You don’t need me to tell you Terry Pratchett is a good author: the man’s books not only sell like hotcakes, but he’s near-universally critically acclaimed. And there was the whole knighthood thing, which I’m sure gave him no small amount of glee.
But you might want to know that I am a big fan of the Discworld series, in this case big meaning “my baby toe makes the Great Wall of China look like a half-eaten pea”. And, while I liked the previous books enough to keep reading, it was Guards! that finally hooked me on them. And in Guards! itself, it was a certain Samuel Vimes that intrigued me most.
But what’s so great about Sam Vimes? Or, rather, what’s interesting about him? Guards! Guards! has a lot of themes, such as whether man is truly good, bad, or something more nuanced – how does he relate to them?
While ultimately I don’t think Vimes’s development is the best shown in this novel, he’s one of Discworld‘s more nuanced and complex characters, and a lot of themes he embodies can also be seen in Granny Weatherwax, of the Witches subseries. He is likely more closer to his “real” self in later books, but it’s worth beginning from the start in almost all things. So, let’s… begin.
Part 1: Of wossnames and bal-ance
A lot of importance can be put on an introduction. In many ways, they are when the character is first defined in a reader’s mind, where their image is formed, where they make their first impression. Vimes’s introduction, his first establishing monologue, has him… stagger slowly in, drunk.
Not the most noble of introductions, there, starting out literally in the gutter. Pretty on-the-nose imagery. Notice how he “folds gently” – it’s not a willing choice, he’s being folded like a piece of cloth. That he’s doing so gently highlights his lack of resistance, and the depression he feels at this point in the novel. The neon lights are referred to vaguely, as if not knowing what they are. It’s a sign of his initial drunken confusion. We’ve got a lot of repetitive “s” sounds, “staggered slowly down the street” and “sizzled”, which is arguably a nod at his slurry drunkenness.
As is common in Pratchett’s works, we step into the character’s mind at this point, though the narration stays nominally in third-person. Vimes’s thoughts and monologues are of note, particularly: it is due to them he is even the star of the book. In early drafts, Carrot was the star, though he had little to “say”. Hence the focus was changed to Vimes, and Carrot is notably the character whose head, throughout the novels, we stay out of – in a series where even villains have look-ins – leaving him more seemingly simple, giving him an odd mysterious effect, and at times making him almost unknowable and larger than life (he is, especially early on, symbolic of pure good character, separated from all else including common sense).
And if Carrot’s lack of one can say so much about him, what does Vimes’s say about him right now? Well, most obviously, it really, really hones in that he is drunk. We have slurred speech, represented by constant commas with repetition, constant one-word “sentences”, pausing with ellipses, and diction like “wossname” and the great “thingy“. And, of course, the slurring in “Thass”. We see him struggle for words, and experienced an italicised moment of success. Again, we’re pretty much seeing almost directly his thoughts.
Look deeper, however, and there is more established. This whole drunken ramble is underlined with a beautiful metaphor about Vimes’s city and home, which is frankly a hideous pot of feces (almost literally, with that river) but he holds it in his heart like a lover. Vimes feels betrayed, and this is honed in by the sharp italicised “Bitch“, of course a plenty strong word all by its lonesome.
At this point, there’s a bit of a tone change in the ramble as it really hones in on the whole “lover” angle. Note how earlier, Vimes (or rather, his quasi-monologue) had a moment where he initially used “it”, and quickly replaced it with “she”. Now it’s her, it. He’s coming more and more to see her, it, as this lover, to which he is in the end irrevocably tied to. “Great booming” highlights how Ankh-Morpork dominates his self, and of course it’s rotten which goes to further underline how he feels “betrayed” by the city. We see elements of the drunkenness again, with the repeated “bal”, an interrupted balance. We can probably imagine Vimes falling over as he says this, it’s an amusing thing for a drunk to say and lose focus on. However, with the line “Never knew where you stood.” something else is made clear: Vimes’s own confusion, and not just due to the drink. The previous lines now take on a new meaning, expressive of this confusion.
In the end, we’re left paused on how, much like a lover, the city is all you really have, and in Vimes’s case all he can hold onto in this confusion. We trail off (with ellipses), much like how we trailed into the monologue to begin with. This will be ongoing, and the “monologue”, though we now leave it, will have no clear end or start, dazed as it is.
So, Vimes initial melancholy and confusion set-up, we’re at the starting point of his development. And so, this seems like a good place to leave off, for now. At rock-bottom, can Vimes possibly fix things and rise higher? …I think, and that image up there thinks, the answer is pretty clear.
Next part hopefully coming soon.
(If you disagree with anything within this post, feel free to comment. I’d hope this would all be very enlightening, very thoughtful, but alas I am apparently not the best one to judge. I admit, was a bit worried that analysis would take away some magic, but I started this blog for a reason, and if nothing else that’s to improve my own appreciation. And in this case, it has definitely succeeded.)
Images by Paul Kidby, of course.