WOSSNAME -- MARCH 2005 -- PART 4 OF 5
- WOSSNAME -- MARCH 2005 -- PART 4 OF 5
12) SIMILARITIES: VIMES vs. PEEL: Part III
How Terry Pratchett Created Vimes and The Watch
-- Parallels with Sir Robert Peel and the Metropolitan
(continued from February 2005)
by Lucy Smith
As one of the many tools and strategies Pratchett
uses to engage the readers' interest, the most
effective and interesting is his use of diachronic and
synchronic parallels. Nowhere is this more apparent
than in his development of the Watch. For a first
example of the parallels it is necessary to examine
the initial state of the Watch, as a comparison to the
state of the Metropolitan police force when it was first formed.
Pratchett uses a brief exchange of dialogue in "Jingo"
to convey to the reader the views that Vimes' technical
social equals hold on his position in society. "But you are not
required to have big ideas, commander. You are a thief-taker,
nothing more." This extract shows the contempt Pratchett is
trying to convey that the aristocratic portion of society feel
This is paralleled in an extract from a website on Peel, in a
description given on the state of law enforcement in Britain
before the introduction of the Metropolitan police. "As home
secretary he (Peel) first tackled the organisation of London's
weak police-force (known as the Bow Street Runners). These
men were thief takers, and supplemented the activities of night
watchmen who were made up of old men and were no deterrence
to aggressive criminals."
It has been pointed out to me during my investigation, that in
"Night Watch" it appears Pratchett uses a diachronic parallel
in his narrative structure. This is between the aforementioned
"Bow Street Runners" and a particular branch of the "old" watch,
known as the "Cable Street Particulars". This possible reference
or tribute seems only to extend as far as the similarity between
the names, as in contrast to the previous description of the "Bow
Street Runners" the "Cable Street Particulars" are shown by
Pratchett to consider themselves above the law engaging in torture
and other immoral and illegal methods of obtaining their convictions.
Another area of interest I examined in relation to the parallels
between the Watch and the Metropolitan police force, was
the gradual introduction of the more modern aspects of the
police force, as the Watch themselves progressed in their
development. For example, the introduction of the modern
ideas such as ethnic representation within the force, as
paralleled within the Watch. Pratchett tackles the potentially
difficult area of race and racism in a clever way. The ethnic
minorities of the Discworld are not as they are in the real world,
being comprised of species such as dwarfs, trolls werewolves,
vampires and other imaginary creatures. This enables him to
tackle the concept of prejudice and discrimination without the
risk of offending any of his readers. "A troll and a dwarf. And
that ain't the worst of it."
This is one way Pratchett uses to highlight the existence
of prejudice within the Watch in an extract of the thoughts
of an "average copper" Fred Colon.
Another example of this is when Pratchett again uses, what
appears to be a preferred tool of his, the thoughts of Vimes
as a narrative perspective. During a conversation with the
patrician, Vimes thinks to himself, "The ones you told me I
had to have?... They weren't to go in the Day Watch, of
course. And those bastards in the palace guard wouldn't
take them, either. Oh, no. Put 'em in the Night Watch,
because it's a joke anyway and no-one'll really see 'em.
No-one important anyway."
This is also shown in the strong language used by Vimes,
as a heartfelt view on his part, the style of language bringing
forward the feelings behind the statement. These are effective tools
used by Pratchett, as they show the reader the bitterness Vimes
feels towards the other sections of the law enforcement agencies,
as well as showing the reader the reluctance of anyone, including
the Night Watch, to accept these ethnic minorities.
This was also true when the idea of cross-cultural representation
was first introduced into the police force, and as it turned out into
an institutionally racist area of government.
Pratchett draws on the synchronic parallels between the Watch
in its most recent state of development, and our modern police
force as it currently stands. This parallel is best highlighted in the
entry for the Watch in the "Discworld Companion". "Under Commander
Vimes and Captain Carrot the Watch is now a modern, go-ahead
police force consisting of some one hundred officers...Watch policy
(that is to say, Sam Vimes's prejudice) is against undue specialisation.
There is a small forensic and medical unit at the yard, and a recently
formed intelligence department...Finally, there is the very recent
Traffic Division..." This is undoubtedly a clear parallel with the modern
police force, and as many of the participants in my questionnaires
stated it creates a humorous link between reality and the story. This
is a way of enabling the reader to relate to the events in the stories
Among other parallels that have been perceived in Pratchett's work
are the humorous parallels between modern technological advances
in our world, and those made in the Discworld. Examples these
include "the clacks", semaphore towers that communicate messages
between the officers of the Watch, and bear a clear resemblance to
the police hand-held radio system now in use. There are also the
"iconographs" of speeding carts implemented by the Watch's Traffic
Division. These are pictures painted by imps in boxes, on top of poles
situated by the roadside. This again draws a synchronic parallel with
the modern speed cameras, which are in frequent use by the police
force. Pratchett effectively uses the fantasy creatures and magical
content of the Discworld, as a replacement or simulation of the
electronic and high-tech devices employed by the modern police
force. This increases the readers' amount of understanding and
empathy with the events, places and characters in his stories,
as it allows them a clear area of comparison, and enables them
to relate to this world of fantasy, while also being aware the fantasy
has a basis in reality.
One last comparison to be assessed is the comments made in a
piece on Peel and his achievements I encountered. "Despite a great
resistance at first to what was perceived as a breach or interference
of civil rights, Peel's Bobbies soon became a common and respected
sight in London and paved the way for the popular form of policing by
consent throughout Great Britain, and also throughout the emerging
'civilised' world." This is clearly, in respect to an accumulation of
evidence previously discussed, the strongest and most apparent
parallel encountered between the Watch and the Metropolitan
police force. It appears that Pratchett has effectively used this
direction and process of development of the Metropolitan police,
as a grounding basis for the development of the Watch. This is a
way of engaging the readers' attention to this process of development,
and therefore holding their interest and empathy, as the Watch
and its officers progress.
In conclusion, and in respect to my initial hypothesis on the
depth of the parallels between Vimes' character and Peel,
there appears not to be as much evidence of this similarity
as I first assumed. On the contrary, apart from the parallel
between the nicknames that the men, who are trained by
Vimes in Pratchett's work and the standards set by Peel
in the modern world, are known by to the public, the
evidence in fact indicated more differences and contrasts
between the two.
The more I researched into the two men the more evidence
I encountered that highlighted the contrasts between them,
in both social standing, and in their outlook on life. I can only
speculate on the notion that possibly Pratchett uses these
contrasting traits as a device to add texture and humour to
the development of Vimes' character, and to aid in the creation
of more opportunities for comedy by association. That is, that
people notice the initial parallel, and upon recognising a familiar
situation are amused when an unexpected aspect is introduced,
as a way to ridicule or send up the real life subject.
It is necessary to mention at this point that the opposite was in
fact true for the Watch and the Metropolitan police, as I researched
more into these parallels and as the development progressed,
I noticed more parallels became clear. Pratchett uses a fine
example of synchronic parallels, by allowing the development of
new technologies and methods of law enforcement in the Watch
to develop alongside and in sequence with the advances of the
modern police force. This assists the reader in suspending their
disbelief and becoming more empathetic toward the narrative as a whole.
Although my investigation of this area contradicted my initial
hypothesis I also discovered many other parallels that are used
by Pratchett. Not just in his creation of the Watch and Vimes,
but also in many other areas of his novels, from current events
to famous film scenes.
It would be most interesting, if I had enough time, to look in
more detail at other books and characters in Pratchett's work,
and to analyse the parallels he has created there also.
Unfortunately, as I discovered, the deeper you research into
these references the more of them you discover, as every reader
has a different perception and reflection on each comparison
depending on their own general knowledge and background.
Pratchett is, as his email shows, aware of this factor and the
effect it has on his work. There is strong evidence to show that
devices like the ones Pratchett uses are known to create reader
participation, which in turn increases the reader's enjoyment.
Much of the interpretation of his work depends on the reader's
subjective views and experiences. His effectiveness in using
the involvement of the reader as a literary tool to assist his
comical, and dramatic timing, is something I feel contributes
to the richness of his work. This is one of the many reasons
why he is seen as one of the most popular and respected
authors of the genre.
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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