Tag Archives: terry pratchett

Sam Vimes, Granny Weatherwax, and my own demons

My three favourite Pratchett characters are Sam Vimes, Granny Weatherwax and Susan Sto Helit. To Pratchett fans, I think the similarities between the three characters are clear. They’re all cynics who understand themselves and human nature. They don’t fight battles head on, they use “headology” instead (link has spoilers). Yes, even straight as an arrow Vimes will manipulate humans, trolls, and dwarfs as far as he can to get what he needs.

All the three characters are constantly pulled down by either sheer human stupidity or by their own cynicism but they continue power on. They try to do what’s Right.

“Granny was an old-fashioned witch. She didn’t do good for people, she did right by them.”

Vimes is straight as an arrow but not the sharpest knife in the drawer. Granny Weatherwax is called for deaths not births. Susan is compelled to fill in for Death because she’s sucked in by forces beyond her control. None of them choose to get into these situations. They just step up and do the thankless jobs just because of their moral compass.

“The phrase ‘Someone ought to do something’ was not, by itself, a helpful one. People who used it never added the rider ‘and that someone is me’.”

All three are also loners who rarely spoil for a direct fight. Oh, they will fight direct battles when they have to but only if they can’t achieve their goal through subterfuge. Vimes relies on Carrot, Colon and Nobbs. Granny Weatherwax teams up with Nanny Ogg and to some extent Magrat. Susan steps out of the shadows when no other option remains. These characters understand the power of letting your enemies destroy themselves. They know better than giving in to the impulse to destroy another.

“Once you had a good excuse, you opened the door to bad excuses.”

They all recognize the darkness inside them. They know they are not, in the strictest sense of the word, normal.

“The Weatherwax women have always had one foot in shadow. It’s in the blood. And most of their power comes from denying it.”

The world around has complete faith in them.

“Given then, a contest between an invisible and very powerful quasidemonic thing of pure vengeance on one hand, and the commander on the other, where would you wager, say… one dollar?”

“I wouldn’t sir, that looks like one that would go to the judges.”

But they constantly doubt themselves. Because of this doubt each of the characters is forced to look his or her darkness in the face and admit that it has no power over them. Vimes does it in Thud. Granny Weatherwax does this multiple times but most notably in Lords and Ladies and later in Carpe Jugulum. Susan figures out in Hogfather that she’d better accept the supernatural side of herself and get on with things. It’s not easy, but it needs to be done.

“The truth may be out there, but the lies are inside your head.”

Fictional character or real person, it’s these lies that are our demons. The three demons that haunt us the most: inability to see the truth for what it is, inability to trust what we see, inability to draw courage from within ourselves instead of either succumbing to the darkness or relying on external support to fight it. These characters I love so much – Sam Vimes, Granny Weatherwax and Susan Sto Helit – they come up against the same demons and they succeed in exorcising them. That’s what makes them my heroes.


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Book(s) Review(s): Night Watch – Terry Pratchett

Or, of Sam Vimes.

Or, of His Grace, His Excellency, His Blackboard-Monitorship, The Duke of Ankh, Commander Sir Samuel Vimes of the Ankh-Morpork City Watch, Lord of the Ramkin Estates, King of the River.

DISCLAIMER: SPOILERS GALORE!

The first Pratchett I ever read was Night Watch. I loved the book but certainly not as much as F.D. did. I put it down to a difference in taste and went back to my then twin obsessions of Indian authors and non-fiction. I read a few more of Pratchett’s books over years and absolutely loved “Small Gods” and “Pyramids” but I still didn’t feel the urge to binge read. I bought “Truth” and “Witches Abroad” on a whim during my vacation and after The Hero surprised me with a Kindle Voyage, I ended up completely addicted to the Watch novels.

Samuel_Vimes
Source: Wikipedia

We first meet Sam Vimes when he’s lying drunk in a gutter. We watch him pick himself up and fight a dragon. We root for him as he solves a series of mysterious murders. We understand his reluctance to induct the undead into the Watch. We feel fuzzy as he finally overcomes his distaste and hires a Golem and then a Zombie. We watch him jump onto a ship and pursue unknown political villains and become a Duke. His Blackboard Monitorship then assumes a blank face and embarks on a diplomatic mission (the blank face doesn’t last too long, though). In The Fifth Elephant, we finally understand him a little bit and the constant fight between the Commander of the Watch and The Beast. It all comes together in Night Watch as he prods some serious buttock. Oh, he also marries Lady Sybil along the way and they have a baby. How lovely!

As Sam Vimes matures, so do the novels. Each of the Watch books before Night Watch has its own flaws. In “Guards! Guards!” Ankh Morpork isn’t perfectly developed and Vetinari seems a bit cocky. The preaching about men being worse than dragons will spill over into “Men at Arms”. “Feet of Clay” could have been shorter and the minor theme of atheism less preachy. Only Sir Terry Pratchett could ever get away with the mess that is “Jingo”. “The Fifth Elephant” is a bit too neat. Everything wraps up too conveniently and there’s just a tad too much of everything including female dwarfs. But Night Watch, well, let’s just say Night Watch makes up for Jingo.

In Night Watch we finally know why Sam Vimes was able to pick himself out of the gutter and fight the dragon in “Guards! Guards!”. There are the usual puns in this book, but they’re not forced. There are underlying themes and references but there is no preaching. There is some nonsense but it fits seamlessly. There are even some weird religious figures but there’s no underhand ribbing. There is a villain but he’s not a caricature. Carcer is to Vimes what Khan is to Kirk and The Joker is to The Dark Knight.

The book has a different tone from the other Watch novels but it is not dark. It merely makes a case for Sam Vimes and his twisted, cynical idealism. It’s impossible for the book to be dark because it was written by an optimist who said:

A dark book, a truly dark book, is one where there is no light at the end of the tunnel. Where things start off going bad and carry on getting badder before they get worse and then it’s all over. I am kind of puzzled by the suggestion that it is dark. Things end up, shall we say, at least no worse than they were when they started… and that seems far from dark to me. The fact that it deals with some rather grim things is, I think, a different matter.

That’s what I love about the Watch novels. Things end well. Things get better. They might be cynics the whole lot of them but they work together to keep Ankh Morpork running. Vetinari’s thoughtful planning is complemented by Vimes’ action. Vetinari could never rid the city of a dragon by himself. Vimes’ cynicism is toned down by Carrot’s niceness. Only Carrot can put a Golem back together or set him/it free. Carrot’s niceness doesn’t fool Angua. She sees how he has a single claw of nasty. We understand not everyone can be a Vetinari or Vimes. We need the Colon’s and Nobbs’ of the world. Most importantly, we see there is no such thing as “The People”. There’s just a motely crowd of individuals doing the best they can. Barring the occasional psychopath, they’re all just nice people cutting their own throat selling sausages in buns, really.

That’s the thing about satire. Without a happy ending, it would all be just another cynical rant. We need these books with their puns and their silliness. We need Vimes and Carrot and Angua and Leonard of Quirm. We need Gaspode the Talking Dog. Most of all, we need to believe that it can all work out.


ps: I still have “Thud!” and “Snuff” to go.


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Book(s) of the week – Terry Pratchett

Lunchtime lurkers might be wondering where the posts have gone. Erm, I’ve been binge reading Terry Pratchett… I read Truth, Pyramids, and Witches Abroad in the last one week (and would have read more if my Kindle worked) and I’m still a bit hung over. Sorry about that!

Actually, maybe not, I’m most interesting after about an ounce of dark chocolate (half an ounce if it’s single origin cocoa or over 75%), two sips of dark roast coffee, one teaspoon of alcohol (even extra strong tiramisu will do), or half a Pratchett. But not all at once, of course. Oh dear me, no. Even The Hero is exempt from handling me after any combination of those substances.

I realize I’m supposed to post something of consequence here. All my book reviews/recaps so far have been incredibly self-righteous and borderline pretentious. I can’t do that with Pratchett, an I? So I’ll leave you with a few interesting quotes. Before that, here are some awesome illustrations:

Pyramids Source: http://art.marcsimonetti.com/127814/1270280/illustration/sir-terry-pratchett-s-discworld
Witches Abroad Source: http://art.marcsimonetti.com/127814/1270280/illustration/sir-terry-pratchett-s-discworld
The Truth Source: http://art.marcsimonetti.com/127814/1270280/illustration/sir-terry-pratchett-s-discworld

And two places you can find annotations just to check how many references you managed to get (who can get them all?): Annotated Pratchett File and the wiki.

Finally, the promised quotes:

Pyramids:

‘You stay here. I’ll whistle if it’s safe to follow me.’
‘What will you do if it isn’t safe?’
‘Scream.’

‘I was being persecuted for my beliefs.’
‘That’s terrible,’ said Teppic.
Khuft spat. ‘Damn right. I believed people wouldn’t notice I’d sold them camels with plaster teeth until I was well out of town.’

Man was never intended to understand things he meddled with.

Witches Abroad:

Progress just means bad things happen faster.

You can’t go around building a better world for people. Only people can build a better world for people. Otherwise it’s just a cage. Besides you don’t build a better world by choppin’ heads off and giving decent girls away to frogs.

Where’s the pleasure in bein’ the winner if the loser ain’t alive to know they’ve lost?

The Truth:

William: “I’m sure we can all pull together, sir.”
Vetinari: “Oh, I do hope not. Pulling together is the aim of despotism and tyranny. Free men pull in all kinds of directions.

“WHO KNOWS WHAT EVIL LURKS IN THE HEART OF MEN?

The Death of Rats looked up from the feast of the potato. SQUEAK, he said.

Death waved a hand dismissively. WELL, YES, OBVIOUSLY ME, he said. I JUST WONDERED IF THERE WAS ANYONE ELSE.”

‘People like to be told what they already know. Remember that. They get uncomfortable when you tell them new things. New things…well, new things aren’t what they expect. They like to know that, say, a dog will bite a man. That is what dogs do. They don’t want to know that a man bites a dog, because the world is not supposed to happen like that. In short, what people think they want is news, but what they really crave is olds.’

How hard is it to not have a crush on Lord Vetinari?


ps: I’m going to try and finish all the Discworld books this year FSM willing, so I will get all dissecty (I say it’s a word) at some point. That is something to look forward to!


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