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.
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.