Terry Pratchett Book Club

Terry Pratchett Book Club: Men at Arms, Part III

And now we’ll all learn how to bluff with no cards, courtesy of Carrot…

Summary

It turns out that the Patrician is keeping Leonard da Quirm prisoner in the palace. We learn that Vetinari gave the gonne to the assassins and told them to destroy the thing—the only firearm ever created on the Discworld. Because they made it a museum piece instead, it is now running all over the city. The Patrician has forbidden Vimes from the case as a way of ensuring he takes it up; because if no one finds the thing soon, someone will replicate it. But Vetinari realizes as he has a chat with Leonard, that perhaps this time he went too far with Vimes (because he didn’t thump the wall before leaving). Cuddy gets the key for the pork futures warehouse after making some very confusing threats, and they get Detritus out before he freezes to death. Cuddy asks the gathered crowd for a blanket, but a man claims no one would want it back after a troll had used it. Cuddy threatens him to get his coat, and takes Detritus home. The trolls of their district surround Cuddy because he’s a dwarf, but Detritus warns them off. Then a group of dwarfs show up, too: They believe that a troll killed Hammerhock. Cuddy and Detritus make a run for it from both groups, down an alleyway.

Carrot and Angua find Vimes at the bar and take him back to the Watch House. They get him up to his room, which is entirely bare. Angua goes snooping, wondering what Vimes spends his salary on, and finds a piece of paper showing money he gives to women. She assumes the worst, but Carrot and Colon inform her that the money is going to the widows and orphans of former members of the Watch. They wake Vimes with Klatchian coffee. Cuddy and Detritus have fallen into the sewers under the city and begin walking to try and find their way out, but they find fresh footprints, and they follow them, and find something that they know they can’t bring up without Carrot. Vimes has given up entirely, and the Day Watch arrives to take over, as the Patrician said they would. Quirke, who runs the Day Watch, takes over as Vimes storms out. He tells the group that the Day and Night Watches will be combined and that they’ll be moving into the Watch House.

Cuddy and Detritus decide to dig their way out of the sewers and wind up in the Unseen University Library, which is how they wind up being dragged back to the Watch House by the Librarian. The rest of the team have been trying to decide how they’re going to handle the breakdown happening in the city—the dwarfs are upset about Hammerhock, and the trolls are upset about Coalface, the troll who was arrested on suspicion of Hammerhock’s murder (by Quirke’s people), and the rest of the city is upset about how unruly things are getting. Cuddy and Detritus tell Carrot about the whole city they found in the sewers, and that there’s something they need him to see, so they all head back down. What they found turns out to be a human body… who looks an awful lot like Beano the clown. The former-Night Watch are looking at the watch they got Vimes for his retirement when Skully Muldoon of the Day Watch bursts in because the trolls have attacked the Watch House and the palace. Carrot goes through some basic jargon to ensure that he has what he needs to enact an ancient law that has never been overturned—due to collapse of law and order, the stood-down members of the Night Watch are allowed to form into a militia for city defense. They head to the city Armory and load up on weapons (after Nobby intimidates the clerk, and Carrot takes it all back and convinces him to help willingly), and Detritus swears in two trolls to aid them.

They head to the Fools Guild to find out what really happened to Beano. Carrot talks to Dr. Whiteface and gets him to admit to everything he knows by telling him that he’ll carry out his orders if he doesn’t receive cooperation. (Dr. Whiteface doesn’t know that Carrot’s orders from Colon are to leave without harming anyone.) They find out that there’s a hole in Beano’s room leading to another room in the Assassin’s Guild. Carrot then asks to see the Hall of Faces, the museum of the Fools Guild. He tells Angua that he suspects the person on the other side of Beano’s room stole the gonne from the Guild and left wearing Beano’s makeup, so he couldn’t be recognized. That’s why they’ve got two dead Beanos and Boffo was going on about his missing nose (which was his clown nose). Angua pretends she’ll dress as a maid to get into the Assassins’ Guild to find out more, but she transforms with the moon and sneaks in that way. They find Dr. Cruces putting a large price on someone’s head, and getting the hole in d’Eath’s room patched up.

Commentary

You know, I don’t think I clocked this the first time I read the book, but Vetinari has the same thought about Leonard that people have about the gonne: “Some things are so perfect of their type that they are hard to destroy. One of a kind is always special.” Which is an excellent indicator on the Patrician as a person, how he views people more as tools than living beings.

It’s not that Vetinari is likable per se, but you have to give Pratchett a lot of credit for making him as thoroughly enjoyable as he is. (At least, he is to me, your personal mileage may vary on that.) There’s a real skill in making people so firmly themselves that you come to like how they’re made up, even if they’re heinous in one way or another. And there’s something bizarrely inviting about him just heading down to hang out with his favorite prisoner, who he appreciates for being a low-maintenance guy. Like, I dunno, I wanna hang out down there with Leonard too, is that weird?

It’s probably weird.

But I do appreciate the moment that Vetinari realizes he’s made a mistake with Vimes and how he realizes he’s made that mistake. Because part of the trouble in being nefariously good at manipulation is that you’ll screw it up eventually. Vimes is exactly the kind person you overplay your hand on—he’s a complicated guy with tons of depression. And with depression, you can never tell when you might flip the switch that sends a person into it’s-all-pointless-let’s-drown-in-whiskey territory.

What I’m saying is, the point where Carrot uses the “Sometimes it’s better to light a candle than curse the darkness” proverb and Vimes’ reply is Whomst tf said that, only powerful people say that stuff to get you to buck up when everything is ruined is really just like hearing two sides of my brain arguing, and I don’t like it one bit. (Then again, maybe that’s what we should be aiming for? Be a little bit Carrot and a little bit Vimes and you come out okay in the middle?)

We get further commentary on how policing can lead to the dehumanization of the very people you’re meant to be protecting, as we watch Detritus start saying things like this about his own people:

“Trolls. Nasty pieces of work in my opinion,” said Detritus, with all the conviction of a troll with a badge. “They need keeping a eye on.”

Yikes. At least we get to temper moments like that with the absolute farce that is Carrot getting everything he wants from the Fools’ Guild with absolutely no upper hand, and nothing but his guileless face to protect him.

And we get deeper into the mystery going on here, knowing that d’Eath is dead and someone else has the gonne, that the gonne seems to be talking to its wielder (and using the NRA’s favorite slogan, which is always a comfort), that the stakes for the Disc are unbearably high when we realize that the goal is preventing everyone in the streets of Ankh-Morpork from having a firearm. So next week, we’ll have far more to dig into.

Asides and little thoughts:

  • How did I not know that Mountain Dew used to be a name for whiskey? It makes a lot more sense than the soda that uses the name now, but it made me wonder if this wasn’t one of those “Coca-Cola used to have cocaine in it” things. Alas, it was just created by two guys who liked putting soda in their whiskey, so they stole the colloquialism in making the soda. It makes me curious because I could never stand the taste of Mountain Dew, but if it was originally meant to be served with whiskey… that’s a very different flavor profile you’re working with.
  • I remember learning about the clown face trademark thing as a kid and being completely fascinated by it. It’s such a particular tradition that separates out a certain sphere of performer—all mimes are generally supposed to look the same, but clowns are supposed to create that face as an alternate identity and then stick with it for the length of their performance career. As a person who has always been a little obsessed with various forms of masks, that concept really stuck with me.

Pratchettisms:

And then he felt the fog of numbers drift away, and looked up and saw the sparkling, distant mountains of calculus.

When a dwarf was nice like that, it meant he was saving up to be nasty later on.

Quirke wasn’t actually a bad man. He didn’t have the imagination. He dealt more in that sort of generalized low-grade unpleasantness which slightly tarnishes the soul of all who come into contact with it.

“A night watchman in crappy armor is about your métier,” said Colon, who looked around proudly to see if anyone had noticed the slanty thing over the e.

He kicked the door with his steel capped boots, known and feared wherever men were on the floor and in no position to fight back.

Sometimes it’s better to light a flamethrower than curse the darkness.

Colon tried to see a message in Carrot’s face. He’d got used to simple Carrot. Complicated Carrot was as unnerving as being savaged by a duck.

Next week we finish the book!

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