Defend Your Barricades!
The 25th of May is approaching, and my yearly traditional reading Night Watch, by Terry Pratchett, with it. I was introduced to Discworld by a friend who was crashing on my couch at the time. Although that was an unpleasant experience for all concerned, I still owe the guy. I had not made such a deep emotional connection with a new author since I’d been 8 years old discovering Stephen King for the first time. Although I am going to talk to you about Night Watch specifically, I feel compelled to explain the allure of the entire series. I’m a horror fan, as I think I have mentioned, and most books that I really love are going to have elements of horror, including the thrillers I also enjoy. How, then, did Sir Terry Pratchett measure up? After all, the Discworld series started out as satire of the fantasy genre, a genre of which I am not generally fond, unless you consider all horror a derivative of fantasy. However, that is a discussion for English Literature class, and thankfully, we aren’t there. They take EVERYTHING way too seriously, and they generally don’t appreciate irreverent works.
The series morphed into a fun-house mirror held up to the Western world, and often to its view of the rest of the world. We can see ourselves in Pratchett’s work, and laugh at what we see. It is the very epitome of what irreverent writing is supposed to be. So, of course, anyone with a sense of humor would have to enjoy these books, and I did. With Night Watch, my viewpoint changed. I went from being a fan to being a fan-girl. Parts of this book touched me deeply, caused me to cry as well as laugh, gave me goose bumps the way a book will when you CONNECT. Although Pratchett had previously touched on the idea that someone must speak for those who have no voices, it is in Night Watch that this theme really takes off. His Grace, the Duke of Ankh, Commander of the City Watch, Sir Samuel Vimes still thinks of himself as plain old Sam Vimes, from Cockbill Street. I could talk about Sam all day, because I am in love with him, as much as anyone can be with a fictional character. I may share more of my feelings about him, and the Discworld, in another blog. But with the 25th approaching, I must remain focused, and as you may have noticed, this is difficult for me. Sam is a policeman, and takes this job very seriously. He serves and protects with all his heart, even as his inner monologue tells you what he thinks of those he is protecting and serving. It is, perhaps, important that he comes from humble beginnings, because he understands oppression intimately. So, despite the fact that he may not like trolls, dwarves and a good many humans (and this is indeed the case when we first meet Sam, although his character evolves, much like a certain President I could mention), he feels very strongly about keeping them safe, even from themselves sometimes, and treating everyone fairly.
Night Watch focuses very much on this theme. Sam is sent back in time 30 years or so, and due to a temporal accident, is required to replace the Sergeant who trained him as a rookie, because the original John Keel was killed before his time. This is the man who taught Sam what was important about police work, and formed the foundation of the man he would become. Suddenly, he is in Keel’s shoes, and eye-patch. He has much to be concerned about, as the author of his evolution, Duchess Sybil Vimes is having their first child at a rather advanced age, back in his own time. The cause of the time wreck is a serial killer named Carcer, whom Sam chased onto the roof of the Unseen University’s Library, arguably the most magical building on the Disc, whereupon they got caught up in a temporal disaster. Sam’s brought this maniac with him, and must deal with the consequences of that as well, so that his future will still be there when he is able to get back to it. If this is not enough, there is his younger self to train, who is looking to him to see what kind of man, and policeman, he is expected to be.
What does any of this have to do with the 25th of May? Well, I’ll tell you. On the 25th of May, during John Keel’s time, there was an uprising, which came to be known as The People’s Glorious Revolution. The City of Anhk-Morpork is ruled by a dictator, called the Patrician. Although the Revolution officially fought for “Truth, Justice, Freedom, Reasonably Priced Love, and a Hard-Boiled Egg!” the actual fighting came about rather simply, as people got tired of Lord Winder being a “loony”. They didn’t approve of their families and friends being taken away by the secret police, tortured and killed for no larger crime than noticing that the current ruler is a bit of a nutter. As the upper-crust worked behind the scenes to install a new Patrician, the common folk rioted in the street. As Sam Vimes seeks to protect the public from itself, masquerading as John Keel, he is forced to take control of the strategic portion of the revolt, including the building of a massive barricade which eclipses even the memory Vimes has of the original. He has been told that history will find a way back to its original course, and he has to do “the job before him” before he is able to go back to his own time. So, Sam fights the fight and defends the barricades as only he can do, tweaking history, without actually destroying it. Despite the fact that he and his Watchmen come through this mostly unharmed, there is still Carcer, who has joined up with, and is backed up by the secret police, to deal with. The Watchmen who are involved in this final fight adopt the lilacs in bloom as their symbol, so that in the heat of battle they can tell who is with them. (Touchingly, Pratchett’s fans wear the lilac on this day, in support of his fight against Alzheimer’s, possibly the most tragic disease that could possibly befall a man with his brilliant mind.) I will not spoiler you further, as I encourage you to read this book, and all those before and after.
Now, my opinion, since that’s why we are here. Others have said, including the Today Show, where I found this quote attributed, “Terry Pratchett does for fantasy what Douglas Adams did for science fiction.” Having read both authors, I feel like this is selling Sir Terry short. No disrespect to Mr. Adams, since I enjoyed his work, but he did not fill his volumes with half the heart and depth that Pratchett continues to employ in his work up until today. Night Watch, while not remotely lacking in humor, as there are laughs galore on every page, is work full of feeling, the strength of the human spirit, and the simple fight for fairness in an unfair world. The revolutionaries aren’t asking for the moon, they are asking for human decency. Oh, and don’t forget the hardboiled egg. As our world spins farther out of control every day, defending your barricade becomes ever more important. And those who serve and protect us could take a lesson from Sir Samuel Vimes, who will not hesitate to arrest anyone who has committed a crime, no matter who they are, even up to the ruler of the city. Deep stuff from a mere “comedy”. On the Imaqulotta Scale, I rate Night Watch to be Heavenly.