The Whiff of Pride and Politics, A Year on Discworld: Book 8 — Guards! Guards!
In a quest to escape the reality of 2020 and recapture my youth, I’ve set myself the goal of reading all 41 Discworld novels in one year. Join me on this voyage of discovery which definitely isn’t a complete waste of time. Mild spoilers, probably.
Well, when I started this little challenge in the hopes of escaping the stress of modern, adult life, I hadn’t considered there would be a damn epidemic. Hopefully, if you are ready this, you and your family a well.
Guards! Guards! was yet another title I had yet to read from the Discworld series and one I was looking forward to as it introduced Captain Sam Vimes, the much-beloved by fans leader of the Night Watch and Pratchett’s excuse to play with the crime/detective genres in a Discworld setting.
There are plenty of laws, there is just no justice.
As I’m so keen to waffle on about, the plot follows a secret cabal summoning a dragon to reinstate the monarchy (or a monarchy at any length) as rulers of Ankh- Morpork while the story (so often left behind) is Vimes and his ragtag team coming together to learn to take some pride in themselves and their work and to bring some justice to the streets of the city. It would be unfair to say Ankh-Morpork is lawless. There are plenty of laws, there is just no justice. It’s a Chaotic-Lawful city. If you have never played D&D that means exactly what it sounds like.
Speaking of taking pride in one’s work, the comic I was working on is now out and the manuscript for the book I was writing has been handed in. It’s hard to say if I’m proud. I think I worked hard, but there is always the nagging idea that I could have dedicated myself to those projects in a much more fanatic way. Even so, I’ve realised I struggle with being proud of my work. It seems vulgar to be that happy with myself or reward myself even in a small way.
The problem, of course, is I can pat myself on the back for a good job, but like the Night Watch, I have to keep working. And now those projects are largely out of the way, I have to recommit that energy on whatever job lies ahead. The stress of the future was exactly the thing I was trying to avoid with this thing.
He is telling more universal stories through the warped lens of fantasy.
As with Pyramids, I didn’t necessarily feel contemplative reading Guards! Guards! I was too swept up in enjoying the story to assess my reaction to it. This means one of two things. By his eighth book, Pratchett had hit his stride. He is no longer relying on subverting the fantasy genre to warrant the work (though he still does that). He is telling more universal stories through the warped lens of fantasy.
The alternative is I’ve figured out how to enjoy the books more sincerely. You see I’m still getting the kind of warm comfortable feeling of familiarity and nostalgia from the series but I’m enjoying previously untread ground much more. This led me to my first breaking of the rules in this challenge ( if there are rules). I was away for the weekend as I was finishing Guards! Guards! and I knew I had the next book, Eric, in a rather chunky Rincewind Trilogy I have previously mentioned. It is far too big to take away with me, but waiting at the station, I decided I needed to continue the challenge so jumped ahead and picked up book ten, Moving Pictures.
While lying to myself and framing it as just a means to continue the challenge as I’m away for a few days, in reality, I was too excited to read something new. I’m already in the bulk of Moving Pictures but I will go back to Eric once I’ve finished. What I’ve realised is nostalgia is lovely, but I crave experiencing something new. The nostalgia I’m trying to get hooked on isn’t the nostalgia of recognition, repeating old experiments to create the same original results; it is the nostalgia of feeling, in this case, wanting to find those same youthful feelings in a new vessel.
“What were Pratchett’s politics?”
Maybe I’m not looking for nostalgia at all. Maybe I want to be less bored/boring. Guards! Guards! deals with some of the issues that were bringing me down at the very start of the year; for example, that is fair? What is justice? It also delves into conspiracy, politics and public panic. Rather fitting then, I should be posting this during a public health crisis being made worse by the incompetency of politicians with a less than healthy relationship with the truth, let’s say. But for the first time, it did make me wonder “What were Pratchett’s politics?”
It shouldn’t matter. In my opinion, the only way an artist is fully separated from their work is with the literal (rather than literary) death of the author ( tee-hee). I worry there is a trend in getting swept up in the politics of an artist and despite your best intention, that spoiling the work for yourself. It doesn’t spoil it for the artist, particularly if they’re already dead.
Maybe I’ll be more inclined to look into that kind of thing later. But for now, I’m content to keep letting myself enjoy the stories. What I’m not content with are the Corgi editions of these books. The beautiful Josh Kirby covers are desaturated and crop in the most unusual ways. The great red dragon in the image at the top of this article? Not on the cover of this new edition. I know they say you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but I’m not. I’m judging the same book by two different covers and finding one to be crap.
Better start looking for some old second-hand editions I suppose. Rambles about Moving Pictures coming soon to a medium near you.