Thursday, 24 May 2012

Terry Pratchett's Discworld 08- Guards! Guards!

Guards! Guards!
Terry Pratchett
"They may be called the Palace Guard, the City Guard, or the Patrol. Whatever the name, their purpose in any work of heroic fantasy is identical: it is, round about Chapter Three (or ten minutes into the film) to rush into the room, attack the hero one at a time, and be slaughtered. No one ever asks them if they want to.

This book is dedicated to those fine men."

With his eighth book in the series, Terry Pratchett came up with the most popular, long-lasting and influential set of characters ever to walk the Disc, and started a ten-book long run of unbridled brilliance in the satirical fantasy genre, cementing his status as the most popular author in the United Kingdom of the 90's (until JK Rowling came along and blew everyone in the whole world out of the water). All the book proceeding in this brilliant run (Small Gods, Reaper Man, Interesting Times etc.) have their own particular styles, philosophies, and subjects of parody, but, for me, it's in this book specifically that Pratchett's authorship in general took a huge leap upwards; particularly in regards to creating three-dimensional, iconic characters.

As the introduction quoted above states, Guards! Guards! is centered around those typically uncared-for characters in film and books who exist solely to up the body-count. On the Discworld, in the big city of Ankh-Morpork, the Night Watch are but three men tasked to protect the city from crime at night, or, more accurately ignore it. In Ankh-Morpork, most every scrupulous group you can name has its own official self-policed guild, including the thieves, beggars, assassins and 'seamstresses', meaning that there's absolutely no real use for the men of the night watch. As a result, Sam Vimes, captain of the night's watch, spends all his time getting incredibly drunk, drowning his thoughts of justice and righteousness with drink after drink. 

But one day, a strapping 6-foot plus broad-shouldered very nice son of two dwarves (adopted) named Carrot turns up in the big city, sent by his parents from the dwarf mines in the mountains to seek a job upholding justice in the police force. Naive to the ways things happen in the real world, Carrot sets out by arresting the head of the thieves guild. Vimes, while on one hand seeing this is incredibly stupid, on the other hand has a long-forgotten fire lit inside him once again; which is both handy and metaphorically appropriate for what happens next as the main plot kicks in; a group of ambitious criminals manage to summon a full-sized fire-breathing dragon into the world; a dragon with a lust for power of its own. Against all odds, it's up to Vimes and the night watch to try and sort things out.

With the possible exception of Granny Weatherwax in Wyrd Sisters, Sam Vimes is the most complete and complex character in Pratchett's playbook, and for he and the city watch, Guards! Guards! is the start of a much larger character journey. I find that, with the watch characters, Pratchett's connections with classic British comedy creations of page and screen seem strongest and most valuable; it seems to me that, prior to this book, the fantasy aspect of each book (satirical as it may be) takes an absolute equal footing to the character development, while here it is the characters who remain the strong point in which the fantasy revolves around; like characters such as Douglas Adams' Arthur Dent in Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy, the universe just won't let Vimes lie peacefully in his alcoholic slumber.

I could probably rant on all day about this book, but I'll refrain. Ultimately Guards! Guards! was easily the best book in the Discworld series at this point, and remains one of the highlights still. It's an easy juncture into the universe, begining a series within a series of the adventures of an ever-growing cast in an ever-growing world. Sam Vimes, some sort of bastardized cross between Sam Spade, Colombo, and Pratchett's own world-view is an iconic creation in both fantasy, crime and comedy literature.