henry. “The crawlers are weak, they cannot fight, they will not last. That is how nature intended it.”
Oh shut up, Henry. My God. And there’s some really ableist implications to what Henry said, which is actually touched on a little bit.
Gregor thought of his grandma, who was old and dependent on the kindness of stronger people now. He thought of Boots, who was little and couldn’t yet open a door. And there was his friend Larry, who had to go to the hospital emergency room three times last year when his asthma flared up and he couldn’t get air into his lungs.
“Is that what you think, Luxa?” said Gregor. “Do you think something deserves to die if it’s not strong?”
“It does not matter what I think, if that is the truth,” said Luxa evasively.
“But is it the truth? That is an excellent question for the future ruler of Regalia to ponder,” said Vikus.
I have a more specific question for Henry: does he think his sister Nerissa, who is “frail as glass”, deserves to die? Henry’s belief that the “weak” deserve to die is really disturbing to me, and it only makes me dislike him more. It’s that kind of reasoning that makes people think treating people with disabilities (physical or mental) as subhuman is okay. (Not a criticism of the book, by the way, because it seems that Collins wants us to disagree with Henry.)
They sleep in the crawlers land and that night, Gregor wakes up to the sight of the roaches performing some odd ritual around Boots. Solovet explains that they’re honoring her. Turns out they like Boots more than anyone anticipated, and there’s a pretty simple reason why. Crawlers aren’t used to anyone liking them that much, but Boots seemed to take a liking to them immediately.
But Boots had befriended them so quickly. She hadn’t been repulsed or superior or scared. Gregor thought the fact that she had liked the roaches had made a great impression on them. Most of the humans had such a low opinion of them.
It’s kind of telling that Boots being generally friendly toward the roaches makes such a big impression on them.
The next day the crawlers announce that Temp and Tick will be joining the quest. It’s definitely because of Boots.
With Temp and Tick part of the group now, they starts to fly for the spinners’ land. Not much of significance happens until they break for lunch. As they’re eating, they’re attacked by rats. Everyone stays to fight except Gregor and Boots, who are told to run up the tunnel that leads to the spinners’ land. Leaving them alone in unknown territory seems like a terrible idea, but I suppose so does letting them take on rats unarmed.