Terry Pratchett Book Club

Terry Pratchett Book Club: Men at Arms, Part IV

It’s time for us to attend a wedding and a funeral and a scramble through the sewers…

 

Summary

Carrot brings his new militia to the Day Watch house, recruiting a handful of new trolls and dwarfs and putting Detritus and Cuddy in charge of them. Then he relieves Quirke of duty, knocks him out, and tells the trolls to go release Coalface from prison. They proceed to swear Coalface in to their militia to prevent another riot, and Carrot promises that they’ll have Hammerhock’s case solved by tomorrow. Gaspode and Angua run into a meeting of dogs led by Big Fido, and she can’t transform back into a human because her clothes got stolen. She heads back to the Watch House with Gaspode, and breaks into Carrot’s room for a sheet. Carrot returns and Angua explains that her clothes got stolen while she was doing undercover work. They talk about the fact that d’Eath is dead and someone else has the gonne now, but they’re not sure who. Gaspode suggests that Carrot kiss her, which he half-hears. Angua kicks Gaspode out of the room and she and Carrot sleep together. Afterward, Carrot opens the curtains and moonlight hits Angua, turning her into a werewolf. Carrot takes up his sword before even thinking, and Angua escapes by jumping out the window. Carrot realizes that Gaspode can talk and demands that he help find Angua.

The figure in current possession of the gonne scales the Tower of Art and thinks of how the gonne is far more powerful than kings or anything d’Eath had planned to do with it. The next morning the Watch (with all its new inducted members) are preparing to pose as honor guard for Vimes’ wedding. Cuddy has made Detritus a special clockwork helmet to help keep his brain cool so he can think. Carrot was out looking all night for Angua, but didn’t find her. He tells Colon to have men stationed on the rooftops all around the city; he’s sent Nobby to go pick up d’Eath’s body in the sewers. Vimes prepares for his wedding, which is happening in the Great Hall of the Unseen University—Ridcully discovers that he forgot to find a best man, and demands that he do so. Cuddy drew the short straw for duty and is proceeding up the stairs of the Tower of Art. The Watch meet Vimes in the street, and he asks Colon to be his best man. Carrot and Colon simultaneously realize the danger as the Patrician’s carriage comes down the street. Vetinari stands, and is shot in the leg; Carrot throws himself across the Patrician in time to stop the second shot with his body. Detritus gets hit, and Vimes is hit by shrapnel.

Angua can tell that Carrot has been hurt and rushes to get to him, but she and Gaspode get into a scuffle with Big Fido and his crew first—this ultimately leads to Big Fido’s demise. Colon gets to the Tower of Art and finds Cuddy’s body; he dives out of the way of a gonne shot before getting hit on the head. Cuddy’s ghost refuses to leave if he’s not going to be properly buried. Everyone gets inside the university, and Detritus brings in Cuddy’s body, then goes to sit in a corner. Carrot thinks he knows who’s behind all this, so he suggests that they lie and tell the public they’ve caught the killer: Edward d’Eath. Vimes gets his gear back on and they get to it. The rest of the Watch stay behind with the Patrician until Detritus finishes thinking and gets up with Cuddy’s axe in hand. Vimes and Carrot meet the shooter down in the sewers—it’s Dr. Cruces. Vimes starts laying out the crime, but Cruces shatters the lamp and the sewers begin filling with water. Carrot charges Cruces with the deaths caused by the gonne, and that gets him talking: It turns out that while d’Eath killed Beano, Hammerhock was killed by an accidental discharge, so Cruces killed d’Eath. He begins attributing deaths to the gonne itself, Hammerhock included, as though it has a will, which d’Eath also believed. Cruces makes to shoot Carrot, but Angua has found them and pounces on him—she’s shot four times and dies. Carrot doesn’t want to leave her, but Vimes insists.

Vimes pursues Cruces until they meet and begin to wrestle over the gonne. Vimes gets his hands on it, and it immediately begins talking to him, telling him it can put everything right that he thinks he wrong. He begins firing, breaking through into the Assassin’s Guild and chasing Cruces down. Noon begins to chime, and Cruces notes that Vimes can’t shoot him because he’s a member of the Watch—he doesn’t realize that once the bells stop chiming, Vimes will no longer be a member. But right when the chimes run out, another watch chimes, and Carrot emerges, telling Vimes he cannot kill Cruces. He begins to get through to Sam, and in the last moment, Carrot sharply orders him to drops the gonne, and he does it instantly. Cruces tries to distract them both, taking up the gonne and showing Carrot all the documents d’Eath found confirming that Carrot is the rightful king of the city. But when he makes to use the gonne, Carrot runs him through with his sword without a second thought. The assassins insists on keeping Cruces’ body, and Detritus arrives at the guild, ready to kill assassins, but Carrot talks him down and takes up Angua’s body to bring back to the Watch House, sending Vimes to get married. He cleans her up, does his chores and writes his report and waits. When the moon rises, Angua enters the room—Carrot had hoped the rumors that only silver kills werewolves was true.

The Watch attends Cuddy’s funeral, and Vimes notes that the gonne was buried with him. The Carrot heads to the Patrician’s office and outlines an entire plan for making the Watch a robust and modern operation. The Patrician grants these requests and recommends that Carrot be the Captain. Carrot agrees, but suggests that Vimes be instated to the old position Commander of the Watch. (It turns out that one of his ancestors held the position the last time it existed.) Carrot also asks for a home for Gaspode. They talk of the evidence that Carrot might be king, and Carrot makes it clear that he has no intention of taking a throne, but that the evidence is well-guarded should he ever find need of it. Vetinari shows him the old Ankh-Morpork throne and reveals it to be not solid gold, but rotting wood covered in gold leaf. Carrot brings the letter with Vimes’ new orders (and pending knighthood) to him, and they begin laying out plans for the new and improved Watch. Gaspode immediately rushes to escape his brand new home.

Commentary

So… we gotta talk about gun control and the relative ease and thoughtlessness with which modern weaponry allows us to kill each other.

Because it’s absolutely essential that Pratchett makes this the crux of the novel, a novel that centers on Sam Vimes, who himself is half a knock-off of Dirty-fucking-Harry. It’s important that this story ends with Sam Vimes rounding a corner with a gun, shouting that he’s “The law, you sons of bitches!” in a clear spoof of practically every single American action film on record—Die Hard, Lethal Weapon, Bad Boyz, anything with Shane Black’s name on it—and ends with Vimes shooting no one at all. That when he tells Carrot that the gonne is to blame for all of this, that Cruces was probably a decent fellow and that he might have been just the same given time, Carrot replies, “No, captain. You put it down.”

The heroism here is in resisting any urge to use this sort of weapon at all. The Disc is full of dangerous items that can wound and maim and kill, but Pratchett’s very clear on the difference between these weapons and a firearm—it gives you power that isn’t your own:

More power than any bow or spear—they just stored up your own muscles’ power, when you thought about it. But the gonne gave you power from outside.

Using those other weapons, you need to use yourself. But with a gun, you barely need a person at all because that’s how easy it makes murder. It’s relevant that whether you take the gonne’s “will” as a literal fact of this story or not, Hammerhock’s death is essentially an accident. A sizable portion of gun-related deaths are down to poor handling and mistakes, so it only makes sense that one of these murders wasn’t really a murder at all.

This book came out one year after Stephen Sondheim’s Assassins premiered in London, and I find myself wondering if Pratchett saw it because a sizable portion of the show centers on this issue, particularly the aptly named “The Gun Song”:

All you have to do
is crook your little finger,
Hook your little finger ‘round
…you can change the world

But the depressing thing is that this book was written years before mass shootings became a common day occurrence on my side of the pond, leading it to read more like a warning than satire. If only there were just one gun that we could bury in the ground with one of its victims. And that’s important too, in fact it might be the most essential piece of this story to take note of—the only way you prevent this from running wild and corrupting everything it touches is to do away with the mechanism entirely. Pratchett’s solution isn’t gun control, it’s gun erasure, and people probably go around saying that’s just a function of it being a fantasy world and that’s bullshit. It’s the solution because that is the solution. You get rid of the thing that lets people kill each other with such ease and impunity. Anything else won’t ever be enough.

There’s a thematic echo here, where Pratchett reuses a line that we last heard coming from Granny Weatherwax, this time giving it to Carrot after Vimes asks about his desire for revenge against Cruces for killing Angua: “But personal isn’t the same as important.” And it’s beautiful because both Carrot and Granny are good people—but really Good with a capital ‘G’—yet they’re different in how they go about their goodness. Being good is innate for Carrot; he doesn’t know any other way to be. Being good is hard for Granny Weatherwax, but she manages it, even when she’d rather not. But they both arrive at the same conclusion.

The fact that they see eye to eye on this particular point as Good People is meaningful in the worldview provided by these stories; repetition that’s not for the sake of comedy is never something that Pratchett does lightly. We’re meant to note it and keep it in mind.

Asides and little thoughts:

  • “When you were a Watchman, you were a Watchman all the time, which was a bit of a bargain for the city since it only paid you to be a Watchman for ten hours of every day.” The irony here is that there only used to be a handful of jobs that you’d associate with this kind of commanded dedication—military, doctors, news reporters, and so on—but since Pratchett wrote this line, it’s become common for all sorts of jobs, including ones that seem absurd to offer this kind of twenty-four hour a day devotion to…
  • Playing into the asides about how police work can affect one’s empathetic faculties (like last week’s bit from Detritus), we’ve got a similar look at military service and how it affects those enlisted and conscripted in Colon’s aside about his drill sergeant and how he treated his soldiers through bootcamp. The riff here is giving us the common bootcamp anecdote—how it changes a person forever (which it does), how you come out the other side as a more competent, impressive person—but handing us the other possible reaction, being that you would absolutely want to beat the shit out of the person who removed your humanity for an extended period to make you a “better” soldier.
  • All the references to The Third Man are great, and making me want to watch The Third Man again.

 

Pratchettisms:

Interchangeable Emmas had taken over the house.

The service itself was going to be performed by the Dean, who had carefully made one up; there was no official civil marriage service in Ankh-Morpork, other than something approximating to “Oh, alright them, if you really must.”

“She’s got to marry someone once she’s turned up. Can’t have unmarried brides flapping around the place, being a danger to society.”

Cuddy brushed himself off.

Plaster dust draped him like devil’s dandruff.

The pounding spirit of the gonne flowing up Vimes’ arms met the armies of sheer stone-headed Vimesness surging the other way.

The Patrician’s smile remained, but his face seemed to pull away from it, leaving it stranded and all alone in the world.

Vimes watched the feeble pun go right through Carrot’s head without triggering his brain.

Next week we start Soul Music! We’ll read up to “The Death of Rats climbed up Binky’s mane and took up station between the horse’s ears, tiny robe flapping in the wind.”

citation

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