Terry Pratchett Book Club

Terry Pratchett Book Club: Guards! Guards! Part V

Now it’s time to see that dragon off and have a good old-fashioned hero ceremony. We’re about to finish Guards! Guards!

Summary

Vimes is digging away the mortar between the bars of the cell while the Patrician reads. The rank are discussing odds around killing the dragon with Colon’s lucky arrow, and finding the math wanting. They try to adjust the odds by suggesting ways to make the shot harder, so it truly is a million-to-one chance. The Librarian shows up at the dungeon, stretches the bars apart and yanks Vimes through. They make to escape by heading through the kitchens where some guards are eating lunch, and a fight ensues. Vimes makes it out to the street with a cleaver and heads off to face the dragon. The rank see a woman being tied to a rock for sacrifice and realize it’s Lady Ramkin. The rank see the dragon coming and Colon fires his arrow despite not knowing where the “voonerable” spot on the dragon is, and Vimes sees the boys up on the roof and wonders what any of them are doing because they’re not really heroes anyway. The arrow misses and the dragon turns on them and sprays a large fireball in their direction. There’s an explosion.

Vimes finds Lady Ramkin and begins hacking at her chains with the cleaver. He is horrified that the rank have all died for nothing, and once he’s done freeing Sibyl, the dragon shows up. The rank are not dead, in fact, and Colon and Nobby are worried that Carrot fell in the water and maybe can’t swim, so they argue about who should dive in after him. Carrot is not in the water; he went to have a look about, and now insists that they should head back to the fight. The Patrician opens a compartment in the wall that contains rations, clothes, riches… and the key to the dungeon. (He hadn’t told Vimes about that because he believed breaking out was more satisfying to him, and wants him to maintain his view of the world.) He leaves the dungeon. The dragon kennels explode due to Errol, and the dragon flies up to hover over the smoke. The noble dragon sees him and they begin to fight, but Lady Ramkin doesn’t hold out much hope for Errol in this situation. Eventually the swamp dragon flees, which is also a mystery—dragons usually fight to the death. Errol returns and elicits something like a thunderclap that lays the noble dragon out. The citizens of the city head for the dragon with weapons, ready to kill it, which Sibyl is still against. Vimes doesn’t want to worry about that, but Nobby and Colon inform him that Carrot arrested the dragon, and prisoners must be kept safe, so…

They arrive where the dragon has landed and try to warn the citizens off. One of them hits Carrot in the breastplate with a rock and Lady Ramkin goes off on them all. Carrot reads the dragon its rights, and in the moment Errol returns, something strange happens—the noble dragon lets out a sound like a kitten. They finally realize that the noble dragon is female and that Errol has initiated a sort of mating ritual. Vimes tells the group to leave and head for the palace while everyone is distracted. They run, and when they arrive, they begin charging any of the guards who think to stand in their way. Wonse runs into the Patrician in the private audience room and tries to make a run for it. Everywhere he goes, the Patrician shows up. Wonse calls in the guards, but the Watch shows up instead. The Patrician tries to set things in order, but Vimes tells him to shut up and has Carrot read Wonse his rights. Wonse tries to rush the Patrician; Vimes stops him, then tells Carrot to “throw the book at him,” forgetting the problem with dwarfs and metaphors. Carrot throws The Laws and Ordinances of Ankh and Morpork at him, sending Wonse backwards out the window, and killing him stone dead.

Death comes to collect Wonse; the Patrician tells Vimes to give his men the rest of the day off. He tells Vimes that the truth of the world is that there are no good people, only bad people on different sides. Vimes is flummoxed by this perspective, but comes across the Librarian, who is retrieving his book from Wonse’s body, along with the law book. He points Vimes to a passage on dragons and what they truly are. Vimes tells him to put the book somewhere safe along with the law book, then they go for a drink. Later, the Watch arrive to be thanked for their services to the city, and the Patrician asks what reward they would like. Vimes hadn’t thought of it, so Colon and Nobby think to ask for small raises for their officers, a new kettle, and a dartboard. The Patrician is utterly baffled by this request and Vimes begins to laugh hysterically. He later goes to Lady Ramkin’s house, meets a bunch of wealthy women who are helping to put the dragon kennel back together, and has dinner with her. There’s clearly something between them. The rank have a beer and discuss kinghood. The dragons strike out together into the unknown.

Commentary

The whole ending sequence of this book is just perfectly written. The parody, the physical comedy, the cinematic quality to the entire thing. Picturing them all fast walking, then trotting, and full out running to the palace. Reading everyone their rights in the most useless manner possible. (Also, apparently there is historical precedent for arresting animals in our own world too? So, you know, Carrot is perfect.) Lord Vetinari appearing around every corner to hound Wonse. And then the greatest character death in any book I’ve ever read, made by a metaphor becoming a reality and dropping someone out a window. Also, my petty streak really appreciates the moments where Vimes gets the chance to tell Vetinari to shut up. And I love that they just ask for a solid pay bump and a kettle at their little hero ceremony while Vetinari looks on in shock. I’d have laughed like Vimes too.

We get a wrap up in our morals for the story between Vetinari and the passages that the Librarian has Vimes read from the Summoning Dragons book, and there’s a lot being said, really. Of course, the Patrician is a terrifyingly smart guy, but his logic is cold and hard and utterly lacking in humanity. His insistence that people are all bad and that the best route is simply keeping an order to things is how he can account for his own choices, which is not something I imagine he’s ever admitted to himself, if he’s had the thought at all. (I also imagine it is a belief that a certain sort of person far worse than the Patrician cleaves to as well.) It’s harder to be a person like Vimes, someone who believes that there are good people, or at least that people can be good and therefore should be protected. To Vetinari, this is a flaw in Vimes’ character, but one that he thinks is worthwhile for him to exploit.

On the other side, we have the passage about how dragons are their own sort of metaphor, that calling upon a dragon is the dragon of your own mind. The noble dragon was a manifestation of every terrible thing about Wonse. But the book also says that someone pure of heart could call on a dragon as a force for good… and the rest of the pages are burnt away, so who really knows where that was going. In the end, I’d argue that the real point is that everyone has their own opinions and how good or bad people are, and this shapes how they handle the world. After all, the dragon may have been part of Wonse’s terrible qualities, but she’s also just a very large dragon, as Lady Ramkin says, and one that sets out as Errol’s mate by the end of this story. Not particularly evil, wouldn’t you say? Vetinari can be as cynical as he wants, but the fact that Vimes cares about people is what fixed this whole mess.

Unrelatedly, there’s a bit when Vimes is talking to all the other wealthy women big on dragons who are helping Sibyl clean her place up, and he notes that they get to be dirty and messy in a way that’s different from actual poor people. Specifically the line about there being a special type of poverty that only the rich could afford. This particular note always makes me think of fashion, specifically the fact that designers at all price points will wear their clothes down to cut them up due to a perceived “authenticity” that comes with worn clothes.

The fashion aspect is further explored in Vimes’ own thoughts around the quality of said garments; he notices that all these women are wearing clothes that likely belonged to parents or grandparents, but that the clothing was of such good quality that they could still wear it. I went down a weird rabbit hole on the history of American sportswear once (not athletic-wear, but the chinos and boat shoes uniform you usually see on people who frequent the Hamptons), and read something similar—that the mark of real wealth and style was not wearing your own sport coat, but one that belonged to your father.

There’s something awfully bittersweet to Carrot’s final letter in that it’s the first one where he doesn’t ask after Minty. It’s a good thing, sure, a sign that he’s growing up a bit, but it’s also just stings. And then, of course, we get the conversation at the end that lets us know if anyone’s actually a secret king in this story it’s probably him—he’s got the crown-shaped birthmark, and the very telling ordinary-but-useful sword, and the fact that he can usually get Colon and Nobby (and most people, really) to do whatever he wants. This is really more of a premonition for later escapades, though, and I kinda wish it wasn’t. It would be great if an Arthurian archetype like that just stuck to their everyday life and never did anything all that extraordinary. But he’s a legit hero now and will continue to be, so that’s not really where we end up.

And that’s the first City Watch book! Which is really even more special to me for how it begins to fill out Ankh-Morpork as a city. Because I love books about cities, and the people who live in them, and how life works in them in all their beauty and detritus. (…the troll. Working the front of the pub.)

Asides and little thoughts:

  • Describing the Librarian as the “longest arm of the law” because he’s an orangutan. Lol.
  • Dibbler really does get his stuff from those monks he claims to get it from, which we find out in a very long parenthetical (which I might prefer more than footnotes honestly, but that’s just my chaos talking).
  • Again, that Casablanca line from Vimes to Lady Ramkin. It just… doesn’t really work for me. It’s too winky wink in a moment that should feel a little more genuinely romantic. Sibyl gets all the good lines in this scene, really. And the narration is really where it’s at anyhow. I forgot how much that “the woman was a city” line hits you.

Pratchettisms:

The sun rose higher, rolling through the mists and stale smoke like a lost balloon.

Vimes lowered the ape, who wisely didn’t make an issue of it because a man angry enough to lift 300lbs of orangutan without noticing is a man with too much on his mind.

There is an art to throwing knives and, even then, you need the right kind of knife. Otherwise it does just what this one did, which is miss completely.

The fireball rose like a—well, a rose.

This was one of those points where the Trousers of Time bifurcated themselves, and if you weren’t careful you’d go down the wrong leg—

There seemed to be a special kind of poverty that only the very, very rich could possibly afford…

She bore down upon him like a glittering siege engine.

Okay, now we’re about to go sideways, because the next book published with Pratchett as an author is, in fact, coauthored with Neil Gaiman. It’s Good Omens! So we’re jumping out of Discworld and over to what might be my favorite Pratchett tome. We’ll read up to “She snatched up the torch and ran from the house.”

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