Men at Arms Discussion **Spoilers**

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Men at Arms Discussion **Spoilers**

Postby Tonyblack » Mon Oct 03, 2011 10:00 am

**Warning**

This thread is for discussing Men at Arms in some depth. If you haven’t read the book then read on at your own risk – or, better still, go and read the book and join in the fun.

For those of us that are going to join in the discussion, here are a few guidelines:

Please feel free to make comparisons to other Discworld books, making sure you identify the book and the passage you are referring to. Others may not be as familiar with the book you are referencing, so think before you post.

Sometimes we’ll need to agree to disagree – only Terry knows for sure what he was thinking when he wrote the books and individuals members may have widely different interpretations – so try to keep the discussion friendly.

We may be discussing a book that you don’t much care for – don’t be put off joining in the discussion. If you didn’t care for the book, then that in itself is a good topic for discussion.

Please note: there is no time limit to this discussion. Please feel free to add to it at any time - especially if you've just read the book.

And finally:

Please endeavour to keep the discussion on topic. If necessary I will step in and steer it back to the original topic – so no digressions please!

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Men at Arms by Terry Pratchett
Originally published 1993


Image

Captain Samuel Vimes is leaving the Watch to get married and become a gentleman. Who will be the new leader of the all new multi-species Night Watch? And what about the plot to get rid of the Patrician and replace him with a king? Of course there’s also a deadly weapon on the street, several unsolved murders and the trolls and dwarfs are ready to fight the Battle of Koom Valley (or was it an ambush?) right there in Ankh-Morpork!

Maybe now is not the best time for Sam Vimes to leave the Watch after all.
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There’s ten years between the publication of this book and the last one we discussed (The Wee Free Men) and a further ten years since the publication of the first Discworld book (The Colour of Magic). Ankh-Morpork and Discworld are really becoming recognisable as the places we know and love.

But this is actually only the second Watch book. Only the second time we read about Sam Vimes, Carrot and the rest of the Watch (even if one or two had made cameo appearances in other books). Some of the characters – Vimes and Carrot in particular, have come a long way and developed considerably since Guards! Guards! Indeed, Carrot seems to change before our very eyes in this book.

I enjoyed rereading it. :)

But what did you think of it?
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Want to write the introduction for the next discussion (Hogfather)? PM me and let me know if you’d like to – first come first served. :wink:
"Goodness is about what you do. Not what you pray to."
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Postby raisindot » Mon Oct 03, 2011 1:06 pm

Yay! I'm get to be the first commenter here.

While as a story MAA is a very well written tale, as a die-hard Vimes fan, I find it to be the least satisfying of the Guards series. Mainly because this is a really a Carrot story. While Vimes spends most of the book contemplating retirement (and falling off the wagon), Carrot is the main "case-solver" here. Vimes only really comes in an the end.

Looking at the Guards series as a whole, it seems here that Pterry was initially thinking that Carrot would become the main character in the series. Hence, here is much more than the innocent "teenager" of Guards! Guards! Although he still possesses a great deal of his childlike qualities (particularly in his letters to home), you get the sense here that there is a far keener intelligence and shrewdness lurking behind his surface cluelessness.

Vimes himself bears almost no resemblance to the future "super-guard" Vimes. He doesn't solve the crime, and nearly all of his actions are guided by Carrot. Indeed, Carrot determines his future for him.

The story itself is very convoluted, and I needed to read it several times to fully understand the plot. And while some of the side stories, while very funny (the Detritus/Cuddy scene in the Pork Futures Warehouse is one of my favorite in all of the Guards books), they don't integrate as well into the main story.

What is interesting here is at the end Pterry was a point where he needed to make a decision about future books: Should Carrot, now promoted to Captain, become the main 'detective,' with Vimes in a superior but supporting role, or should Vimes become the main character?

We get the answer in "Feet of Clay," where it became clear that Vimes would become the focus of narrative development in future books.
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Postby Jan Van Quirm » Mon Oct 03, 2011 3:25 pm

I haven't had much time for reading lately but I did start this and the main thing on re-reading that I noticed is that we lose the teaser aspect of where Angua fits into the new positive discrimination angle for Watchperson recruitment and whether it's just that she's a w... oman rather than a w... hatweknowsheis if we're reading it all again. :lol:

However, I did like getting to know Angua getting to know Carrot and the way she's alternately teasing/flirting and lusting/admiring with his krisma and the dichotomy between his naiviety and his instinctive justice and moral rectitude (or 'rightness' in the basic natural-born king of the urban jungle thingie :P ) :twisted:
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Postby SimsKatie » Mon Oct 03, 2011 5:27 pm

raisindot wrote:While as a story MAA is a very well written tale, as a die-hard Vimes fan, I find it to be the least satisfying of the Guards series. Mainly because this is a really a Carrot story. While Vimes spends most of the book contemplating retirement (and falling off the wagon), Carrot is the main "case-solver" here. Vimes only really comes in an the end.

Looking at the Guards series as a whole, it seems here that Pterry was initially thinking that Carrot would become the main character in the series.

...

What is interesting here is at the end Pterry was a point where he needed to make a decision about future books: Should Carrot, now promoted to Captain, become the main 'detective,' with Vimes in a superior but supporting role, or should Vimes become the main character?


It might not be entirely deliberate, but I think it works thematically. Vimes IS being replaced by Carrot and the new or younger recruits. That's what retirement is all about, something Vimes himself talks about. It's a passing of the torch both internally and externally.
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Postby Tonyblack » Mon Oct 03, 2011 5:50 pm

I think that Vimes, when faced with never being a Watchman again, realises just how much the job means to him. Vetinari's threat to take his badge comes as a real shock to him as I don't think he'd quite realised how much it meant to him.
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Postby SimsKatie » Mon Oct 03, 2011 5:57 pm

Tonyblack wrote:I think that Vimes, when faced with never being a Watchman again, realises just how much the job means to him. Vetinari's threat to take his badge comes as a real shock to him as I don't think he'd quite realised how much it meant to him.


Of course, even Vetinari doesn't realize it. It's the sum total of his identity really.
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Postby swreader » Tue Oct 04, 2011 12:21 am

I've always liked Men at Arms and at the same time felt vaguely unsatisfied with it. And the more I looked at it this time, the more I think that it shows quite clearly that Terry really hadn't originally planned a series of "Watch" books, nor had he quite figured out all the details of how they were to be structured. I think, also, that this is the beginning of Terry's use of the Watch books as serious political satire. This, I think, is the reason for some of the odd (and rather annoying) "mistakes" or errors in the book. After all, Terry hadn't written a Watch and/or Vimes/Carrot book for over six years, but this one picks up almost as if it takes place shortly after the time of Guards! Guards!. And that one was much more a pure comic novel--even though Wonse is used for a touch of serious business.

I think my first (mistaken) annoyance was that I thought -- this is Sybil's wedding, and she almost doesn't appear! But I belatedly realized that Terry is writing about the Watch not the Wedding. And I think Terry's just begun to see the possibilities of the satiric use of the Watch. Hence the title--and the fact that the "GONNE" plays such an important role--in fact an actual "speaking" role.

For reasons that are not clearly explained, Sam seems to have decided that he must leave the Watch when he gets married, though he obviously hasn't thought about just how much being a Watchman is central to his character. What I suspect is the real explanation for this oddity of character development is that Terry hadn't decided (or realized the limitations of Carrot) how to develop the Watch and who is going to be actually in command. I suspect that this explains why Carrot has such a major, non-comic role in this book, but never has a major role again until 5th Elephant (in which, I think, he's a disaster).

I agree, somewhat, with raisindot that this is the least satisfying of the guards series. Part of the problem, as he suggests, is that Carrot plays such a large role (and is "identified" as the long-lost King) in this book. It suffers from Terry's unsure development and change in the nature of his writing. But more about Carrot in another post.

One of the interesting bits in this book is the relationship between Cuddy and Detritus--and the fact that Cuddy is, I think, the only significant character from the Watch to be killed. In plot terms, whoever is guarding the Tower has to be disposed of, which almost means that Cuddy has to go. There aren't enough other members of the Watch to have someone else up there (because everyone else is needed to do something special, and Detritus simply wouldn't work). But I rather wish that Terry had left that relationship in the books. I liked Cuddy!

There are some small technical flaws, I think, that Terry hurries us past in the account of the murders. First, I doubt that an exploding dragon would cause such an explosion that it would shatter Vimes's office windows. And the whole business with d'Eath killing Beano (after apparently having made friends with him and found out about the location of Beano's room), then somehow hiding the body, stealing Chubby, setting him off, stealing the gonne, then disposing of Beano's body and putting on his clown makeup doesn't really work, once you try to work out the logistics. For quite a while, I didn't realize that the hole in the wall is the one outside the Assassin's Guild--not the hole between the rooms. Granted, they're both important, but one sees Terry's heavy hand a bit here.

Another oddity is Carrot's insistence--in the middle of forming up a "militia" to quell a major riot--on stopping to investigate his suspicion about the link between Beano and d'Eath. Granted, this is vital information in how the plot worked, but it is totally ridiculous that Carrot (who is in fact in command) stops to investigate this question before going off to quell the riot.

There is a good deal more I'd like to say about this book, and the characters--but this is more than enough for one post. :wink:
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Postby Tonyblack » Tue Oct 04, 2011 1:20 pm

Vimes reason for leaving the Watch seems to be like someone winning the Lottery. He doesn't have to work any more and therefore he stops without giving any real thought to what he'll do with his life.

One thing that he quickly realises is that he's a Watchman by nature and can't simply stop being one.
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Postby raisindot » Tue Oct 04, 2011 1:21 pm

SimsKatie wrote:
Tonyblack wrote:I think that Vimes, when faced with never being a Watchman again, realises just how much the job means to him. Vetinari's threat to take his badge comes as a real shock to him as I don't think he'd quite realised how much it meant to him.


Of course, even Vetinari doesn't realize it. It's the sum total of his identity really.


I think Vetinari totally realizes it, and does it in order to manipulate Vimes to realize how important being a copper is to him and convince him not to retire. His 'disciplinary' actions towards Vimes are probably the first real examples of mastery of headology.
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Postby SimsKatie » Tue Oct 04, 2011 9:05 pm

raisindot wrote:
SimsKatie wrote:
Tonyblack wrote:I think that Vimes, when faced with never being a Watchman again, realises just how much the job means to him. Vetinari's threat to take his badge comes as a real shock to him as I don't think he'd quite realised how much it meant to him.


Of course, even Vetinari doesn't realize it. It's the sum total of his identity really.


I think Vetinari totally realizes it, and does it in order to manipulate Vimes to realize how important being a copper is to him and convince him not to retire. His 'disciplinary' actions towards Vimes are probably the first real examples of mastery of headology.


When he talks to da Quirm about springs that can only be wound so tight, that's when he realizes it. He was certainly trying to manipulate Vimes before that, but he didn't really understand until then where his limits were.
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Postby Tonyblack » Tue Oct 04, 2011 9:35 pm

Vimes and the Watch are probably Vetinari's only hope of finding the Gonne and putting it out of action. He'd tried the Assassins and they hadn't destroyed it and he couldn't bring himself to destroying it. he seems to have tried to wind Vimes up enough to make him find and destroy it.

But sometimes even Vetinari gets it wrong. And getting it wrong nearly kills him later in the book. :)
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Postby swreader » Thu Oct 06, 2011 1:22 am

The problem with Carrot is that he begins and ends as a two dimensional character. On the other hand, Vimes, initially, appears to be a dumb, alcoholic copper, but he begins, in this book, to show depths of human complexity which Terry will ultimately mould into a heroic Everyman.

Carrot, originally, was intended, only as a comic figure—a bizarre combination of the quintessential hick, with a dose of Superman and just a smidgen of King Arthur, all stuffed into a dwarf mind that inhabits a six foot four inch body. It’s fun to laugh at him, but it’s impossible to take him seriously. Terry never allows him to outgrow that constricted perception, and consequently Carrot sees only what he wants to see—not what is really there. He is so blinded by his devout belief that everyone (human, troll, dwarf, werewolf, etc.) is really a “good chap” at heart that he becomes something of a bore.

In this book, he is used to provide us with necessary bits of plot information. But having no shadow, no ability to escape from the limitations of his dwarf need for simple rules, he lacks the ability to understand the complexities of the human soul. Carrot has no depths himself, and cannot conceive of others having mixed motives and acting for complex reasons. The closest Terry allows him to come to complexity is in that final scene with Vetinari where he insists that Vimes be made the Commander of a much expanded Watch and that he only be the Captain. The discussion between Vetinari and Carrot about kingship is as close as Terry gets to allowing him to develop into a three-dimensional character.

A related problem with Carrot is revealed here (and in most of his appearances). He is, so Terry tells us (again & again) liked by everyone, and recognized by most as the “missing heir to the throne”. That fact is supposed to give him a magical ability to attract love, to command obedience and to give him the capacity to lead wisely. Even Angua, by her werewolf nature, is as imperceptive of his failings as a dog is of its master's. Terry explains this by giving him “karisma” (as Colon calls it) when he stops the dwarf/ troll clash in their march on Short Street. But Cuddy & Detritus, speaking for the readers, acknowledge Carrot’s author-given ability to stop battles is not only beyond them --but it simply isn’t believable.

In fairness, I think Carrot is at his most complex in this book. He understands and does not condemn Vimes’s struggles with alcohol, his need to anesthetize his perceptions of himself and society, but Carrot lacks the capacity to really understand why. Carrot, in some ways, exhibits a striking resemblance to Voltaire’s Candide in that neither of them can see or acknowledge the presence of evil.

Terry uses Carrot to convey a good deal of necessary plot information in the book. The whole explanation of the initial death of Beano is left for Carrot to convey. And while Carrot providentially learns where the body of d’Eath is hidden (because Cuddy & Detritus stumble over it), there is no real indication that he recognizes that Dr. Cruces is the killer with the gun. I don’t think that Carrot ever understands human nature. Only a character lacking the ability to see, let alone understand human nature, could utterCarrot's by-word, “ Personal isn’t the same as important,” ! Without shadows within himself and lacking the ability to understand them in others, the picture of this character is flat—almost a caricature.
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Postby LilMaibe » Thu Oct 06, 2011 5:14 am

I think that's the old effect of one character starting to steal the spotlight from all others, while the others 'decay' to mere sidekicks so the one in the spotlight doesn't appear too perfect, all-knowing etc.
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Postby Tonyblack » Thu Oct 06, 2011 9:40 am

"Superman" is a good description of Carrot. Superman, the Man of Steel is almost perfect. He sees things very clearly in Black and White. Superman is at his most interesting (in my opinion) when he is his alter-ego, Clark Kent, because Clark has to pretend to be less than perfect. He gets to interact with humans who are less than perfect and that is when he is at his most vulnerable.

But Carrot doesn't even have that. He's Superman all the time. He can't take off his uniform and act like a normal, flawed human being because everyone knows who he is.

And that is what makes the character so flat. He can't get moody, or want to seek revenge, or get drunk or any of the other things that a normal human being can do, because he was created to be perfect and acting otherwise would be out of character.

So of course Vimes takes over. We all know Vimes. He's a familiar, identifiable, flawed human being with prejudices, weaknesses and vices. His character is far more flexible and therefore more interesting.

Angua, to a degree is the same. She makes mistakes, gets angry and doesn't like certain people. She constantly has to fight an internal battle to avoid ripping people's throats out.

Of the Watch in this book, Vimes, Angua, Detritus and Cuddy really shine out. There's very little character growth to be had with Nobby and Colon and none at all with Carrot.
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Postby DaveC » Thu Oct 06, 2011 10:21 am

Gaspode. I loved his being back in the DW universe after a five book break. :D

Cuddy was a real shocked as I loved the character and actually find less fault in Carrot than some people. I like that the everyday folk have some they can look to and know they can rely on him. I understand the switch to Vimes for better story focus, though.
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