The Profoundness of Terry Pratchett August 24th, 2014
It feels like somewhere in the last ten years, Pratchett has tapped into something more, something different from the earlier books. All of the recent ones have felt far more profound than the early ones.
I think Pratchett has always been very profound, however in the last ten years he's been focusing on Ankh Morpork and Tiffany Aching, which both have themes that are much less subtle than the other books.
The Ankh Morpork books all use the races of the discworld as opportunities to discuss real issues. Racism and racial tensions, gender inequalities, gender dimorphism, slavery, class conflicts, liberal vs conservative, religious radicals... All of the nations of the discworld are allegories for european countries and global politics, which Ankh Morpork is in a unique position to be involved with.
The Tiffany Aching books have lots of themes of growing up; learning to deal with the death of loved ones, accepting new responsibilities, entering the workplace, learning how to handle relationships and unwanted affection...
The other books were certainly much more whimsical, but they were always profound. The wizard books were about dealing with the craziness that life throws at you and reacting to constant change in an evolving world. The Witch books all have themes of wisdom and respecting one's elders, tho he also uses them to play with conventional ideas about fairy tales and happy endings. The Death books are quite literally about mortality and the concepts of an afterlife. Then there's Pyramids and Small Gods, which directly deal with concepts of religion and the power of belief.
I have to agree, however, that Night Watch was extremely prescient of modern day civil issues. Then again, many of the problems happening today all happened before during the 90s and again during the 70s.
Pratchett's Night Watch has repeatedly been brought to mind in recent weeks thanks be to the events of Ferguson, Missouri. The behavior of the St. Louis County PD is very similar to that of the Unmentionables and the Palace Guard during the book's main story line. It also seemed at first that Captain Ron Johnson of the highway patrol -- who took over as over Ferguson after the state Governor told the county PD to stand down -- was very like minded to Samuel Vimes in his handling of the public.
“The lieutenant of the Day Watch called in one of the regiments,” said Tilden. “Which he was duly authorized to do. Of course.”
“Which one?” said Vimes, for the look of the thing. The name was in the history books, after all.
“Lord Venturi’s Medium Dragoons, Sergeant. My old regiment.”
That’s right, thought Vimes. And cavalry are highly trained at civilian crowd control. Everyone knows that.
“And, er, there were some, er, accidental deaths…”
Vimes felt sorry for the man. In truth, it was never proven that anyone had given an order to ride people down, but did it matter? Horses pushing, and people unable to get away because of the press of people behind them…it was too easy for small children to lose grip of a hand…
“But, in fairness, missiles were thrown at the officers, and one soldier was badly injured,” said Tilden, as if reading the words off a card.
That’s all right, then? Vimes thought.
“What kind of missiles, sir?”
“Fruit, I gather. Although there may have been some stones as well.” Vimes realized that Tilden’s hand was shaking. “The riot was over the price of bread, I understand.”
No. The protest was over the price of bread, said Vimes’s inner voice. The riot was what happens when you have panicking people trapped between idiots on horseback and other idiots shouting “yeah, right!” and trying to push forward, and the whole thing in the charge of a fool advised by a maniac with a steel rule.
The maniac with a steel rule, in this case, being St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney, Robert McCulloch.
Night Watch is on the surface a time travel story, but is really a book about what it means to be a police officer. I had not realized just how cleverly the book was written until last week when a link started going around about the history of modern policing. In 1829, the United Kingdom parliament passed into law the first Metropolitan Police Act. It established the structure and organization of the London police department as a formal governmental body, but also outlined nine rules to govern the behavior of policemen.
Paramount to these rules was the common theme of policing by the consent of the community, co-operating with the public in order to secure law and order and attempting to use persuasion and reason to resolve disputes, rather than physical violence. These are exactly the behaviors that Vimes (as John Keel) demonstrated in the book and taught to those under him. Using these rules, Vimes expertly diffuses many tense situations in the book and manages to organize his local police department into a shining example of community cooperation.
The author of the Metropolitan Police Act was a man by the name of Sir Robert Peel, English Home Secretary.
Robert Peel. John Keel.
Pratchett, you magnificently clever man.