one of my favorite things about Sam Vimes’s character arc is that it’s literally your classic “gruff cop with ideals gets worn down by reality, descends into cynicism and booze” journey in reverse.
I mean, it happens the normal way around the first time, but we don’t really see the first time- in Sam’s first introduction, he’s literally lying in a gutter. He’s already been chewed up and spat out, already seen the ugliness of the world and bent beneath it.
And then every book from there on out has him getting back up. It’s not a straightforward road, but he takes it anyways, and sure, he’s still cynical and still worn down, but he’s still got his ideals (though I’m not sure he’d like to call them ideals- maybe standards would do) and he cleans himself up and bit by bit, he works on cleaning up the world around him, too. He gets a family. He learns to accept others more openly than he had before. He still sees the ugliness in the world, but he confronts it instead of accepting it as just the way things are. Because there’s a way things should be, and he cares about it.
Sam Vimes, gruff cop with standards, ascends from cynicism and booze, starts wearing down on reality.
look, I’m not a vet/vimes shipper at all (I only ship vetinari with being alive and healthy. he and margolotta are tyrant bffs) but I had this stupid idea about the three biggest smokers on the disc being forced to take an awkward smoke break together at some fancy party, and as we know from fifth elephant that margolotta basically considers winding up vimes a personal hobby, so you can’t tell me she wouldn’t 100% take this opportunity if it presented itself…
adora’s just there for the #gossip (she marries MOIST VON FREAKIN LIPWIG, there’s no way she doesn’t secretly thrive off The Drama)
(adora’s incredible fearlessness combined with her total lack of a self-preservation instinct is gonna give moist a heart attack one day)
Vimes had never got on with any game much more complex than darts. Chess in particular had always annoyed him. It was the dumb way the pawns went off and slaughtered their fellow pawns while the kings lounged about doing nothing that always got to him; if only the pawns united, maybe talked the rooks round, the whole board could’ve been a republic in a dozen moves.
Be generous, Sir Samuel.
Truly treat all men equally. Allow Klatchians the right to be scheming bastards, hmm? In fact the ambassador is just a pompous idiot. Ankh-Morpork has no monopoly on them.
Terry Pratchett, Jingo
I love that this book goes through, like, a billion little tiny moments of Sam Vimes tries very hard to be a good person and does his best despite his upbringing and culture. Sam Vimes realizes what microagressions are (”Not very funny jokes, come to think of it”). Sam Vimes call his best friend out on using racist language. Sam Vimes realizes he just thought someone who’d lived in Ankh-Morpork for ten years couldn’t speak the language, and that is a bad thought.
And Sam Vimes realizes he is working so hard at trying not to be racist (and go him, for that) that he’s refusing to let Klatchians be people–which is to say, sometimes dicks.
Because Sam Vimes is still fucking up, still learning, but also, the fact that he is trying so hard is putting him miles away from people like, say, Rust. Or even Colon (who does learn a bit by the end!). It’s okay to fuck it up. You will always fuck it up. But just because you are fucking up does not erase the fact that you are trying, and just because you are trying does not erase the fact that you are fucking up.
So I’ve been thinking for a while about the Discworld books, and how they can be divided up into three rough thematic phases; not based around the focal characters, but rather what the story is about.
The first wave, which begins with The Colour of Magic and I would say ends with Guards, Guards! or Faust Eric. These books are parodies of existing fantasy, and thematically spend a lot of time exploring the conventions of these stories, both mocking them and codifying them as fact for the Disc. We get a lot of witches and Rincewind books here.
Having set up the status quo, the stage is then set for the second wave to enter, starting with Moving Pictures. This is when Pratchett starts to branch out in terms out his parodies, and moves from fantasy parodies to other areas of society and culture, from the movies in Moving Pictures to shopping centres in that weird Reaper Man subplot, to guns in Men at Arms. Notably, all of these are based around external forces disrupting the status quo, and having to be set right. My favourite example of this is probably Jingo, where the external force disappears by itself when the island sinks back into the sea. Hogfather, Carpe Jugulum and Thief of Time all fit into this wave, which has kind of a fuzzy boundary with the third wave.
Fantasy has always, as an overall genre, had a problem with the idea of growth and change. The idea of “Setting right what went wrong” and protecting the existing status quo has always been a major element in a lot of fantasy stories. “Restoring the true king” is a popular one which is lampooned by the character of Captain Carrot, but Discworld itself has, up to around 1996, had a problem with this itself (notably, the point of the Carrot subplot in Men at Arms is that he is the true king but delibrately chooses not to reveal himself in order to defend the status quo) Its plots, while often having some changes for individual characters, rarely allowed the setting itself to change, and the change that occurs is put right by the end.
The first book to sort of challenge this is probably the fantastic Feet of Clay, one of my favourites, where the role of the Golems is examined and by the end, the concept of a Golem owning itself is introduced. This is a major change for golems in the setting, but it isn’t really played with much here. The two books that really kick off the third wave come, fittingly, at the turn of the Millenium; 1999′s The Fifth Elephant, which examines dwarf politics, and the 25th Discworld novel, 2000′s The Truth, which is the first time we really see a persistant technological change in the setting. The newspaper set up by de Worde is a major factor in all the later books, and notably it is the protagonist of The Truth that is trying to disrupt the status quo with the creation of the newspaper. It isn’t films or rock music, which are eldritch abominations that must be stopped, but an organic and important change in the setting. This is the main theme of the third wave: the Disc is changed and shaped in lasting ways by the actions of the main characters, particularly on the wider social level. Cherry Littlebottom helps to change dwarf gender norms, goblins and orcs are introduced to society at large (admittedly in rather easy ways), and the biggest change of all is the introduction of everyone’s favourite conman, Moist Von Lipwig, who progressively creates or helps create the postal system, paper currency, and the first train network. In the Tiffany Aching books, we see both changes in the social structure that were made far earlier and then ignored (the female wizard Eskarina Smith in I shall Wear Midnight), and a double whammy in the death of Granny Weatherwax and appointment of Gregory as the new witch for her old area in The Shepard’s Crown. In the three waves, we go from stasis, to active defence of the status quo, to challenging and changing it.
Obviously this isn’t a perfect model. While I think the switch between waves one and two is fairly clear, as I noted above waves two and three are far more fuzzy in their boundary. Most notably, while I said that The Truth was the first major wave three book, between it and Monstrous Regiment and Going Postal, we have the second wave’s last hurrah; Nightwatch.
Nightwatch is entirely build around the idea that nothing changes. Carcer’s actions threaten to change history, and Vimes has to put it back, while on the other side of the thematic coin, the revolution that the past characters, including young Vimes, are fighting for explicitly just results in more of the same, putting Mad Lord Snapchase in charge.
Except that…even here, we know that this is not true. Vetinari is in charge of Ankh Morpork in the modern day. Vimes has risen through the ranks to become the commander of the watch and a lord himself, a far cry from his humble, improvished beginnings.
The world will change, and sometimes those changes must be fought, but often we need to fight for those changes ourselves.
God, but the entire “Watch House Riots” sequence in Night Watch is such an excellent lesson in not just how to de-escalate but the importance of de-escalation. The way Vimes insists upon members of the “mob” coming in and watching the surgeon care for the injured man, the insistence on two copies of Lawn’s statement about what happened, the way he made sure to humanize the officers and made good and damn sure that none of them had a weapon – that he did not have a weapon, nobody could say he had a weapon.
Because this was a delicate situation, and it was up to him – the present person of authority – to ensure that the situation did not turn into a riot. It wasn’t up to the untrained civilians, it wasn’t up to the green newbies who didn’t know what they were doing, it wasn’t up to anyone above him. It was on him, to look at the crowd and prevent a riot from breaking out.
Everywhere else, you got people reacting, people panicking, people acting in fear and making things worse and getting people killed – but at Treacle Mine Road, the doors were open and the lights were on and nobody was armed and everything was above-board and the only person who got hurt was a self-inflicted injury he made a full recovery from.
I just… I think that’s such an important sequence, and it – almost more than any of Vimes’s other Moments of Awesome – really shows just why Sam Vimes is such a good policeman, even more than just a good man.
it occurred to me, just now, right here, that the reason Granny and
Vimes feel like such different characters even though they’re not, not
really- both are old and angry (so, so, so angry) and understand
that everyone’s “just” people and really, really would rather not be
Good thank you very much, but they will do the job in front of them,
because no-one else will- is that their books approach the idea of
Responsibility from different angles:
Granny’s books* say ‘I am
responsible. No-one else. I made this choice. I picked this job and now I
am going to do it’ and then proceed to do just that. In every finale
Granny stands, and wins, by herself.
On the other hand, Vimes
tries this. He does, really. But whenever he tries to pick up the weight
of the world someone runs up to help him. In every book when Vimes
faces the villain, he prepares and goes in alone, but someone always
follows him (Carrot in MaA, the Patrician in Jingo, Angua
in Thud!, etc.). And that pretty much takes the above ‘I am
responsible’ and answers: ‘Yes, you are. But so are we’.
don’t know where exactly I was going with this but i guess it’s
somewhere along the lines of how the Witches books deal with personal,
individual responsibility, while the Watch books deal with
person-as-a-member-of-society and societal in general responsibility.
(Also, like, proof that Granny is the single badest badass motherfucker in the series. No-one else reaches her feet)
*And later Tiffany’s. Because say what you will Tiffany is Granny, just with the edges slightly smoothed.