Terry Pratchett Book Club: Snuff, Part IV

How do you convince the world that certain people aren’t vermin? With a stage, of course.


They unlatch the Wonderful Fanny from the barges behind her once all the goblins are through. Stratford shows up again; he and Vimes begin a life-or-death scrap that Vimes is losing when Stinky shows up and jumps the man. Stratford manages to get Stinky off and stomps him, leading Vimes to knock him out and tie him up. The ship gives a great lurch again and Vimes is knocked out as he’s tossed overboard. He wakes in the Quirm Zoo, where a few Quirmian Watch officers get him up to speed. Everyone is safe, but Stratford has vanished and goblins have been sent on—Vimes insists they get a boat to catch the one carrying them, and Acting Captain Haddock hears that Wee Mad Arthur has been picked up and is looking for Vimes. They all get on board a ship and chase down the ship carrying the goblins (and Stratford, Vimes presumes), which stops without a fight and offers to give up the man they’re looking for. They drag him to the deck; it turns out to be Jethro. Vimes threatens to have the ship impounded and its captain (whose name is Murderer) brought up on far more serious charges if he doesn’t say who paid him to kidnap Jethro and transport the goblins. Jethro asks to fight the first mate, who was cruel to him while he was prisoner on their ship.

Jethro lays the first mate out in one punch, and Vimes gets all his names for the next part of this journey; his quarry cannot run at this rate, so he decides to head back to his family with Feeney, aboard the Black-Eyed Susan. Vimes passes out as they chug through the night and wakes to find Nobby waiting on the shore and a temporary clacks tower gone up on Hangman’s Hill. Detritus is up at the house for protection; they’re still waiting on Fred’s arrival. Vimes goes up to the house to talk to Young Sam about milking goats and get thoroughly snogged by his wife, who is very impressed with his heroics. He asks her if she didn’t discuss this trip with Vetinari, and if, possibly, this entire trip hadn’t been his idea from the start, but Sybil insists that she can’t remember, plus they both look out for Vimes, so what does it matter. He takes Young Sam on a walk to see the new clacks, which is being manned by a fellow named Tony and Stinky. A young lady goblin has taken a shine to Nobby. Fred has been cured by a goblin who took the pot off him. Vimes finds Sybil in the rose garden. She tells him about having a conversation with Lady Rust, who tried to get her on their side. She’s furious that Lady Rust thinks they’re the same.

They watch the young lady goblin, Shine of the Rainbow, cook snails in front of Young Sam and Nobby, and Sybil suggests that perhaps this might be a good match for Nobbs. Vimes finds that Jethro has been made a copper by Feeney, and has word that more people are confessing to what happened to the goblins years ago. He heads down to the pub, where a local man tries to apologize on behalf of the community. Vimes doesn’t absolve them, but he does open a tab for them all evening. Then Vimes’s family get on the Roberta E. Biscuit to Quirm, and the barman winds up making a drink named after him (which Vimes actually has a few of), and he hears someone note that the barman isn’t the usual man on the boat. That man (Stratford) heads into the room where he assumes Young Sam is sleeping. Vimes is waiting for him. (Willikins made him non-alcoholic versions of the cocktail; he’s completely sober.) Stratford wants to turn king’s evidence, and Vimes agrees to take him to Vetinari. While Vimes shows Young Sam around Quirm, Sybil writes letters to all the right people and begins to change minds about goblins. Sybil and Young Sam head home and Vimes goes back to the manor. A big to-do is happening at the Ankh-Morpork Opera House as Vimes heads into the pub (now the Commander’s Arms), and waits.

Sybil presents Tears of the Mushroom, to play before the elite of the city. The Times runs a very poetic piece about the performance. Vimes opens a tab at the pub, but not before letting folks know that the magistrates are being brought up on charges, and that the goblins are their neighbors now and subject to the same laws. Miss Beedle hugs Vimes and thanks him. The Colonel Makepeace approaches, nervous about what will become of his wife, but Vimes tells him not to worry too much and that she probably won’t serve time in prison. As Stratford is being transported from Quirm, he escapes, but Willikins is waiting for him: He’s believes that justice will only be served if Stratford dies, and gives him a chance to fight. Stratford doesn’t make it. Vimes goes to see Vetinari later on, and gets a talking to for creating and acting under laws retrospectively and generally causing a lot of headache for his boss. Rust’s son is going to pay hefty fines and be sent to Fourecks, which doesn’t make anyone happy, but is the best Vetinari can do without causing far worse problems down the line. Sybil insists that Vimes take another vacation in a few months, since this one barely counted. About a year later, they are invited to Emily Gordon’s wedding to an Ankh-Morpork pottery maven and her sister Jane dedicates her first book to Vimes: Pride and Extreme Prejudice.


So… how do we measure sentience?

The book lets you gaze down into a chasm here and form your own opinions about what happens. And I think the steps it takes are absolutely essential: Vimes is first. He believes that goblins are sentient probably from the point where he investigates that crime scene. The suffering is what tips him directly onto their side, and that’s consistent for him; people being hurt or derided or thought of as less than. Because he knows what that feels like, and has always felt it was wrong deep down in his bones.

Feeney is next because Vimes tells him to get on board. Sybil after that—because of the music. Everyone else after that… because of the music.

As with all moments like this in Pratchett’s work, the right thing comes from a bittersweet act. The sweeter side of this is the acknowledgment that art is very often what unites us, teaches us, motivates and connects us. Art is how we communicate, and one of the key markers of sentience as we know it. The drive to create for the pleasure and satisfaction of the act itself, and the need to connect with others through that act. It is how we know who we are.

But the bitter is the inverse thought: that someone should have to prove their sentience through an act of personal creation. That without the ability, the chance of any laws being quickly passed to assure their protections and rights could never exist in the first place. Because people know that the emotional appeal is always more successful; we’re emotional beings and that’s what we respond to.

Technically—and this is even more important—Felicity Beedle and Jethro Jefferson were first before Vimes. Felicity because she lived among them; she is part of them. She knew that teaching music to goblins would be an avenue of salvation because she was forced to bend to humanity’s rules. And Jethro was willing to stand for them from the beginning. He was the only one, and he was only a kid when he did it. The instant that he was mistreated by those with power, he recognized that hierarchy was a sham, and it changed his entire outlook on life.

The resignation Vimes holds in his heart for people, the wish (and fervent hope) that we were all better, and the knowledge that we’re often not, is perhaps one of the most devastating tools of the Watch books. Sam Vimes doesn’t believe that people can be perfect, but he does believe in them. Which makes his disappointment that much harder to bear. As he says to the locals at the pub when one of them tries to explain why none of them stopped the magistrates from shipping the goblins away:

“You could have done something. You could have done anything. You could have done everything. But you didn’t, and I’m not sure but that in your shoes I might not have done anything, either. Yes?”

Because that’s the other ugly truth in all of this: Vimes knows that what drives him to action are what he perceives as great injustices. He also knows that he’s in a very unique position to solve them. Which makes it a lot easier to do something about it when he comes across them. So he knows the people of the Shires were wrong, but he also knows that without his specific outlook and his helpful rank(s) and his enormous piles of wealth and his connection to an ancient force… he might as well be another face in that crowd. There was one of Jethro and an endless supply of everyone else.

And then he gets home and still gets a talking-to from his boss because he did pretty much everything here completely outside the book. Though, in honesty, I think that Vetinari’s real problem is that Vimes did exactly what he wanted in not entirely the best way possible, making his cleanup harder than he would like, and that Vimes also has assets like Sybil to call upon when everything seems impossible.

Be fair, Havelock, they’re all ultimately your assets at the end of the day. You’re just cranky about the crossword.

But the real check-in is about Stratford in their meeting. In truth, Vetinari is right that Vimes cannot and should not count upon retroactive law in the future because that is a slope so slippery it’s coated in oil and ice, but the murder is what matters most. He needs to be certain that Vimes did not seek revenge against Stratford because that wouldn’t be a clever loophole that he exploited just this once. It would be a betrayal of the clear line they’ve drawn to keep each other accountable all these years. And because Vimes did not cross it—and never truly intended to, importantly—Vetinari lets him go with a warning that he’s about to get written into the history books again. Their checks and balances remain true, and boy are they grumpy about it. And pleased about it. They’re weird like that.

With this book we have the last Watch tome. This is one of the few books that makes a significant jump in time when compared to the rest, and that we can see how different some of the characters are, in ways superficial (Vimes trading snuff for smoking most of the time and trying his best to eat healthy for Sybil’s sake) and profound (Vimes is so comparatively relaxed in his book? and so is Vetinari, at least professionally when he’s in front of people he trusts). A nice way to see this group off.

Asides and little thoughts

  • Okay, “Stinky don’t need no badges” as a riff on “We don’t need no stinkin’ badges” from The Treasure of the Sierra Madre is not where I was ever expecting that to go, but that’s on me, I should have seen it coming.
  • The Rue de Wakening? Are you kidding me?
  • Love the idea of Nobby finding a goblin partner. And I hope Fred internalizes a few things from this experience? In a longterm way.
  • With relevance to the time jump, I feel like we need to talk about the horniness of this book. Because we deal a lot with bodily functions and the rest, but this book is also the only one where Vimes and Sybil are all over each other at points? And it’s so cute? And this might just be down to comfort at writing it, but I like to think that Pratchett is subtly telling us all that some folks get more sensual with age and it’s good actually.


For a moment he thought he saw a naked marble lady tumbling with the debris and clutching her marble shift as if defending the remains of her modesty from the deluge.

He’d heard the crack of bones even while airborne, and so what hit Stratford was the full force of the law, and its rage.

Captain Murderer would be orientated to the world as seen by Commander Vimes at Commander Vimes’s leisure.

“I might be made up of your subconscious mind and momentary case of muesli poisoning occasioned by a fermenting raisin.”

Lady Sybil leaned back with her shears poised, and regarded the rose bushes like a bloody-handed revolutionary looking for his next aristocrat.

It had been said by someone years before that to see Sybil Ramkin’s upholstered bosom rise and fall was to understand the history of empires.

Only the horse, steaming patiently in the mist, saw what happened next, and being a horse was in no position to articulate its thoughts on the matter.

“You know, Vimes, sometimes your expression becomes so wooden that I think I could make a table out of it.”

We’re gonna take a short break and be back in the second week of July with another pause from Discworld—Dodger! We’ll read Chapters 1–6.

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