Terry Pratchett Book Club

Terry Pratchett Book Club: Feet of Clay, Part IV

We’re back to talk about Words of the heart.

 

Summary

Wee Mad Arthur is busy trying to get Colon free from the golem. Dorfl is coming to terms with the idea of having no master. Nobby finally learns that he’s being buttered up to take the position of king, panics, and makes a run for it. Vimes and Cheri heads back to t he palace to talk to Mildred Easy and finally figure out what she took that accidentally poisoned her family and has been poisoning the Patrician: the candles. Dorfl goes back to Sock’s slaughterhouse, takes up a cleaver, and releases all the animals. Colon encounters a pack of them when he falls to the ground; he winds up on the back of the bull. Carrot, Angua, and Vimes encounter folks who claim that Dorfl attacked them, but that’s because golems aren’t supposed to “fight back” if they’re attacked. Dorfl has been going around to all the businesses that had golems and messing them about (though it isn’t hurting anyone). Colon bursts onto the scene on the bull’s back—he daren’t get off. Vimes sends Carrot and Angua off to the candle factory, and he and Detritus get Colon off the bull with an assist from Wee Mad Arthur. Vimes notes that the string used to tie Fred up is actually candlewick…

Mr. Catterail, who frequently writes the Watch letters about how he doesn’t like their diverse hires, demands that the Watch come do something about the golem who smashed up his place of business. Vimes tells the man off, and tells Colon to swear in zombie officers next. Nobby comes across the Yudasgoat and feels a kinship to it; he gives it his cigarette, which it eats. Carrot, Angua, and Cheri come across the golem-made golem—made from white clay and wearing a crown—as they reach the candle factory. They’ve been told to stay put, but Carrot insists that they follow the golem in, and they have a little argument about bringing Cheri along because Carrot is worried about having a woman around (which Angua rightly finds absurd for obvious reasons). He sends Cheri to hide since she has no weapons proficiency. They come across Mr. Carry, the owner of the candle factory—he’s got a crossbow and is going off about how none of this was his fault, how the golem was uncontrollable, how the poison candles weren’t meant to kill Vetinari. Carrot tells him that the candles did kill two people, and Carry asks if they were important. The golem shows up, Carry shoots Carrot through the hand, Angua begins turning into a werewolf, Cheri takes up an ax on the wall and starts hacking at the golem with a dwarvish battle cry.

Dorfl appears and begins to fight the king golem. Angua tries to get Carrot to leave, but he refuses, and the king golem winds up killing Dorfl by slicing its head open and removing its shem. Angua says it doesn’t matter because they’re both machinery, but Carrot says it’s murder. Vimes, Colon, and Detritus run into Carry outside the factory and make to chase him; he heads down an alleyway and winds up dead. Vimes and company enter as Carrot is trying to get into the king golem’s head, but he can’t manage it. The golem is about to kill him when Dorfl comes back to life and lands a blow to end the king golem’s life. All of the words left by the golems spill out of the king golem’s head, making it clear that it had too many directives to remain sane. Dorfl writes final words and then seems to die again; Carrot asks Vimes for permission to rebuild it and Vimes grants it, telling him to give Dorfl a voice. Cheri has been hanging over a vat of molten tallow this whole time and is about to fall, so Angua turns into a werewolf and rescues her, despite knowing that Cheri wears a silver vest beneath her clothes. Carrot and Detritus bring Dorfl’s pieces to Igneous and demand use of his oven to put it back together. Vimes wakes the next day and thinks he’s solved the case; he needs another set of hands, but Detritus and Carrot are fast asleep in front of the kiln and he can’t wake them. Dorfl exits the oven kiln on his own and accompanies Vimes.

Vimes goes to talk to Dragon and lays it out; he knows that Dragon is responsible for all of this, that he was the one who made it out that Nobby had noble blood (Vimes is sure his ring was nicked), that he’s the one who came up with the idea of the poison candles for Vetinari, that he had the idea to use the golems. He had Cheri put holy water in the candles delivered to him so that Dragon is too weak when he attacks to actually kill Vimes. Then Dorfl appears and tells Dragon that he won’t kill him for what he’s done because it’s an ethical choice he is able to make. Vetinari has a meeting with Vimes and commends him for what happened next—it seems a candle tipped over and the Royal College of Arms burned down, so Vimes was obligated to set the animals there free. All the important people in the city are calling for Vimes’s badge, so the Patrician gives him a raise and the new dart board for the Watchhouse. Vetinari wants to know who watches the Watch, and Vimes insists they watch each other. He also commands that the golem be destroyed, but Vimes refuses—he plans to make it a Watch member. Vimes leaves and it turns out that Vetinari knew the answer to this mystery the whole time… but he had to let Vimes be Vimes. Dorfl and Constable Visit discuss whether or not atheism is a religious perspective as he gets sworn in to the Watch. Colon has decided not to retire and Nobby is relieved to no longer be a lord (though he had plenty of other items that would have indicated such aside from the ring).

Vimes takes Dorfl out on his first round, and Dorfl insists that he be paid double as he doesn’t need to sleep; he will earn the freedom of other golems. A crew of priests from various religions show up to tell Vimes he’s gone too far, but Dorfl winds up getting them to agree to debate with him over the realness of any given deity when he has the time. Angua is packing to leave and talking to Cheri. Carrot stops her as she’s on her way out, and she says no to the question he’s about to ask, which shocks him—he’d wanted her to help him clean up the Bread Museum and spruce it up a bit. Angua finds that she can’t leave and Cheri offers to give her back a few of her dresses.

Commentary

I dunno, somehow I feel like I really missed the vibes going on between Vimes and Vetinari the first time. Like, I know the man appreciates Vimes in that very odd way where he treats everything worthwhile like a lab experiment, but now I’m like hang on, for him, this is practically besotted. Down to that last exchange:

“The thought occurs, sir, that if Commander Vimes did not exist you would have had to invent him.”

“You know, Drumknott, I rather think I did.”

That shit’s romantic as hell, sorry. He gives the guy a raise for pissing people off and then not listening to him; when has Vetinari ever been so pleased to be told no.

It occurs to me that this book in particular has a much longer denouement than Pratchett often gives us, because there are so many intricate character things that need resolution. We need to know what’s going on with Colon and Nobby, we need to find out if Cheri and Angua are okay, and whether Angua’s going to leave Carrot. Of course, the fact that she winds up staying because he absolutely was not going to ask her to marry him, but just really wanted some help with the bread museum is… not very surprising. Maybe while they’re setting it up, she can start drilling him on his weird gender issues.

It sort of goes without saying that this book pointedly turns on two separate characters receiving pronouns that better suit them. The simultaneous journeys that we’re seeing for Cheri and Dorfl, though they couldn’t be more different functionally, allows them both space to become on their own terms.

I have a bit of personal feelings about Dorfl’s take on deities and his desire to discuss it because it smacks very much of secular Judaism to me, which is very much my jam. (Basically being aware of your Jewish ethnicity and cultural heritage without necessarily believing in God.) Obviously his point to the priests of being willing to discuss religion is meant to be a joke since he’ll always be on duty and thus never have time to talk to them. But his discussion with Constable Visit is an echo of that deeply Jewish impulse toward scholarly debate around all things, including religion, even up to the existence of the divine. The fact that Pratchett infuses that into Dorfl’s consciousness cannot be counted as a move toward making Dorfl more robotic or mechanical—it is, in fact, the opposite.

There’s a suggestion here that the reason why we can be okay with the Watch as police is because they hold each other accountable—that’s what Vimes tells Vetinari and very much where the conversation ends on that front. You wind up having to trust in it as a fictional conceit for a fictional world because we’ve seen over and over again how that doesn’t bear out by the light of day in the world we’ve got. And, to be fair, it often doesn’t bear out in the Watch either; there’s abuse of power going on all over the place in these books. It makes the appointing of Dorfl feel a little awkward, but for the fact that it’s made clear that a pursuit of justice is what’s important to the golem. Pursuit of justice is meant to be central Jewish identity, when performed with intention. So provided that Dorfl learns and debates and gets a good framework for his concept of justice, he’s exactly the kind of voice this lot could stand to have around.

While Carrot is still having a hard time with Cheri, Vimes actually has the right idea on how to accept her identity. He has some stumbling moments, but otherwise just rolls with it. The meta context of this for trans people is front and center in the very construction of the character: Cheri is a woman with a beard; there are plenty of women in our own world with beards. (For the record, some of those women are even cisgender!) It’s not a big deal, or it certainly doesn’t have to be. And it’s relevant that despite how shitty Vimes can be about all these things, whenever he sees people with a little power treating others like vermin, his contrarian side comes out and he swings directly into progress. Now the Watch has zombies and a golem… and all because some asshat told Sam Vimes that he deserved protection from the very type of beings he enslaved.

Asides and little thoughts:

  • There’s always a lot of jokes around Colon being fat, and my brain kinda skips over them because they usually don’t seem horribly mean-spirited, but his whole escape at the end of this book takes it too far in my opinion.
  • The various Robocop and Terminator references in this one are fun because they’re really not much more than window dressing, so they never get too distracting to me.
  • Also “We can rebuild him, we have the clay,” is pretty groan-tastic, Carrot. You’d never be into a Six Million Dollar Man.

Pratchettisms:

It echoed off the Words, and then rebounded, and then rolled back and forth, increasing in volume until the little world between the Words was gripped in the sound.

It is not a good idea to spray finest brandy across the room, especially when your lighted cigar is in the way.

In a well-organized world he might have landed on a fire escape, but fire escapes were unknown in Ankh-Morpork and the flames generally had to leave via the roof.

WORDS IN THE HEART CANNOT BE TAKEN.

Vetinari watched him go, and sighed. “He does so like a dramatic exit,” he said.

 

We’re taking a break next week! But the following we will come back with Hogfather and read up to:

“Any idea where I can get some string?”

SQUEAK

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