Tuesday, February 06, 2007
What is there to say about Terry Pratchett? If you have read any of his Discworld books, then you know just about all you need to know about this one. If you haven't read any of his Discworld books, then you have missed the man who has inherited the mantle of P.G. Wodehouse.
Although, to be scrupulously fair, Pratchett's novels offer musings on ideas and issues more serious than whether Aunt Dahlia has pawned Uncle Tom's silver cow creamer. In this case, we are invited to consider the role of tradition and core values.
Thud! gives us Samuel Vimes as the main character. Vimes is one of the few truly good men in the entire Disc, a man who struggles to keep his corner of the world clean and honest. He is the head of the Night Watch, a ragged assortment of police officers who were once known for running after criminals, but not so fast as to actually catch them. Over the years, Vimes has created a Watch which does enforce the laws.
In this novel, Coombe Valley Day is approaching. This is the date marking the great battle between Dwarves and Trolls over a thousand years ago. There is no agreement as to which side started the fighting, nor is it clear who won. However, feelings run high and as the day approaches, the animosity begins to build. Citizens from the Dwarvish areas object to having a troll patrolman on the beat in their neighborhood. Vimes won't allow it--the Watch is THE Watch, and its members are officers, regardless of their race.
Suddenly, a dwarf is found murdered with a troll club nearby. The whispered order through the dwarves is "Don't tell the Watch. Vimes must not know, or he'll keep asking questions. . . ." Of course, Vimes does find out, and immediately starts asking questions. There is also a stolen painting of the Coombe Valley battle, which is said to provide a map to a buried treasure. Vimes ends up doing a bit of Da Vinci Code sleuthing and ends up in Coombe Valley.
In the end, the treasure of Coombe Valley turns out to be evidence that the Dwarves and the Trolls had come to make a peace treaty, but the leaders got stuck in a cavern and couldn't get out. The deepest down dwarves found out about it, and could not accept it--too much of their identity as dwarves depended on hating trolls. So the secret was to be destroyed, and the murdered dwarf was killed by his fellow leaders who objected to his plan to make the peace treaty public.
As always, the great joy of reading Terry Pratchett is his language. In a key scene, Sam Vines wakes up on the bank of an underground river where he has nearly drowned. The first thing he sees is a black hooded figure sitting on a folding chair. It is Death, and Vimes wants to know what he's doing there.
"You are having a near Death experience," Death says--Death speaks in all capitals, but I can't replicate that here. "Therefore, that means that I must have a near Vimes experience. But don't let me interfere. Do carry on; I have a book."
This is paraphrased, but is typical of the kind of cleverness that fills these books. At one point, Vimes comes upon unfriendly dwarves, but by then he has become so angry that he has had to miss his son's bedtime book, that he has gone literally berserk. The dwarves are stunned and frightened by this lone berserker warrior, who screams at them "WHERE IS MY COW? IS THAT MY COW?" The dwarves look at one another, as the berserker falls to his knees, pulls his hair and cries to the heavens "IT GOES BAAAAA. IT IS A SHEEP. IT IS NOT MY COW."
And really, that is very frightening when you think about it.