WOSSNAME -- FEBRARY 2005 -- PART 4 OF 5
12) SIMILARITIES: VIMES vs. PEEL: Part I
How Terry Pratchett Created Vimes and The Watch
-- Parallels with Sir Robert Peel and the Metropolitan
by Lucy Smith
The Creation of Vimes:
In our first encounter with the character of Vimes,
Pratchett portrays him as a stereotypical down and
out copper, a drunken useless part of a law enforcement
agency that is considered to be of no use to the city,
which it is supposed to serve.
This is in fact ironic as he is portrayed as loving the city
still even though it seems to regard him as of no use.
This is shown in his drunken ramblings on page 10 of
"Guards Guards", "The city wasa, wasa, wasa, wosname.
Thing. Woman...let you fall in thingy, love, with her, then
kicked you inna, inna, thingy. Thingy, in your mouth.
Tongue. Tonsils. Teeth. That's what it, she, did...
Only thing you were sure of, you couldn't let her go.
Because, because she was yours, all you had, even in
This strategy of introducing the character immediately
creates reader empathy with the character as it shows
that this character does indeed have a softer side, even
though it seems at the moment to be hidden under vast
quantities of alcohol.
The development of Vimes' character seems to progress
slightly with the entrance of Carrot Ironfoundersson, technically
a dwarf, who takes the laws of Ankh-Morpork somewhat too
literally, arresting the head of the guild of thieves on his first day
as a watch member. It is the introduction of this character that
seems to bring out the real policeman in Vimes, the two seem
initially to be almost complete opposites. Carrot, a naive new
recruit trying to uphold what he sees as a "fine tradition" of watchmen.
While Vimes is a disillusioned long time copper, who is just trying
to get through the night without having to sober up too much.
The contrast of these two characters make for much deeper reader
engagement in the plot of the story, as Vimes' stereotypical character
seems to develop on many levels. To coin a phrase from the author
himself, "Vimes starts out as a typical noir copper (although they're
usually private detectives): fighting the bottle, no real personal life,
a basically good man who has got a bit tarnished over the years.".
The evidence after that point seems to suggest that the introduction
of new characters forces Vimes' character to sober up, and allow
the good policing instincts underneath to shine through. Allowing
the reader to relate to the man's personal struggle, and his heartfelt
desire to be a good copper and put things right.
After the adventures in the book "Guards Guards" the profile
of the watch is raised and more people are willing to join.
This elevates Vimes' personal status, against his will, and also
the status of the watch as a functioning part of the city. Whereas
before events in this book the guilds of the city were left to police
themselves, now Vimes' watch are considered to be a neutral
law enforcement agency, capable of policing the city and routing
out any corruption they may find, including within various guilds.
By the time we get to the book "The Fifth Elephant" Vimes'
character has progressed a great deal. Although his social status
is now that of a duke, and he appears to be being groomed for a
more political role in the inter-country relations, his character is
still portrayed as a cynical if somewhat more diplomatic policeman.
The reader can still empathise with the man being somewhat
attached to his social roots.
It is in this story the reader is introduced in more detail to the
side of Vimes' character that he refers to as "The Beast". This, quite
simply, is the part that every one has inside them and that we all try
to control. These are the raw, negative emotions that well up inside
us all from time to time.
"Make them stay wolves, said a little inner voice. The more time
they spent on four legs the less bright they'd become. A deeper voice,
ed and raw, from much, much further inside said, Kill 'em all!".
The description of this "beast" is given in a first person narrative by
Vimes himself. This narrative style outlines to the reader exactly
how Vimes feels about this part of his personality, from a personal
perspective. Pratchett also uses this technique to covey to the reader
how Vimes uses his "beast" to his advantage when in dangerous
situations. Yet he still fears what could happen if it took over and
Pratchett also shows Vimes' wife's view of his personality, and how
it differs greatly from Vimes' own and the views of other characters.
She perceives him as much gentler, yet she too ponders on his true
capabilities if the part of him he refers to as the beast ever gets out.
"Most of her would not have considered Sam Vimes guilty of murder,...
But stories did get back to her...There'd been that bad business with
that little girl and those men over at the Dolly sisters, and when Sam
had broken into the men's lodging he found one of them had stolen one
of her shoes, and she'd heard Detritus say that if he hadn't been there
only Sam would have walked out of the room alive.".
This device of bringing in other characters views of Vimes, and using
stories to deepen his character, increases reader empathy to an even
greater extent. The majority of readers will relate to this story of Vimes,
and his desire to let the "beast" loose on these men. Therefore they feel
that they have a greater understanding of his personality and how he thinks.
The final instalment so far of the development of Vimes' character
is seen in the book "Night Watch". This is where Pratchett uses the
comparative tool of showing the reader Vimes, not only in his current
stage of development, but also as young "wet behind the ears" new
recruit thirty years in his past. This literary tool Pratchett uses of
the two developmental stages of Vimes at a parallel to each other is
extremely effective in increasing the reader empathy that has already
been formed. This perspective of Vimes, before his lapse into alcoholism
and disillusionment at the effectiveness of the watch as an institution,
is seen from his own future self and told to the reader in the first person
perspective. This style helps to illustrate the extent to which Pratchett
has allowed Vimes' character to develop, and also explains to the reader
how Vimes became the man he is.
Vimes encounters his younger self and the reader hears his thoughts
on how he perceives himself back then, "Gods, was I ever that skinny?
He thought. Did I ever have that much Adam's apple? Did I really try
to polish rust?". This extract illustrates how Vimes' memory of himself
differs greatly from his real perception of himself, upon this initial
encounter in his own past. This is something a reader can relate to,
as they are able to identify with the concept that personal memories
of past events can often be misleading of the actual event.
Another example of the development of Vimes' character by Pratchett
is apparent in Vimes' realisation that his policing instincts, as he
perceives them in his older self, were indeed present in him when
he was younger. Pratchett illustrates this to the reader in the
following extract, "Do you recognise Ned? Said Sam...Only before
you came he said he thought he remembered you from Pseudopolis...
Can't say I recall him, Vimes said, with care....Well, Ned was
probably shorter in those days, said Vimes while his thoughts
shouted: shut up kid! But the kid was ... well, him. Niggling at
little details. Tugging at things that didn't seem to fit right.
Being a copper, in fact. Probably he ought to feel proud of his
younger self, but he didn't." Pratchett uses this self-assessment,
by Vimes, of his younger self to show the reader that Vimes'
instincts as a copper were always there, and that he is a
natural copper from the outset.
This is the final instalment so far in the development of Vimes'
character. Pratchett uses many different narrative tools and
strategies, to great effect in the creation and development of
Vimes. These devices all help to create greater reader empathy
with Vimes, and help the reader gain greater understanding of how
and why Pratchett chooses to develop Vimes' character in this way.
This particular tool is very interesting as Pratchett is using the
story of Vimes' initial experiences in the watch, seen from his
own perspective in his later life, to show the reader how his
own memories of his progression through life are somewhat
misconstrued. The reader will relate to this experience personally,
and see how this process is apparent in everyone's life, and that
personal memories are deceptive. Pratchett skilfully uses Vimes'
character in its past and present states to highlight that Vimes
was always a good copper, and it was just society's perception
of the usefulness of this role that created his disillusionment
with his position, and his resulting problems. This is indeed
effective as it provides a kind of send up of the history of the
civilised world, and its changing perceptions of the need for law
enforcement. It also provides multiple views on the effects this
change has, on those who work for this part of society and their lives.
The Creation of The Watch
As with the creation of Vimes' character, Pratchett first introduces
us to the concept of The Watch as a unit by using stereotypical
portrayal. This portrayal is of a dysfunctional law enforcement
agency, with low public confidence and even lower team morale.
The first narrative strategy Pratchett uses to achieve this is through
the narrated thoughts of recollection from the previous day, as
perceived from Vimes' own memory. "It had been a bad day for
The Watch. There had been the funeral of Herbert Gaskin, for one
thing. Poor old Gaskin. He had broken one of the fundamental rules
of being a guard. It wasn't the sort of rule that someone like Gaskin
could break twice. And so he'd been lowered into the sodden ground
with the rain drumming on his coffin and no-one present to mourn him
but the three surviving members of the Night Watch, the most
despised group of men in the entire city." Through this example of
the reminiscing of Vimes' character, Pratchett initially draws the
readers' attention to the societies view of The Watch and its men,
and how this has affected the men's opinions of themselves.
Pratchett also cleverly uses this section of narration to describe
to the reader the smallness of the group, and its effectiveness as a
law enforcement agency. The fact that there are only three remaining
Watchmen with no apparent family or friends illustrates clearly the
loneliness and poor status of the job. The point that, the very men
intended to be enforcing the laws of the city, and who risk their lives
for doing so with any enthusiasm, receive no thanks from society
as a whole is designed to engage the readers empathy with the Watch.
The concept that these men only gain resentment and hatred from
the people, instead of the praise they deserve, is yet another method
used by Pratchett to add to the readers' empathy. This causes the
reader to feel sorry for the men of the Watch, and encourages them
in wanting to learn more of their plight.
Pratchett then progresses the development of The Watch in their
first story, in a similar way to the way in which Vimes' character is
developed. The two develop alongside each other with the same
apparent catalyst to initiate the progression. Pratchett presents
this catalyst in the form of the character Carrot Ironfoundersson.
As with Vimes, it is upon the introduction of Carrott to the plot,
by Pratchett, that the changes begin. Pratchett uses Carrott's
seemingly naïve character, to contrast with the already tarnished
characters of Sergeant Fred Colon and Corporal Nobby Nobbs.
(continued on Part II)
If you did not get all 5 parts, write: jschaum111@...
End of Part 4, says my computer -- continued on Part 5 of 5
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