On Characters

I just got my tenth follower on WordPress.com.  I know that doesn’t sound like a big deal to all you bigwigs with hundreds of followers, but I haven’t been doing this for long and I’m still coming to terms with it that there are people who actually enjoy reading what I write, so welcome to Kayleigh from A World of Words.  I hope you enjoy my ramblings.  Of course, this has made me realise that I haven’t posted anything in a while, so let’s remedy that, shall we?

I received Snuff by Sir Terry Pratchett in my stocking this Christmas.  I’m a big fan of the Discworld and of Sir Samuel Vimes in particular, and I thoroughly enjoyed the newest instalment.  When I finished that one, I decided to re-read Guards! Guards!  This was the first Discworld book I had ever read, way back in high school.  It has also remained one of my favourites (surpassed only by Thief of Time and Lords and Ladies).  It is also the first Discworld novel in which Sir Samuel appears, though there he is merely Captain Vimes of the run-down Ankh-Morpork city watch.

As I mentioned, it had been some time since I first read Guards! Guards!  The first time I read it it was a library copy and I only recently acquired my own, and it was quite a shock to read these two books back-to-back.  Sam Vimes is probably the one character of Sir Terry’s who has grown the most throughout the books devoted to him.

Sam Vimes by Paul Kidby
Sam Vimes as illustrated by Paul Kidby (http://www.paulkidby.net/)

When we meet Vimes in Guards! Guards! he’s a washout and a hopeless drunk.  He’s the captain of a city watch no one needs, no one takes him seriously, including he himself, and he just carries on from day to day, pretty much on autopilot.  But he’s also a copper.  Deep inside he’s the ultimate watchman and when the city is threatened, he starts waking up.  He starts taking control and becomes a leader not only men want to follow, but dwarves and trolls and all manner of sapient creature on the Disc.  As his story progresses, he is revealed as a fearless warrior, husband and father, willing to stare down overwhelming odds for the sake of justice.  But we also learn that Sam Vimes is very insecure.  He is always second-guessing himself, because he knows how easily good can become bad and he knows how bad he’ll be if he goes bad.  He is not only a watchman, he is the one who watches the watchmen.

Sam Vimes is, for me, the ultimate example of a round character; something every author strives for when writing a story.  In each book we see him at his worst and at his best.  We see a traditionalist coming to terms with the changes around him (many of them, ironically brought about by him).  We see an older person learning to deal and later embracing technology.  We see him as a husband, father, teacher and friend.  We see him battle the darkness inside himself, even before Thud! when the darkness becomes terrifyingly real.  In Snuff we see him learning one of the most important lessons of all: how to relax, take time off and let the world take care of itself for a while.

I think all this is why I’m so engaged by this character.  He’s real.  He’s a real person.  Sure he’s made up.  But he’s also real.  I look at him, and see good bits and bad bits of myself.  And that, in the end, is what fiction is all about.  Fiction shows us the world around us and the people in it in a new way.  I think Sir Terry has succeeded in this exceedingly well.  Granny Weatherwax, Tiffany Aching, Susan Sto-Helit, even Death, all show us so much about ourselves, while being completely unlike any of us. (In case you were wondering, I omitted Rincewind on purpose.  My apologies to all Discworlders for this blasphemy, but I can’t stand Rincewind.  He’s like James Bond:  he messes up more than half the time and only comes out the other side out of sheer dumb luck.)  Through reading these stories, set on a flat world, balanced on the backs of four elephants standing on a giant turtle swimming through space, the observant can get to know themselves and our world a little better.  That’s what good characters do and Sam Vimes is one of the best.

I know Sir Terry is working on another Discworld novel.  I hope it’s another chapter in the life of Sir Samuel Vimes, Duke of Ankh-Morpork, Commander of the City Watch, and Black-Board Monitor.

14 thoughts on “On Characters

    1. It’s on the home page. My theme doesn’t have a sidebar on single-post views. That said, I’m busy shuffling stuff around at present, so that might change.

  1. Phew! At last. Someone else who doesn’t like Rincewind. He drove me nuts as well, and I struggled through the first two ‘Disc’ novels.

    I must be honest, I didn’t go gaga over Snuff. It was better than Unseen Academicals, but the Pratchett essence seems to be slightly off kilter and one wonders how much input Rob ( ?) had.

    I believe Pratchett’s high point is The Truth. Mister Tulip is a ‘casting’ of pure _ing genius!
    But this is the beauty of such an accomplished author; there is something for most everyone to enjoy.

    Nice to have found your blog. Always good to connect with fellow SA writers.

    1. I don’t think we can blame the first two novels entirely on Rincewind – I think Sir Terry was still pretty much figuring out the style the novels were going to use at that point. I’ve enjoyed some of the other Rincewind novels, most notably Sourcery, but I’ve never been able to latch onto him as a character.

      I think the more subdued tone of Snuff and also the Moist von Lupwig novels (haven’t read Raising Steam yet) could very well be related to Sir Terry’s illness. I would also have trouble writing comedy if my brain was slowly shutting down and I couldn’t do anything about it. It makes me wonder what the recently announced Tiffany Aching novel will be like (another of my favourite characters, but it’s probably the association with Granny Weatherwax that makes me like her).

      The Truth was good, but my all time favourite is Thief of Time. I rather wish there was another novel featuring Susan Sto-Helit, or Sweeper…

      I did not know any Egyptian deities were living in SA. On the other hand, the Dalai Lama lives in Centurion these days, so I guess anything is possible XD

      1. Thief of time was more complex than many of his novels. My son thinks this is his best work as well.
        Wasn’t that much naff humour, aside from his classic ripoff of the Beatles with his Four Horseman gag.
        That was brilliant.
        Haven’t read Raising Steam either, though I thoroughly enjoy Moist as a character.

        This is one deity who doesn’t live with his mummy because he IS the Mummy.
        But Jo’burg winters play merry hell with my bandages!

      2. Ah. I used it in the context of whacking something with a hammer. Might have to reconsider that…

        And no, not a term used locally in my experience. But then I am from the Free State. Not many native English speakers around here.

  2. I haven’t read any of the Discworld books yet, but I do own the first one. I’ve heard that the first few books in the series aren’t as good though, did you find that? I know people have said you don’t really have to read them in order, but I just have this weird thing with chronology in books, I have to read them in the order they were published if their part of a series or I can’t read them at all, lol!

    1. Sir Terry actually wrote the books in several series, each series focusing on a different character. It helps to read the books about a specific character in order, but it’s not crucial. Click here for a reading order guide. The first book, The Colour of Magic, I found a bit tedious (as mentioned, I’m not a big Rincewind fan). The sequel, The Light Fantastic, I never even finished. I like the Sam Vimes/City Watch books, as well as Tiffany Aching and the Witches, except for Equal Rites (the first witches novel and third Discworld novel overall). I like Death as a character, but the only book in his series that really stands out for me is Thief of Time. I’m still ambivalent towards his newest character, Moist von Lipwig. I’d suggest you start with the first Tiffany Aching book, Wee Free Men. While the other witches, and in particular Granny Weatherwax, play a role in the series, it’s pretty much a stand-alone series within the Discworld that you can read without having to be familiar with all the other characters.

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