In Which I Decide Genre Savvy is Fine But Only If It’s Terry Pratchett Doing It

2013-018 to 2013-025

Guards! Guards!

Men at Arms

Feet of Clay

Jingo

The Fifth Elephant

Night Watch

Thud!

Snuff

Terry Pratchett

 

I'm on a Terry Pratchett kick.

Alright, it started with Good Omens, after which I realized there was a brilliant writer out there with a great number of books and I haven't read any of them at all. I would have slapped myself silly if I had been capable of actually harming myself deliberately. (As it stands, I am only suited to harming myself accidentally most of the time.)

I started with The Color of Magic, which, to be very honest, was really a drag.

I kept wanting it to end. I just couldn't wait for it all to finish. It was like some very bad adventure novel about some guy I didn't even care about.

But recently, I figured I'd give the Discworld novels another shot. This time I was smart about it. I did a bit of poking on the Internet and I found that there are certain arcs you can follow instead of just reading the novels chronologically. I decide to start with the Watch – policemen in the frankly worrisome city of Ankh-Morpork.

When we first meet the coppers, they're really a sad bunch who take pride in running just slow enough to avoid catching criminals in the act. Captain Samuel Vimes isn't a bad cop, but he's seen so much shit he's pretty much taken to drinking his watch duties away.

But as the novels progress we find the Watch growing and developing and becoming something that's actually useful and – to everyone's surprise – respectable.

The arc starts out as a parody of buffoonish coppers, but soon it evolves into something much grander. I just have to say, though, that for all my gripes about too much genre savviness in literature (and media in general) I have to give it to Pratchett. The man knows how to play the savvy.

This, ladies and gentlemen, is how you do genre savvy without going the entire wink-wink-nudge-nudge-here's-a-sinkful-of-get-it-huh-huh? routine. Pratchett is a master.

I love all of the characters (some more than others) but I suppose the real reason the Watch arc is so brilliant is because it gives us Sam Vimes. He's flawed, and he's cranky, and he hates everyone, but that's what makes him such an incredible person.

Carrot is great (obviously, because he's the rightful blank of Ankh-Morpork) and I have a soft spot for the barely human Nobby Nobbs, but there's something very interesting about Vimes that everyone else pales in comparison.

Perhaps it's because he's so imperfect. Vimes grapples with demons (his own and another one acquired) and at every step he questions himself and what he's doing and if he's doing these things for the right reasons. He's a nasty, temperamental man, but he's a good man.

It has to be said, though, that as strict as he is in upholding the law, he recognises that some battles are just not meant to be won. He allows some of the coppers to take a few gifts from local barkeeps and tobacco sellers. He is fine with Nobby's thieving ways (at least that way he always knew where to find the stolen goods). He knows that you can't win everything but that on the crucial points of upholding justice, you fight with every last drop you've got.

It's interesting and some readers might say that Vimes' brand of justice is questionable. But that's the point of the novels, really. Vimes is never sure if he's doing things by the book, but he's always sure he's doing the right thing for the right reasons. Never vengeance or blind rage, though he routinely feels himself close to snapping.

Who watches the watchmen? Vimes watches them. Who watches Vimes? Still Vimes, because he knows too much about evil to let himself go down that path. It's questionable, and even Vimes isn't sure how long he'll be able to keep the darkness trapped inside him, but in a city like Ankh-Morpork, sometimes that is enough.

It's a grand list of novels in the Watch arc, and I understand there are quite a few appearances of Watch characters in the other novels. Based on the ones specifically listed as Watch novels, though, I now present my favorite and least favorite!

Favorite: Night Watch. And Thud! is a close second. What makes Night Watch incredible is that it's so tightly knit. You have a story that evolves in the span of a few days, in a city close to bursting. But what's more remarkable is that Vimes already knows what's about to happen, and he realises that things will never change (at least where governments and revolutions are concerned), but he does his best to protect the people and keep the peace.

As someone who cries over footage of victorious revolutions, I found the novel extremely poignant. I cry over footage of revolutions because I see those triumphant faces and they are just so happy thinking that finally they've done something and removed the shackles that kept them down. They've won. They tyrant is out!

Except I know that in less than a year these cheering people will realise that nothing has changed and that they're still shackled, except maybe now it's a different kind of chain and a different master. But it's still there, that tyranny, and it never changes and it never ends.

And it's always the people who suffer; the ones who don't plot or care or do anything at all. They just want to be left in peace, or to have a little more money so they can feed the family. They're the ones who laugh and cheer and think that everything's going to be fine now, only to realise that revolutions are useless little playthings.

Least favorite: The Fifth Elephant. Simple: not enough Sam Vimes. Though he is still the central character, of course, it does give Angua the werewolf a bit more focus, which I do not like. I like Angua just fine, but I don't need her front and center. Too much drama about werewolves and wolves and men who love werewolves. Ugh.

I plan to proceed with the Death arc, which is slightly shorter but should prove just as interesting (fingers crossed). This might just be my Terry Pratchett year.

 

 

PS

On a final and slightly spoilery note (although if you're here you probably don't mind the spoilers), I have to say Willikins is a wonderful, wonderful man. We see more of him in Snuff, which is awesome given the snippets we got from previous novels.

I am slightly on the fence about his actions in eliminating a dangerous criminal, though. Here be spoilers. When Stratford the deranged criminal escapes from his guards (on the way to Ankh-Morpork for his trial) Willikins is there to slice his throat cleanly.

Stratford killed a defenceless young goblin and kept slashing even when she was dead. He crept into Young Sam's room with the intent to kill the boy in an effort to torture the father. Suffice it to say the world is better off with him dead.

But Vimes couldn't kill him. He wouldn't. Because for all his drama about the beast within, Vimes is a good man. He's a hero.

Willikins, I suppose is the book's way of saying the world doesn't just need heroes. Sometimes it needs killers, too. Men like Willikins who know that it's necessary to sully your hands from time to time, to make the world a better place. It falls to them, see, because heroes can't do the dirty things. They can't. They won't.

There's a very interesting Giles parallel there, when he snaps Ben's (Glory's link to the human world) neck to keep the world safe. Because Buffy is a hero, and she never would.

It's a very interesting twist that undermines the very thread of the entire arc, which has been built on the importance of the law above all else. With Willikins, though, Vimes figured he'd rather not know about the butler's possible involvement in Stratford's death.

I'm not against the criminal dying. I fully realise we need men like Willikins and Giles. And that realisation chills me to the core.

 

 

PPS

Because I have been very busy reading (and you have to admit that that's a good enough reason) I haven't been very diligent in writing my reviews. This is why the reviews for books 12 to 17 are not present at the moment. If I do get slightly more diligent I will definitely endeavour to have those reviews up. Eventually. Someday. We never know.

That said, this simply means that the reviews, from now on, will be completely topsy-turvy we might as well not bother with the numbering, but I will. Just for kicks.

 

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