The eighth Discworld book and the first to feature the City Watch, one of the most popular of the major character groups/themes in Pratchett's creation, plus the first appearance of C.M.O.T. Dibbler, though as a one-note gag character. It is also notable in that it is the first of the Discworld books in which Patrician Vetinari is the MagnificentBastard we all know and love. Up until this point Pterry was still working out the character, and aspects of the final product appeared in other books, but Guards! Guards! is the first book in which the character is recognisable as he exists now.Once upon a time, the Ankh-Morpork City Watch was a proud lawkeeping organisation, but nowadays the Machiavellian Patrician, Lord Vetinari, keeps the peace by the simpler notion of instituting the Guild of Thieves and asking them to police crime themselves. The Night Watch has dwindled away, and now there are only three watchmen left - Captain Sam Vimes, Sergeant Fred Colon and Corporal "Nobby" Nobbs. The fourth, Herbert Gaskin, died a week before the book takes place when, while routinely half-heartedly chasing some crook, he accidentally got ahead of the group and killed by the crook's buddies hiding behind a corner.They are joined by the newest recruit, Lance-Constable Carrot Ironfoundersson, who was raised by dwarfs in the mountains. A huge, powerful and highly moral and innocent young man, he immediately tries to arrest the head of the Thieves' Guild and clean up the Mended Drum pub - and succeeds. Not only is he tough, he also has a strange... charisma.At the same time, The Elucidated Brethren of the Ebon Night is planning to summon a noble dragon using a book stolen from Unseen University's Library and use it in a ploy to place a puppet ruler on the throne as king. Almost unwittingly, Vimes and his crew are on the case, with the help of upper-class swamp dragon breeder Sybil Ramkin. But can these unlikely heroes save the city when the dragon decides to take the throne for itself?Guards! Guards! has been adapted into a play and a graphic novel, and is often cited as the best Discworld novel for new readers to start the series. Notably, Pratchett said that Carrot was originally going to be the viewpoint character, but the structure of the book didn't allow it so he made up Vimes - who is now one of the most popular and complex characters in the whole of Discworld.Preceded by Pyramids, followed by Eric. The next book in the Watch series is Men at Arms. Very loosely adapted into the Point and ClickAdventure GameDiscworld.
Sybil: Do you realise we're very probably seeing something no-one has seen for centuries? Vimes: Yes, it's a bloody flying alligator setting fire to my city!
Adventurer Archaeologist: Mentioned, in the form of "smart bastards whose idea of a day's work was prising the Ruby Eye of the Earwig King out of its socket."
Alien Geometries: It's mentioned that Unseen University Library "would make even M.C. Escher take a good lie down, or possibly sideways".
There's a very good argument made that because "books = knowledge and knowledge = power"note = energy = matter = mass, then any decent-sized library or bookstore has power on the scale of a small black hole, turning libraries into reality-warped redoubts.
Antiquated Linguistics: The oath of loyalty sworn by the Brethren, especially the bit about what will happen to them if they break faith, is full of obscure and antiquated words; it's a running joke that they're all in mortal fear of having their figgin taken out and toasted on a spike, without any of them being entirely sure what a figgin is. (A footnote tells us it's a pastry filled with raisins, and the guards enjoy some later on.)
Other words in the oath include welchet ("a type of waistcoat worn by certain clock-makers"), gaskin ("a shy, grey-brown bird of the coot family") and moules ("a game of skill and dexterity, involving tortoises"). The oath, when one doesn't know the meaning of the words in it, sounds much more menacing than it actually is. The Supreme Grand Master notes the fact that none of them have asked what any of the words mean as a sign of their stupidity.
Attack Its Weak Point: Colon attempts to hit the dragon in it with an arrow. He has no idea what its Weak Point actually is, but you'd know it if you saw it, right?
Berserk Button: The first book where saying monkeynote ohshit in front of the Librarian is potentially lethal.
Also, Vimes is shown as loving Ankh Morpork and hating kings so much that when a dragon is destroying his city and being revered as a king, that he picks up a ape by the chest fur and shakes it in a rage.
Big Bad: The Dragon goes from enigmatic plot device to this when it declares itself king of Ankh-Morpork.
The Big Guy: Carrot, who not only manages to take out the entire clientele of the Mended Drum at once, but beats Detritus at the same time. For those who don't know, Detritus is a troll, and therefore made of solid rock.
"I believe you find life such a problem because you think there are the good people and the bad people. You're wrong, of course. There are, always and only, the bad people - but some of them are on opposite sides."
Then again, Vimes' reaction to this worldview (namely pointing out that, even with such a dark view, Vetinari still chooses to get up in the morning), the loyalty and bravery of the Watch (particularly Carrot) and the scene near the end where the watch subverts the Patrician's expectations of them by asking for a dartboard instead of ego-boosting honours seems to hint that Vetinari's worldview might not actually be correct. And Vetinari's comment as Vimes walks away, "There's a good man", might seem like just a comforting statement, but given Vetinari's tendency to never say things accidentally might mean Vetinari himself doesn't entirely believe his philosophy, or that Vetinari has reconsidered his previous views. (It might even be that he doesn't believe it at all, and was saying that to wind Vimes up, as he does in later books.)
Book Ends: When we're first introduced to Vimes, he's drunkenly comparing the city to a woman. At the end of the book as his romance with Lady Sybil blossoms, he compares the woman to a city.
Brick Joke: When the heroes refuse to slay the dragon because Vetinari doesn't have a daughter to give her hand in marriage, Vetinari mention he does have an aunt. This was never referred to again until Night Watch, years later and mostly set before this book, when Vetinari's aunt Lady Roberta Meserole is a significant character.
Also, his little dog, which shows up in The Truth as a major character and gets another mention in Going Postal.
The "eye-watering words" mentioned at the start keep popping up. For instance, after going out to get some food, Nobby innocently asks the captured Brother Fingers if he wants his figgin toasted, with predictable results.
Among the things C.M.O.T. Dibbler sells are mystic products "made from over fifty different rare spices and herbs to a recipe known only to a bunch of ancient monks what live on some mountain somewhere". Vimes (and the reader) dismisses this as his usual sales talk given the quality of the rest of his goods, but at the very end of the book, as we pan across the Discworld, there's a brief moment where two monks on a mountain at the Hub of the world prepare to send their latest shipment to Dibbler.
Brother Dunnikin's contribution to the first set of magical items for dragon-summoning is an amulet that supposedly protects him crocodile bites. The Supreme Grand Master sneers at buying such a thing in a temperate city. Later he misses a meeting of the Brethren because...he's been bitten by a crocodile. The Supreme Grand Master insists this is just a coincidence.
Call Back: As it opens, the book describes the state of the dragons, concluding, "Possibly the word we're looking for here is...dormant." Much later, the passage is repeated again, concluding, "Possibly the word we're looking for here is...angry.
Canis Latinicus: "FABRICATI DIEM, PVNC" the modern-day motto of the Night Watch. note It's actually gibberish, but Fred Colon thinks it means "To protect and Serve" and Vimes thinks it means "Make My Day, Punk". The old motto was Fabricati Diem, Pvncti Agvnt Celeriter, which means "Make the day, the minutes pass by quickly", but most of the mural wore away.
Chandelier Swing: A Discussed Trope; the tales the old guardsman tells young Carrot involve a lot of chandelier swinging, and later a group of guards ordered to arrest Sam Vimes worry that he'll turn out to be a swashbuckling hero and fight them all off while shouting "Ha!" and swinging from the chandelier.
Characterisation Marches On: Actually pretty understated compared to other first-in-the-sub-arc Discworld books. In fact some characters who had been introduced in earlier books (such as the Patrician, and maybe even the city of Ankh-Morpork itself) emerged from Early-Installment Weirdness into their recognisable selves. Vimes, however, is markedly different in this first appearance from his later self. Some of it is of course simply character development. But it's pretty startling to revisit a Vimes who has no strong opinions on the monarchy (rather it's Colon who rails against it), and leaves a fellow officer to fend for himself in a bar brawl.
Chekhov's Gun: The footnote about the nature of libraries initially seems like a one-off gag, but the Librarian later quotes the equation to himself and uses it to travel back through time to learn who stole his book.
Combat Pragmatist: Vimes, who is here presented as preferring a cleaver to a sword as a weapon.
Cool Sword: Carrot's sword. It hasn't got a name, it has no jewels on it; it's just a long piece of metal with very sharp edges. But in a magical land like Discworld, Carrot's sword is unique for not being magical at all. It is so non-magical it's realer than most of the Discworld. It's one of those things, like Death, where it simply is. Since most of Discworld is magical, and the sword is not, it's a hot knife through butter.
Invoked with the "royal sword" that the Supreme Grand Master had made for the king-to-be, but subverted in that it's crafted to only look cool, but is completely worthless as a weapon.
Curse Cut Short: All over the place. Special mention goes to Nobby's description of Colon's fall through a privy roof.
Decoy Protagonist: Carrot. Actually an unintentional example: Pratchett intended to make him the protagonist, but needed a voice in the city before Carrot arrived, threw the character of Vimes together out of clichés as a stop-gap, and he ended up taking on a life of his own.
Don't Tell Mama: One of the first things Carrot does on his first night on patrol is shame a bunch of bar-brawling dwarfs into behaving themselves by asking what their mothers would say if they found out.
Dragon Hoard: The dragon that takes over the palace of Ankh-Morpork demands all the gold for its hoard. Since Ankh-Morpork is a Vestigial Empire of gilded treasures and heavily diluted coinage, there's a lot of ugliness before the dragon is satisfied.
Drowning My Sorrows: Vimes, constantly. Colon explains that most men's bodies produce a bit of alcohol naturally, but Vimes was born "two drinks low," so when he's sober, he's really sober. The resulting clarity of thought makes him cynical and depressed, so he self-medicates, but as Colon says, he usually gets the dosage wrong.
Still later books have gone back to the numbers; the Century of the Fruitbat is the 20th Century.
Entendre Failure: Happens with Carrot admitting he "got a girl back home in trouble" (because she was a dwarf and he was a human), and that he stays at Mrs. Palm's brothel (which he thinks is a boarding house) every night.
Establishing Character Moment: Vetinari in the cell, Vimes' rant about the law to Lupine Wonse (or perhaps his earlier defence of Lady Sybil using one of her own swamp dragons as a handgun).
Fantastic Science: The equation that explains the Alien Geometries of Unseen University Library—not because it is magical, but simply because it is a library. "Knowledge = power = energy = matter = mass: a good bookshop is just a genteel Black Hole that knows how to read".
Genocide Backfire: The Dragon King orders the men sent to apprehend Lady Sybil to kill all of her swamp dragons, too. This attempt to eliminate the competition fails, because the thugs misunderstand their orders and assume they're just meant to threaten Sybil's dragons so she'll cooperate. Their failure to complete their assignment leaves Errol alive to complete his guts' transformation and defeat the King with a rocket-powered sonic boom.
The Palace Guards are absolutely terrified of Vimes because he is alone, unarmed, and smiling - the most dangerous kind of enemy to a henchman army. Subverted in that he actually is as little of a threat as such a person should be.
Grail in the Garbage: Carrot's utterly mundane sword. His aggressively, uniquely, powerfully mundane sword.
Groin Attack: Actually somewhat subverted. Since Carrot has a "Protective", people who try to knee him end up injuring themselves.
Also, Nobby kicks a troll "in the rocks" while it's down and nearly breaks his foot in the process.
Their attempt to hit the dragon's "voonerables", apart from being a Shout Out to the lore about a dragon's one vulnerable spot in The Hobbit, might be a Groin Attack, since that's what the characters tend to mean when they refer to a person's "voonerables". Unfortunately, if so, they were aiming for a spot that particular dragon was missing.
Colon: You know all about voonerables, Nobby. I've watched you fight.
Here There Were Dragons: Although the Discworld is still a magical place, the contrast is drawn between its sad little realistic swamp dragons and the noble dragon which laughs in the face of physics thanks to its magical nature.
Harsher in Hindsight once you've read Night Watch, and realize Wonse's memory of living in terror of the Cable Street Particulars is probably what the dragon found so horrifying, not just unspecified historical atrocities.
Vimes also gets this when he overhears a crowd of citizens rationalising away the idea of feeding their own people to the dragon, as Vetinari discusses with him later:
Vetinari: Down there are people who will follow any dragon, worship any god, ignore any iniquity. All out of a kind of humdrum, everyday badness. Not the really high, creative loathsomeness of the great sinners, but a sort of mass-produced darkness of the soul. Sin, you might say, without a trace of originality. They accept evil not because they say yes, but because they don't say no.
Also, this quote:
“I thought, in Nature, the defeated animal just rolls on its back in submission and that’s the end of it,” said Vimes, as they clattered after the disappearing swamp dragon.
“Wouldn’t work with dragons,” said Lady Ramkin. “Some daft creature rolls on its back, you disembowel it. That’s how they look at it. Almost human, really.”
Vimes: “Listen, if anyone ever sets fire to this city, it’s going to be me.”
Hypocritical Humor: "But when I rule the city, the Supreme Grand Master said to himself, there is going to be none of this. I shall form a new secret society of keen-minded and intelligent men, although not too intelligent of course, not too intelligent. And we will overthrow the cold tyrant and we will usher in a new age of enlightenment and fraternity and humanism and Ankh-Morpork will become a Utopia and people like Brother Plasterer will be roasted over slow fires if I have any say in the matter, which I will."
I Cannot Self-Terminate: "Help. Me." To the head of the Guild of Assassins. There's only one sort of help he can give...
Impossible Insurance: Dibbler promises that his "dragon protection" cream will save you from being burned to death by dragon flame, and if it doesn't work then you get your money back (upon personal application only).
Ironic Echo: When Vimes tries to get through the Palace Guard, a Guardsman called Clarence calls him "Captain Slimes" and then, after Vimes evenly corrects him to "Vimes with a Vee" then repeatedly refers to him as "Captain Vimes with a Vee" in a supercilious fashion. When Vimes later interrogates Clarence from a position of power, he calls him "Clarence with a C".
Just Like Making Love: Vimes refers to some particularly weak coffee as "love-in-a-canoe" coffee. The standard punchlinenote (it's fucking close to water) is omitted.
Karma Houdini: Elucidated Brethren member Brother Fingers escapes the dragon's attack on their headquarters, and later escapes from the Watch by sheer terror.
"Every time he seemed to be getting anywhere he spoke his mind, or said the wrong thing. Usually at the same time."
Lawful Stupid: Carrot to the nth degree, although the fact that he can knock out trolls means there's not much the hardened criminals can do about it. He wises up in later books, but finds it useful to keep pretending he's like this.
Made of Explodium: The swamp dragons are very prone to exploding because of their digestive processes.
Malaproper: Colon repeatedly mixes up the phrase "You're history" with other educational fields.
Nobby, talking smack to the Palace Guards, comes up with things like "doggybag", "doucheballs", and "slimebreaths". Oh, and "motherbreath".
The Meddling Kids Are Useless: The Watch end up being superfluous during the Dragon's takeover of the city, and it is implied that Vetinari was already aware of Wonse's plot. How much control Vetinari had is debatable, however, as Vimes does save him from Wonse's attempt to kill him.
Medical Monarch: Pärodied when a group of royalists start claiming the King will right all wrongs, Vimes demands to know what wrongs the people of Ankh-Morpork are suffering. Someone comes up with "premature baldness", and another instantly replies "Ah, kings can cure that, you know."
Metaphorgotten: Immediately after isolating that the city is like a woman, a drunken Vimes digresses: "Roaring, ancient, centuries old," - before describing how it strings you along only to kick you in the teeth and so on.
Mind Screw: Vimes wonders how Vetinari can still claim to be in control when he's locked in a cell. Vetinari invites him to look at the cell door (a heavy iron one with many bolts), really look at it. It takes Vimes a minute before he sees it:
Vimes stared at the door until his eyebrows ached. And then, just as random patterns in cloud suddenly, without changing in any way, become a horse's head or a sailing ship, he saw what he'd been looking at all along. A sense of terrifying admiration overcame him. He wondered what it was like in the Patrician's mind. All cold and shiny, he thought, all blued steel and icicles and little wheels clicking along like a huge clock. The kind of mind that would carefully consider its own downfall and turn it to advantage.
It was a perfectly normal dungeon door, but it all depended on your sense of perspective.
In this dungeon the Patrician could hold off the world.
Mooks: The dedication makes it clear that this book was intended to subvert the idea. But Terry liked the Watch too much to let them go after one book, and the rest is history.
He said (in The Art of Discworld), "I wanted to give them a moment in the sun, but it turned out to be a full tropical holiday."
Mugging the Monster: A relatively rare example from Discworld where the monster is notAngua. The first two times the dragon appeared, it was in the Shades. People tried to mug it the first time and the second time it accidentally saved the Watch from getting mugged, scaring the crap out of them in the process.
Subverted by Carrot's highly uneventful trip to Ankh-Morpork from the mountains; every would-be bandit who gets a look at him immediately backs down.
Myopic Architecture: Vetinari is revealed to have done this on purpose: while the lock to the palace dungeon is on the outside, the locking mechanisms are on the inside. Would-be usurpers throw him in the dungeon expecting it to serve as an oubliette; instead, it's an impregnable fortress that he can "escape" at his leisure.
Naïve Newcomer: Carrot, though he's not really an audience surrogate because, at least if the readers have read the previous books, they already know most of the stuff about Ankh-Morpork he writes home about.
Never Forgotten Skill: Sgt. Colon claims shooting a longbow is like "riding something you never forget being able to ride," while having terrible problems even drawing his bow, let alone aiming. In reality archery is most definitely NOT a case of this, it requires constant practice to keep your hand in. (The main reason crossbows became so much more popular.)
No Name Given: The Big Bad's stand-in "king" is never named. Lampshaded when a minor character assumes his name is "Rex Vivat" ("Long Live the King") because he keeps seeing the phrase on banners.
Obstructive Bureaucrat: Vetinari of all people, who has not yet come around to the usefulness of Vimes and spends most of their early interactions carefully stomping out the watch's investigations.
“But there’s the footprints, sir,” said Vimes doggedly.
“We’re close to the river,” said the Patrician. “Possibly it was, perhaps, a wading bird of some sort. A mere coincidence,” he added, “but I should cover them over, if I were you. We don’t want people getting the wrong idea and jumping to silly conclusions, do we?” he added sharply.
Colon: "You don't use the 'M' word. Gets right up his nose, sir. He can't help it, he loses all self-control. Like a red rag to a wossname, sir. 'Ape' is all right, sir, but not the 'M' word. Because, sir, when he gets angry he doesn't just go and sulk, sir, if you get my drift. He's no trouble at all apart from that, sir. All right? Just don't say monkey. Ohshit."
The Password Is Always Swordfish: Double subverted. When one of the Supreme Grand Master's conspirators is trying to get into their meeting, he has to exchange a long string of non sequitur Spy Speak to get in the door. However, these are apparently so generic that he manages to get quite a long way in before realizing one of them doesn't match up and they realize he's got the wrong address, and is trying to get into a completely different secret society. Furthermore, when he does have the right place, it turns out one of the people belonged to the other society, but no one had noticed until they said their society's name.
Pet the Dog: The villainous Supreme Grand Master (a.k.a. Lupine Wonse) does one nice thing in the whole book. After the summoning magic consumes Brother Dunnikin's anti-crocodile amulet (see Brick Joke, above), Brother Dunnikin moans that it cost him three dollars. On finding out that Brother Dunnikin has been bitten by a crocodile and being told that the Brethren are having a whip round for him, the Supreme Grand Master asks to be put down for three dollars.
Posthumous Character: "Leggy" Gaskin, who was killed shortly before the start of the book and we first meet Vimes on the way back from his funeral.
Prophecy Twist: Near the start a character briefly mentions (and dismisses) a prophecy that "Yea, the king will come bringing Law and Justice, and know nothing but the Truth, and Protect and Serve the People with his Sword". Although hardly anyone notices, the prophecy is fulfilled exactly. Note that the prophecy doesn't actually say he'll take the throne.
The Reveal: Wonse is the Supreme Grand Master and The Place Where the Dragons Went is actually the human imagination.
Secret Handshake: The Supreme Grand Master notes to himself that the members of the Brethren are "the sort to dislocate their fingers with even the simplest secret handshake".
Serious Business: The Librarian considers the theft of a book to be a worse crime than murder. Of course, it isa magical book that allows one to summon dragons, but it's implied that all librarians feel this way about all books.
Traveling through L-Space is also not taken lightly. There are specific rules that librarians can't ignore.
Shaped Like Itself: A description of the streets of Ankh-Morpork at night includes "thieves thieved" and "assassins assassinated."
There are at least two shout-outs to Casablanca as well: the line "Of all the cities in all the world it could have flown into, he thought, it's flown into mine," and "Here's looking at you, kid," the last line Vimes speaks in the book.
Also The Man Who Was Thursday, G K Chesterton's story in which all members of an anarchist group are progressively revealed as secret policemen of various descriptions.
M.C. Escher is mentioned by name (see Alien Geometries) and his work Reptiles is alluded to in the prologue, which states that the Place Where The Dragons Went is similarly packed so tightly with dragons that if you look carefully at it, the space between each dragon is another dragon.
Carrot cries "All for one!" when he charges off to help save Lady Sybil, to Colon's and Nobby's puzzlement.
Carrot himself can also be seen as an Expy of d'Artagnan, with Colon, Nobby and Vimes as the Musketeers.
Various royalty-centric Fairy Tales are alluded to by the populace scraping together all they know about kings.
Sidetracked by the Analogy: After the above example of Dissimile, Vimes changes the subject, but Colon responds with little enthusiasm because "He was still wondering about his superior officer’s sex life."
Smug Snake: The Supreme Grand Master, a.k.a. Lupine Wonse, who vastly overestimates his own power in summoning and controlling the dragon, not to mention the fact that he thought he could do a better job running the city than Vetinari.
Spy Speak: Very prevalent among the numerous secret organizations apparently, leading to more than one humourous misunderstanding.
Real dragons are the size of dogs... and so chemically combustible that they tend to blow themselves up rather than burn villages down.
Standard Hero Reward: Subverted. All the dragon slaying heroes insist on this for slaying the dragon, but Vetinari makes it clear there is no princess and this is not a kingdom. He does have an aunt, though. And a dog.
Double Subverted, though, if you think hard about what Vimes eventually gets as a result of this book. Namely, the hand of a duchess (if not a princess), and becoming one of the wealthiest men in the city, if not actually owning half of it.
Arguably he does own half of it; He's the Duke of Ankh, which is half of the composite city of Ankh-Morpork
This trope got double subverted earlier, if you consider what the fellow ( Errol) who really defeated the King got out of the deal. Granted, they didn't bother to take half the kingdom, but she'd already found out that Ankh-Morpork's idea of "gold" wasn't worth hoarding, and they could hardly bring half a city along when they flew away, perhaps to join Errol's distant relations on the Moon.
Summon Bigger Fish: Vimes catches Wonse planning to summon another dragon to fight the first one.
Sword of Plot Advancement: Subverted, of course. The fake heir to the throne has an incredibly shiny sword covered in gems and doesn't really do him much good, while Carrot's aggressively non-magical, completely sword-like sword can cut through pretty much anything (including the shiny sword).
Time Travel: How the Librarian eventually discovers who stole his book. He is able to do this because all libraries are interconnected through L-Space and he is able to find the paths connecting the Unseen University Library to any other... including the Unseen University Library of two weeks ago.
Trail Of Breadcrumbs: The Librarian does this when navigating through L-Space with a big ball of string. He ties one end to his desk in the middle of the Library... and when he reaches his destination, the same place but two weeks ago, he ties the other end to his two-weeks-younger desk with his two-weeks-younger self sleeping behind it. Try not to think about this too much.
Welcome to the Big City: Carrot's arrival in Ankh has elements of this; he doesn't get robbed himself, but he doesn't cope well with the idea that theft is legal (and that the Watch are probably closer to criminals than the Guild of Thieves is). Although he's so naive he doesn't notice the prostitution, even when he's staying at Mrs Palm's.
What Happened to the Mouse?: Vimes "being brung low by a woman" as part of the backstory for his alcoholic state is not referred to again, even though later books explore his earlier life some more and make more than one Continuity Nod to other elements from this book (such as Leggy Gaskin).
The Watchmen might think that Vimes was referring to an actual woman, but considering that Vimes referred to Ankh-Morpork as a woman at least twice earlier in the book, the "woman" may have been there the entire time.