Terry Pratchett – Guards! Guards!

Moving on with the Great Terry Pratchett Re-read-athon, we come to one of my personal favourites of the great man’s works. This one introduces the City Watch and its Captain, Sam Vimes. It’s also got some great gags and some of the most outrageous cultural references ever assembled in one book.

A bunch of the usual malcontents, led by someone with a great deal more ambition than sense, have gathered together to do something remarkably unwise: they’re going to summon a dragon from whatever dimension actual dragons occupy and have it do their bidding. Now dragons, quite apart from being big things that breath fire, are known for being very intelligent, and not all that keen on being used, so that’s probably not going to end well…

Meanwhile, Carrot, a young dwarf[1] from the mountains has moved to Ankh-Morpork to become a guard in the City Watch, believing this to be an honoured and respectable profession for a dwarf.[2]

Lord Vetinari[3], Patrician of Ankh-Morpork[4] has some fun before being thrown into his own dungeon. But before that, he looks over the city:

Ankh-Morpork! Brawling city of a hundred thousand souls! And, as the Patrician privately observed, ten times that number of actual people.

Sam Vimes, who starts the story as a disillusioned, washed-up drunk, becomes more of the man we’ll come to know and love in future books. And yes, all the police procedural cliches are taken out and given a good kicking as the story progresses.

Naturally, when a dragon appears, a bunch of heroes turn up ready to fight it. And like all such people, as they gather, they exchange stories, and complain about how things aren’t the way they used to be:

‘Monsters are getting more uppity, too,’ said another. ‘I heard where this guy, he killed this monster in this lake, no problem, stuck its arm up over the door -‘
‘Pour encourjay lays ortras,’ said one of the listeners.
‘Right, and you know what? Its mum came and complained. Its actual mum came right down to the hall the next day and complained. Actually complained. That’s the respect you get.’

Lady Sybil Ramkin, keeper of swamp dragons, which are small things which should not be confused with the really big and probably mythical thing that’s burning selected parts of the city, is of great assistance to Vimes, and he returns the favour when the traditional rampaging mob threaten to kill all her sweet little dragons. A blast of fire shoots over the heads of the mob, and a voice is heard

This is Lord Mountjoy Quickfang Winterforth IV, the hottest dragon in the city. It could burn your head clean off.’
Captain Vimes limped forward from the shadows.
A small and extremely frightened golden dragon was clamped firmly under one arm. His other hand held it by the tail.
The rioters watched it, hypnotized.
‘Now I know what you’re thinking,’ Vimes went on, softly.
‘You’re wondering, after all this excitement, has it got enough flame left? And y’know, I ain’t so sure myself…’
He leaned forward, sighting between the dragon’s ears, and his voice buzzed like a knife blade:
‘What you’ve got to ask yourself is: Am I feeling lucky?’
Tehy swayed backwards as he advanced.
‘Well?’ he said. ‘Are you feeling lucky?’

Yup, that’s right, references to Beowulf and Dirty Harry, a little over twenty pages apart.

The Librarian really shows more personality this time – and we learn why you should never say the ‘M’ word when referring to him.

I could go on quoting and commenting, but I think I’ll leave it with one that’s stuck in my brain for many years:

It’s a metaphor of human bloody existence, a dragon. And if that wasn’t bad enough, it’s also a bloody great flying hot thing.

This is the book I generally recommend as a starting point to anyone who hasn’t got into reading Terry’s books[5], for all the reasons I’ve already mentioned, and perhaps because it’s the first one which explicitly states what it’s really about:

This is the Disc, world and mirror of worlds…

[1] Well, sort of. He’s adopted. And ever so slightly tall, as dwarfs go.
[2] Especially the six-foot variety of dwarf
[3] Who now emerges as a proper character at last, having been mostly in the background
[4] They did away with all that nonsense about Kings long ago. Now they have a one man, one vote system. The Patrician being the man in question
[5] There are such people, apparently

3 thoughts on “Terry Pratchett – Guards! Guards!

  1. Pingback: The Great Terry Pratchett Re-read-athon | Losing it

  2. Pingback: Terry Pratchett – Men at Arms | Losing it

  3. Pingback: Terry Pratchett – Night Watch | Losing it

Comments are closed.