The 19th Discworld
novel and the third in the City Watch theme. It has one of the more conventional plots of the series, but executes it very well in the inimitable Pratchett style.
The newly boosted and renewed Watch from Men at Arms
is back, and Vimes is settling into his role as Commander and a knight. But the life of a Watchman is never boring. Two mysterious murders - one in the dwarf community and one in the ecclesiastical - happen one after another. Are they linked? Perhaps to a golem - those stolid ceramic workers who have no voice? And are any of them associated with Lord Vetinari's sudden illness, possibly by poison? And is Nobby Nobbs really (gasp!) an Earl
The answers are out there, swirling somewhere in the fog of an autumn-suffused Ankh-Morpork...
Preceded by Maskerade
, followed by Hogfather
. Preceded in the Watch series by Men at Arms
, followed by Jingo
Contains examples of:
- Acquired Situational Narcissism: After drinking a fair bit, Nobby briefly becomes too pompous for his own good in the Mended Drum, but is saved from getting a No-Holds-Barred Beatdown by Colon. He otherwise averts this for the rest of the novel.
- Actual Pacifist: Golems can't hurt people. Not intentionally, at least. Carrot makes this point in his own vivid way when faced with an anti-golem mob.
- A.I. Is a Crapshoot: The golem king was driven insane by too many words (hopes, expectations, directions) put in his head by his creators, many of which were mutually exclusive.
- Arson Murder And Life Saving
- Artistic License – Chemistry: Used in-character when Vimes speculates that Vetinari's tableware could've been made of arsenic, and Cheery explains how that couldn't possibly work.
- Ass Shove: After Dorfl is freed, he visits his previous masters and exacts (non-lethal) ironic revenge on them. The ones at the poultry merchant's and the pork butcher's involves stuffing apprentices with various fruits and vegetables. Guess where. Go on.
- Batman Gambit: As usual, Vetinari is well aware of what's going on, and does not actually allow himself to be poisoned further once he figures it out. But he lets Vimes go on crime-solving anyway.
- Big Damn Hero: Dorfl charging in to stop the Golem King from killing Angua and Carrot.
- Bile Fascination: In-Universe, Nobby Nobbs is so vile he fascinates the upper class. It's labelled charisn'tma by one of them.
- Black Comedy Rape: Pratchett shows a minor character talking about an apprentice pork butcher who gets an apple stuffed up his arse by an irate, recently liberated Dorfl, and a man who suffered a similar fate involving sage and onion.
- Blind and the Beast: Mrs. Gammage and the regulars at Biers.
Angua: Well, I heard that last month someone broke into her hovel and stole some of her stuff...
Cheery: That doesn't sound helpful.
Angua: ...and it was all returned the next day and a couple of thieves were found in the Shades with not a drop of blood left in their bodies. You know, you get told a lot of bad things about the undead, but you never hear about the marvellous work they do in the community.
- Booze Flamethrower: Nobbs is guzzling expensive brandy and smoking a fancy cigar when he learns that people want him to become King. He does a truly epic Spit Take.
- Booze Flamethrower is inadequate to describe it. Try Booze Rocket.
- A Booz-ooka, if you will.
- Brick Joke:
- When Carrot is handling some of Vimes's paperwork, there's a note from a Mister Catterail, demanding there be less patrolling by dwarfs and such, with Mr. Catterail claiming Vetinari is a personal friend. Near the end when Dorfl is going through the city setting everything free, Mr. Catterail demands help from the Watchmen, telling them their commander is a personal friend of his. He says this to the commander of the Watch himself.
- When Vimes is presented with the evidence that Nobby is the Earl of Ankh, he retorts that given the amount of stuff Nobby's family have stolen over the years, he's probably got enough heirlooms to prove that he's also the Duke of Pseudopolis, the Seriph of Klatch and the Dowager Duchess of Quirm. In The Stinger, Nobby proves him right: he has three gold lockets, a coronet, and a tiara.
- But for Me, It Was Tuesday/Nominal Importance: Part of what drives Vimes to rage is that Dragon didn't know who Mrs Easy and her child were.
- Which is foreshadowed when Carrot catches the accomplice and tells him that the candles had killed two innocent people.
Carrot: (nods to himself) I was almost feeling sorry for you. Right up to that point. You're a lucky man, Mr Carry.
Carry: You think so?
Carrot: Oh yes. We got to you before Commander Vimes did.
- The Caligula:
- Lorenzo the Kind, last king of Ankh-Morpork, beheaded by Vimes' ancestor. All we hear for definite is that he was... very fond of children. "Machines" are also alluded to.
- More literally, Mad Lord Snapcase, who was the Patrician before Vetinari, apparently appointed a horse as one of his advisors, like the tropenamer. It is pointed out that said horse was still a better official than some inanimate objects that were his other choices.
- Can't Use Stairs: The Golem King. Golems are invulnerable unstoppable robotic killing machines created by an alchemical marriage of magic and pottery. There is just one drawback: they are far too heavy for a normal set of stairs to take without collapsing.
- Chekhov's Gun: Played straight with Cheery's silver vest.
- Subverted with the green wallpaper in Vetinari's bedroom, which turns out to be a RedHerring.
- Subverted again with Vetinari licking his fingers to turn the pages of his diary, which is another RedHerring.
- The Chessmaster
- Comically Inept Healing: The Guild of Surgeon-Barbers. When Colon suggests calling a doctor in for Lord Vetinari, Vimes replies "Are you mad? We want him to live!" (which is why they call a veterinarian instead, more competent because the local mafia gets very angry when a racehorse dies)
- Continuity Nod: The "dwarves hang criminals up by the... town hall" joke from Guards! Guards! makes a reappearance.
- Death Seeker: The golem king Meshugah turns out to be one, and smiles just as Dorfl kills him.
- Doctor's Orders: Vimes cites this to keep people out of the Patrician's sick room.
- Does This Remind You of Anything?: Golems make themselves a king in order to imitate those around them. Instead of being their deliverance, the king goes insane, violates golem law, and his role is subsumed by another golem who slaughters animals. In the Old Testament, the Jewish people asked God for a king because everyone else had one. They got Saul who went insane, disobeyed God and the Jewish prophets, and eventually lost his throne to a shepherd-boy named David. A bit of a stretch, but consider the golems are originally creatures of Jewish folklore and this is Pratchett we're dealing with. And one should note that in Yiddish, Meshugah means crazy.
- Drugs Are Bad: Sergeant Detritus' campaign against the troll drug Slab parodies the classic slogan "Just Say No" targeted at kids, with a much more direct campaign targeted at dealers.
"...Mr Vimes is lettin' me run a' Detritus concentrated - 'pub-lic a-ware-ness campaign tellin' people what happens to buggers what sells it to kids..." He waved a hand at a large and rather crudely done poster on the wall. It said:
Slab: Jus' say 'Aarrghaarrghpleeassennonono UGH'.
- Embarrassing First Name: Cheery Littlebottom (who also has an Embarrassing Last Name). Tries to change it a lot, eventually settling on the almost identical 'Cheri', though this doesn't last. (Later books clarified this by saying she was Cheery, pronounced Cheri).
- It could be worse. Her father was named Jolly Littlebottom and her grandfather was named Beaky Littlebottom.
- Her name in Dwarfish is Sh'rt'azs, pronounced Shortarse, whence the translation Littlebottom.
- Enhance Button: Parodied. Cheery asks the iconograph imp to paint larger, more detailed pictures of the murder victim's eye.
- Evil Has a Bad Sense of Humor: Dragon King of Arms loves his heraldic wordplay. This becomes important later, as it turns out one of these "jokes" was a vital clue.
- Eye Remember
- Fantastic Racism: Cheery towards werewolves, and Angua towards golems (said to be the 'hatred of the undead for the unalive')
- Fingertip Drug Analysis: Lampshaded. The Watch isn't supposed to do it anymore, "ever since Constable Flint had dipped his finger into a blackmarket consignment of ammonium chloride cut with radium, said "Yes, this is definitely slab wurble wurble sclup" and had to spend three days tied to his bed until the spiders went away." Detritus, of course, does it later on
- Carrot actually does this immediately after the paragraph describing Flint's little problem.
- Flat Earth Atheist: Dorfl is perhaps the most literal example, being on the Disc. When he challenges the gods to prove they exist, they hit him with lightning bolts, but, being made of pottery, all it does is melt his armour. His response:
I Don't Call That Much Of An Argument.
- Angua's description of the yudasgoat, a goat kept in the slaughterhouse and used to lead the other animals to the slaughter. The comparison between it and the plot to replace Vetinari with a puppet king is made obvious when Nobby, who had been selected to serve as said puppet, runs into the goat and is suddenly filled with a strange sense of camaraderie.
- "Next you'll be telling me they have emotions!"
- Early on, Vimes muses about how people are hard-wired to believe that kings make everything better. It later turns out that the golems created a king to make things better for them.
- During the scene where Nobby and Colon are getting drunk at the Drum, one man is complaining that Mr. Carry fired him because he got a new golem to work the line. Mr. Carry who makes candles. And the golem in question moves unnaturally fast.
- Freedom from Choice: As the Discworld Companion puts it, Stoneface Vimes introduced democracy to Ankh-Morpork, and the people voted against it. In fact, fear of freedom and the desire for a strong leader are a reoccurring theme within the book.
- Fur Against Fang: Although no direct vampire/werewolf fights occur, Dragon King Of Arms' distaste for a Carrot/Angua lineage is an early clue that this trope applies in Discworld.
- Of course, it also interferes with his little "hobby".
- Genre Savvy: The moment Nobby Nobbs hears about a plan by certain nobles to put him on the throne he realizes it'll end with his head getting cut off (probably by Vimes) and jumps out a window.
He'll go spare!
- Golem: Golems and Dorfl himself were briefly mentioned in Reaper Man and Soul Music, but this is the book to really develop them. Also, in a Retcon, golems are now powered by a scroll with words inside their flip-top heads rather than a word physically carved on their forehead.
- The Good King: What the golem king was intended to be.
- Gone Horribly Wrong: The Golems' attempt to make another of their kind results in a half-baked, insane monstrosity.
- Grow Beyond Their Programming: Many of the golems appear to be doing this, however only Dorfl really does when Carrot puts Dorfl's bill of ownership in the golem's chem and gives him ownership of himself.
- Hoist by His Own Petard/Poetic Justice: Subverted. Vimes claims to have put holy water in the wick of the candle that was lighting the room in which he confronted Dragon, but is implied to be bluffing. Played straight shortly after, when Vimes, upon realizing that Dragon is too influential for Vetinari to punish, uses the very same candle to burn the genealogies which Dragon has worked on for centuries.
- Humiliation Conga: Poor Colon.
- Hypocritical Humor: "I don't want a killer working in my slaughter house!"
- I'm a Humanitarian: Invoked by name, and averted in the same sentence when Angua reflects on the troubles of being a werewolf. It's easy to be a vegetarian by day, but hard not to be a humanitarian by night.
- Incredibly Lame Pune Or Play On Words: Several. Some are in fact clues to the murder plot.
- Infant Immortality: Averted—one of the victims that die of poisoning is an eighteen-month old boy.
- Just Following Orders: Between them, Carrot and the Golems subvert the hell out of this one.
- Just for Pun: At the book's end, Hughnon Ridcully addresses Dorfl as me old china, china plate being Cockney rhyming slang for mate. Of course, Dorfl, described in the same section as a ceramic atheist, is also, in a sense, made of china.
- Meshugah, the golem king, is described as being incompletely fired - "half-baked" being a British English expression meaning ill-conceived or incompletely carried out
- Meshugah also means crazy in Yiddish & Hebrew
- Knocking on Heathens' Door: Constable Visit takes many opportunities to proselytize, and is fully prepared to do so against considerable odds. When Dorfl takes an interest in his pamphlets, he's ecstatic about it.
- Lightning Bruiser: Dorfl when defending himself. He can snatch arrows out of the air.
- Literary Allusion Title: To the Book of Daniel.
- Locking MacGyver in the Store Cupboard: Lampshaded when Colon gets captured in a cell that strangely does not contain various items that he can use to make his escape.
- Look on My Works, Ye Mighty, and Despair!: Dragon King of Arms (whose long life grants him a certain perspective on these things) reflects:
- Mathematician's Answer: When Vetinari asks "What is that in the table?", Vimes' first response is this: he says "It's an axe, sir."
- Meaningful Name/Bilingual Bonus/Yiddish as a Second Language: Fittingly for creatures whose origins lie in Jewish folklore, the golems all have Yiddish names. Most of them (Dorfl, Bobkes, Klutz) describe humble or insulting things, while "Meshugah" appropriately means "crazy, insane".
- A subtler bilingual bonus is in the coats of arms Dragon shows to Vimes, which turn out to conceal clues - unusually he gives Mr. Carry's arms' motto in English (or Morporkian) as "Art Brought Forth the Candle"... Vimes eventually figures out that in Latin (or Latatian, the Old Morporkian language) this would be Ars Enixa Est Candelam.
- Men Are Generic, Women Are Special: Male and female dwarfs are hard to tell apart, even by other dwarfs, so they're all assumed to be male by default. Cheery is referred to as "he" until she starts reclaiming her femaleness, and she does so by adopting Tertiary Sexual Characteristics, such as nail polish and lipstick. It happens with golems too in a subtler way: When Dorfl starts being seen as a person rather than as a thing, "it" segues into "he" as if it were only natural.
- The Napoleon: Wee Mad Arthur, probably the most ridiculously extreme example of this ever. He's a six-inch tall gnome, but also a tiny, highly concentrated ball of Bad Ass. The explanation runs that he's no more angry than the average human, but since he's so small, all his rage is condensed into a tiny space and under intense pressure. And things under pressure have a habit of blowing up.
- Nostalgia Filter: Vimes complains about the very romantic view many Ankh-Morporkians seem have of the old royal family; some of his dialogue suggests that Lorenzo the Kind's propensity for torture and "fondness for children" is widely known, but it's the rebel who cut his head off that gets the most scorn.
- Not Quite Dead: One of Nobby's grandmothers — his excuse for having taken three "grandmothers' funeral" days off in that year alone.
- Later in the series taking the day off for your grandmother's funeral becomes a running gag, and at one point it's mentioned watchmen get three annually.
- Obviously Evil: Dragon, King of Arms, made apparent in his second scene if not the first. It's part of the reason the book's a howdunnit rather than a whodunnit.
- Off The Wagon: Subverted.
- One-Gender Race: Deconstructed with dwarfs (although the thing about female dwarfs looking almost identical ultimately came from the appendices to The Lord of the Rings, because Our Dwarves Are All the Same).
- One Steve Limit: Averted as there are two Arthurs in the novel: Arthur Carry and Wee Mad Arthur.
- Orphaned Punchline: The end of a joke Nobby tells at a party: "And she said, "That's funny — it didn't do that last night!"
- Painting the Medium: The font used for the golems' writing evokes the look of Hebrew, in a nod to golems having their origins in Jewish folklore.
- Phrase Catcher: Several unrelated people describe Nobby as 'an absolute tit'.
- Pintsized Powerhouse: Wee Mad Arthur. Exaggerated by the fact that he also has a Hair-Trigger Temper and a kick like a normal-sized man's, but concentrated to a smaller surface area.
- Playing Drunk: Vimes, when he's not really Off The Wagon.
Vimes: When we find the man responsible, somewhere at the top of the charge sheet is going to be Forcing Commander Vimes To Tip a Whole Bottle of Single Malt On The Carpet. That's a hanging offence.
- Pulling Themselves Together: After smashing on a warehouse floor, Meshuggah reconstitutes itself, in a manner reminiscent of a T-1000.
- Puppet King: Part of the plan was to set up Nobby Nobbs as one. Fortunately he's intelligent/cowardly enough that even if he didn't understand their motives he knew it was far safer to run away.
- Red Herring: References to Vetinari's green wallpaper seem to imply it had something to do with his poisoning (also a reference to the theory that Napoleon was poisoned by arsenic-containing wallpaper in Real Life). Vimes even entertains this theory briefly, before realizing that it couldn't possibly be true.
- Refusal of the Call: Nobby never, ever volunteers.
- Religious Robot: A newly liberated golem declares himself to be an atheist, but expresses interest in discussing religion with a pious watchman who has a penchant for Knocking on Heathens' Door.
- Retcon: There's a minor continuity error; at the beginning, Angua has to introduce Cheery to Dorfl and explain what a golem is, yet later in the book Cheery tells Vimes she worked with golems at the alchemist's guild in Pseudopolis, which took place before the book started.
- Ret Irony: Subverted. Colon swears he is retiring after this to go live on a farm, but close experience of animals rapidly changes his mind.
- Royal Inbreeding: It's mentioned that in the city of Genua, the royal lines died out "through interbreeding so intensively that the last king kept trying to breed with himself"
- Running Gag: Roderick and Keith the hippos.
- References to people "prodding buttock" rather than "kicking arse". Kicking arse is too violent.
- Another one features a vampire who complains to the watch every time something goes wrong at his new job. His jobs? Holy water bottler, garlic stacker, pencil maker, picket fence builder, and sunglasses tester.
- Shout-Out: According to Word of God, the climatic scene in the candle factory was inspired by the end of Terminator 2.
- Biers is a pun on Cheers.
- Drumknott's comment that if Vimes did not exist, Vetinari would have to invent him is based on a Voltaire quote.
- Discussing clay, Igneous the troll says that "he's got lumps of it, out the back".
- The Rats Chamber is a reference to England's Star Chamber, and the German Ratskammer (which has nothing to do with Rats).
- "Undead or Alive, You're Coming With Me" and "Somewhere There Is A Crime Happening" from RoboCop.
- Dorfl also partially quotes the three Prime Directives from the same movie:
What are your duties? Dorfl:
To Serve The Public Trust, Protect The Innocent, And Seriously Prod Buttock
- Fans of Isaac Asimov's robot novels will recognize many of the issues raised here.
- The Six Million Dollar Man: "We can rebuild him. We have the pottery."
- Stoneface Vimes' backstory is based on that of Oliver Cromwell. Correspondingly the "Peeled Nuts", Nobby's historical re-creation society, is a reference to the "Sealed Knot", a real life society that re-enacts the English Civil War.
- Slave Liberation: The golems attempt this by Making the king, which fails. Only Dorfl becomes truely free when Carrot buys him from his previous owner and puts the receipt in Dorfl's control chem, giving the golem ownership of itself. Dorfl plans to free other golems this way by saving up money to buy his fellows and put their receipts in their chems.
- Smug Snake: Dragon, King of Arms. He shows Vimes a vital clue early on in the story.
- Sophisticated as Hell: Vimes' response to being told that the religious leaders of the city consider the newly-liberated Dorfl, who also now has a voice a religious abomination that should be destroyed.
Vimes: I've given that viewpoint a lot of thought, sir, and reached the following conclusion: arseholes to the lot of 'em, sir.
- Spiteful Spit: Sam Vimes pointedly removes his cigar and spits after uttering the phrase "respectable pillars of the community" when referring to guild leaders, so as to leave no doubts about his opinion of them.
- Spit Take: Nobby is told by a cadre of nobles that they want him to become king. Since he's gulping down brandy, smoking a cigar, and sitting in a chair with wheels at the time, the result is a literally rocket-powered Spit Take.
- Stealth Pun: Two within a few pages of each other; when Angua and Cheery go off to see Dorfl, it makes a reference to Angua's 'PLT', (Pre-Lunar Tension, according to the synopsis); then later it mentions that one can hear the occasional bleat of worried sheep. (A reference to events in The Wee Free Men.)
- The Stinger: Nobby commenting that he has more than just the ring of the Earl, hinting that he actually is the Earl of the city, second in line to the throne, and related to Carrot. Or, if Vimes is right, that Nobby's family stole the heirlooms of at least three different aristocrats.
- Thoroughly Mistaken Identity
- Three-Laws Compliant: Golems must obey their master, and cannot kill. The golems are so distressed at creating a golem that violates these principles they commit suicide. Dorfl is unique, as well, after being re-baked and having his chem replaced with his bill of sale, later being described as simply not doing violence because he decided for himself that it wasn't moral. (This worries some people, who think of what might happen should he ever change his mind. Consequently, they leave him alone.)
- Two Beings, One Body: According to Rogers the bulls' viewpoint, at least.
- Uncanny Valley: Invoked in the way (most) people tend to react to the golems.
- Unfortunate Name: Cheery Littlebottom. She got off better than her ancestors did.
- Verbal Tic: Dragon, ahaha, King of Arms.
- Warts and All: Mentioned in a Shout-Out (as Stoneface Vimes is a Captain Ersatz of Oliver Cromwell).
- We Can Rebuild Him: We Have The Pottery.
- What Measure Is a Non-Human?: A large theme in the book concerns the treatment and prejudice the golems receive from other races, including from the undead. Carrot largely defies this and takes an interest in Dorfl's case.
- Where Did We Go Wrong?: The poor golems.