Lords and Ladies
If the Creator had said, “Let there be light” in Ankh-Morpork, he’d have gotten no further because of all the people saying “What colour?”
– (Terry Pratchett, Men at Arms); from lspace.org Men at Arms is the second City Watch novel, and it’s where PTerry really hits his stride with one of his best characters: Samuel Vimes. His marriage to Sybil emphasizes his humanity at the same as his adventures with the insane d’Eath really outline his darker edges, which make him so compelling.
Vimes and Granny Weatherwax, PTerry’s two most central characters, have never met–to the best of my knowledge–but they’re both very alike: they’re smart, sarcastic, don’t suffer fools gladly, and both of them have that same darkness inside, that same danger. Whereas Granny’s sharp edges are balanced out by Nanny Ogg and Magrat (and Agnes/Perdita, in her turn), Vimes’s humanity comes through in his marriage to Sybil. It’s also notable how they both face temptations: Granny faces the temptation to be like Lily Weatherwax, to use her magic to reorder things the way they should be, and at the back of her mind there’s always Black Aliss–‘the clang of the oven door or gray wings in the night’. At the back of Vimes’s mind is the berserker rage he faces down in Thud!, and his temptation lies in the increasing rewards he faces as Commander: the wealth and prestige of marrying Sybil, the position of Duke. They’re both incredibly complex and fascinating characters.
Besides Vimes, we get Constable Angua (who becomes a major player over the next books), the Discworld’s one and only gun–it’s intriguing to wonder where PTerry will go with the Discworld’s technological advances–and the mad Edward d’Eath (brilliant surname!). It’s a great book, among the best, one that really establishes the series firmly in its own universe and explores the central characters fully.
It’s worth noting here that on the Oswalds, a Discworld casting site, Hugh Laurie has taken the trophy for best Vimes (Liam Neeson and Alan Rickman are also runners-up, more recently); Brendan Fraser wins for best Corporal Carrot; best Nobby and Colon are won respectively by Tony Robinson and Robbie Coltrane; Alan Rickman takes Lord Vetinari and Dawn French takes Lady Sybil; Eva Rose, a Swedish actress, wins for best Angua. Discuss at will.
Sham Harga had run a succesful eatery for many years by always smiling, never extending credit, and realizing that most of his customers wanted meals properly balanced between the four food groups: sugar, starch, grease and burnt crunchy bits.
– (Terry Pratchett, Men at Arms)
The Watch starts to come alive with this one. Expanding, embracing change, become more than the sum of its parts. I think I like the Watch books the best, and this one also sets the stage for things to come. Lots of ideas in motion.
This is the one where I think Carrot is most profound. The “reverse” King Arthur bit is inspired, running the fellow through and incidently putting the sword into the stone column. A lot more practical than that version about pulling the sword out of a stone, at that.
Ahem. I see that my idea from back in 2002 is catching on. /smug
While I like the watch series, even with this second outing, I thought that “Evil fools sitting in a basement, hatching a scheme to dispose of Vetenari” was wearing a bit thin. ´The characters are better drawn, as a mystery, it works fairly well, but I’ve always wondered how transparent Pterry thought the gonne should be to the reader. I thin the watch books got progressively better, but took a hit with Thud! Feet of Clay, Jingo and Night Watch all show some really profound themes. Thud!'s take on immigration and terrorism fell a bit flat, IMO.
Eva Röse cetainly has a slight lupine look, but I still think Laura Prepon would be better.
According to the Wiki page on Where’s My Cow? , Pterry has commented that he imagines Vimes to look likePeter Postlethwaite . Take that with all the firmness of a Wiki cite, but it certainly matches my internal picture of him.
I love the real introduction of Leonard of Quirm (I think he’s mentioned previously with regards to the* Mona Ogg*)- there’s something very bitter-sweet about his whole situation. Also, this is the book where Gaspode really comes into his own, and I love his character.
Charlie Tan, I find I disagree on two points - Pterry’s inverted and revisioned the “Star Chamber Plot to dethrone the Patrician” more than once (Feet of Clay being best, IMO, but Men at Arms is also a good example - ultimately it’s the Gonne doing the plotting), so I think he’s well aware of its limitations.
Secondly - I loved Thud! - a full discussion can wait for the right thread, but I found it said things about immigaration and current global politics in ways I definitely found myself agreeing with, which is more than I actually expect from what was, at the same time, a rollicking good fantasy yarn. Plus it was a nice expansion of themes started in Fifth Elephant (hell, started with Cheery Littlebottom in* FOC*) , in a logical progression. Internal consistency is a good thing in worldbuilding. Nothing fell flat for me.
However, I think you’re onto something with Laura Prepon - can’t believe I never thought of her before now, but yes.
My favourite quote?
“IT’S JUST THAT IT HAS BEEN SUGGESTED TO ME THAT I SHOULD BE MORE OF A PEOPLE PERSON.”
“Paul [Kidby] always makes [Vimes] look a bit like Clint Eastwood, but I’ve always imagined him as a younger, slightly bulkier Peter Postlethwaite.”
– Terry Pratchett, The Art of Discworld
With all due respect to Pterry, I prefer the Eastwood-ish Vimes myself.
As for Men-At-Arms, this is definitely one of my favorite Discworld novels, though admittedly it’s a title with a lot of contenders. The seductive nature of the gonne, the relationship between Detritus and Cuddy, Nobby in the Armory, Carrot’s perfection of the I’m-totally-honest-but-I’m-not-an-idiot facade (or is it a facade?), there’s lots of really good stuff here.
My only complaints about the book remain
(a) Carrot and Angua making the Disc move – it just seems rather forced to me. Angua’s quasi-promiscuity is barely passable, but Carrot strikes me as someone who would save himself for marriage, if not even well afterward. His behavior in the later Watch novels merely reinforces his chaste nature IMO.
(b) Gaspode vs. Big Fido’s gang. It’s fun and all, but as a whole it strikes me as an unnecessary side-story to the main plot. Gaspode’s use of The Power was novel, however.
Men At Arms isn’t my favorite book in the series, but it’s not far from it. It’s the book that I would suggest a Discworld neophyte start with in order to get familiar with the setting, as it comes after the period where Pterry’s still finding his voice for the writing, and it sets the stage for the cast of characters in the more current books.
I’ve always thought of Vimes as perhaps an older Nathan Fillion – he may not be British, but he pulls off down-to-earth thinking and dry sarcasm perfectly, as well as looking like what I imagine Vimes to be.
I love this book - like BayleDomon, it’s the one I would recommend to someone new to Pratchett.
I like this one so much because I really identify with Vimes. Guards! Guards! starts his character off as a drunkard who uses his last remaining bit of pride to actually acheive something and reverse his downward spiral. He meets Sybil, and in Men At Arms tries his best to stay sober and at the same time turn the Watch into an actual Police Force. By the end of the book, he’s Commander of the Watch, taking on extra responsibility and more men (and others).
In a much less inspiring way, a few years ago I was drunk and spiralling, but just managed to get myself sober, get some acheivements under my belt, met my girlfriend (she’s not a Lady, but is posher than me!), got a proper job and since then I’ve grown as a person and furthered my career. I’m not yet a Duke or an Ambassador (watch this space) and I’ve never been a blackboard monitor - but when I read this book I remember how I felt in that stage in my life. I can picture Vimes dealing with complicated stuff and thinking “you know, being a drunk was so much easier than this”, because I’ve done it myself.
I enjoyed the interaction of Cuddy and Detritus, and I miss Cuddy - he would be a great addition to the later books. However, Cheery does seem to have taken over as Detritus’s best friend and fills the gap admirably. Detritus learning to count was very entertaining, too.
The dialogue in the chase scene at the end amused me greatly - IIRC, “you’re too old to run… wheeze… I’m too old to run” and “you’re under arrest. Be under arrest, will you?” are two of my favourite lines.
I think this is right up there at the top of the series. I’ve always liked Vimes more than Granny Weatherwax, possibly because Vimes is more accessible; he doesn’t pretend to know more than the reader.
This book has everything you could want in it, really. Not only is it the first book where we really begin to understand Vimes, but we also understand the scheming mind of Vetinari. The most important realization in the series comes here, where Pterry ties Vimes and Vetinari together, where each defines himself by the other.
“This is your club with a nail in it! You will eat it! You will sleep on it! When I say jump, you say… what colour!”