If you’re a lover of all things Fantasy then Terry Pratchett is a fantastic author to fall back on if you’re looking for a fabulous read. The Discworld series of books are all based on the same fictional world, roaming through time and space on the back of four elephants, which are in turn carried on the back of A’tuin, the Great World Turtle. One of my favourite things about the series is that the books don’t really depend on you having read any of the others, so anyone can pick one up and not be lost. One slight drawback to this is that for devoted readers, you get to read the explanation as to why light travels slowly over the Discworld again and again. And again, just for good measure.
Men At Arms is the second book following the adventures of the City Guard of Ankh-Morpork. Our main character Carrot, born human was adopted as a dwarf and joined the Watch to make a man of himself. As mentioned above, whilst it may be helpful to have read the first book for backstories of the guards, it is not essential at all. Carrot has now been promoted to Corporal and the City Guard is recruiting. Captain Vimes is getting married to the richest, most dragon-loving woman in the city and is due to retire. Vimes is a man very set in his ways; whilst he tries to adapt to his new life as a hobnobbing gentleman, he struggles to lose his attachment to the Watch. He also doesn’t like the new recruits, a troll, a dwarf and a woman. Vetinari, the City’s leader has decided to champion equal opportunities for all.
When a mysterious weapon goes missing and murders start sprouting up in Ankh-Morpork, despite their differences, can the guards rally themselves to hunt the killer down?
I admire how Pratchett manages to drop in important themes within the utterly whimsical, comical and outrageous world that is the Discworld. Race is a topic that comes up throughout the book. Dwarves and trolls hate each other. Why? At some battle a long long time ago each side accused the other of foul play. Well, that’s how it started. In today’s society, dwarves and trolls hate each other because their ancestors have successfully hated each other for centuries. Why break tradition?
Not only is race challenged as a topical issue, governmental corruption also features massively. Ankh-Morpork is a corrupt city through and through. Home to the Assassin’s Guild, the Thieves Guild and even the Alchemist’s Guild, to mention but a few names, the city thrives on money. For a fee, you can arrange for a certain somebody to disappear. For a fee, you can walk the streets safely in the assurance you won’t get robbed. Nobody can guarantee your safety from flying debris if you walk past the Alchemist’s Guild, however. If you happen to chance your arm robbing somebody and you don’t have a license to do so, you had best pray it’s the Guards that get you before the Thieves Guild.
Here are some of my favourite quotes of the book:-
The reason that the rich were so rich, Vimes reasoned, was because they managed to spend less money.
Colon thought Carrot was simple. Carrot often struck people as simple. And he was. Where people went wrong was thinking that simple meant the same thing as stupid.
The Librarian was, of course, very much in favour of reading in general, but readers in particular got on his nerves. There was something, well, sacrilegious about the way they kept taking books off the shelves and wearing out the words by reading them. He liked people who loved and respected books, and the best way to do that, in the Librarian’s opinion, was to leave them on the shelves where Nature intended them to be.
People ought to think for themselves, Captain Vimes says. The problem is, people only think for themselves if you tell them to.
I’m sure like many other readers out there, I read to escape from reality for a little while. I read to forget about those bills I have to pay and to forget I have to get up and go to work in the morning… and that’s okay. I get that escapism from books. For me, it makes a goddamn fantastic author if they can achieve this and still highlight issues within our society without smacking you in the face with it. It’s there, and you know it’s there and you can choose to pay attention to it. If you want to at least.
You may have been able to find the words to say exactly what you thought of the world Terry, but nothing I could say about you will ever live up to the legacy you left behind. Not all super heroes wear capes, after all. Rest in Peace – you’ve earned it.