In this, the next episode after our seventh one, writer, performer and librarian Aimee Nichols talks with us about the ninth-but-one Discworld novel: Guards! Guards! Published in 1989, it kicks off the longest-running and arguably most popular Discworld sequence: the adventures of the Ankh-Morpork City Watch.
The Night Watch has seen better days: the Thieves’ Guild has made them all but obsolete, and with the recent death of Herbert Gaskin, their company has dwindled to just three: career Sergeant Fred Colon, former street urchin Corporal Nobbs, and perpetually drunk Captain Samuel Vimes. They’re shaken up by new recruit Carrot – a human raised (as far as possible) by dwarfs – who not only volunteered to join, but actually tries to uphold the law. But they’ll need all the help they can get as a secret cabal of resentful men are manipulated by a charismatic leader for an incredible purpose: to bring a dragon to Ankh-Morpork…
Vimes, Colon, Nobby and Carrot all make their debuts here, as do Lady Sybil Ramkin (in her biggest role), Cut-Me-Own-Throat Dibbler, Detritus the troll and the concept of L-Space, and both the Librarian and the Patrician feature prominently. It’s also the first Discworld novel set entirely in Ankh-Morpork, though after appearances in all of the previous novels it already feels like home. Even nearly 30 years later, Guards! Guards! feels incredibly relevant and funny, but it’s also weird to go back to Sam Vimes’ beginning when he still has so much evolution and redemption ahead of him. (If you’d like to head straight to the next book, just go back in time to episode one of Pratchat when we read Men at Arms with Cal Wilson.) We’d love to hear what you thought of Guards! Guards! – use the hashtag #Pratchat7A on social media to join the conversation! (If you use the…er…other number we’ll probably find you too.)
It’s time to step out of the Discworld again when we return from L-Space next month, when author Amie Kaufman will join us to talk about the first book of the Nomes: Truckers. As usual, if you want us to answer your questions on the podcast, get them in as soon as you can! Ask them via social media using the hashtag #Pratchat9.
Show Notes and Errata:
- You can follow Aimee (and by proxy, her dog Winston) on Twitter at @wordsandsequins, or check our her web site at aimee-nichols.com.
- You can read Aimee’s wonderful piece about the passing of Sir Terry on Medium.
- Get Smart was a sitcom created by Mel Brooks in 1965, starring Don Adams as Maxwell Smart, Agent 86 for the spy organisation CONTROL which worked to thwart various ridiculous villains, especially members of rival agency KAOS. Despite being highly trained in espionage and combat, Max frequently exasperated his professional and romantic partner Agent 99 (Barbara Feldon) and their boss the Chief of CONTROL (Edward Platt). One of the classic sitcoms of the ’60s, it contributed many famous catchphrases to popular culture in its original run of five seasons. It’s since been repeated many times, and spawned two film sequels, a short-lived revival/sequel series, and a surprisingly good film remake in 2008 starring Steve Carell and Anne Hathaway.
- Monty Python’s Argument Clinic sketch is…well, if you haven’t seen it, you should just watch it.
- “Incels” are so-called “involuntary celibates”, an online community of men who believe they have been unfairly denied sex by women. Jia Tolentino’s piece “The Rage of the Incels” for The New Yorker is a good introduction, but go gently – it’s unpleasant territory.
- “Thatcherism” is descriptive of the politics of the Conservative party of the United Kingdom, particularly under party leader and Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, from 1975 to 1990. They were a marked change from the period of the “post-War consensus”, in which the two major parties broadly agreed on things like state regulation and ownership of industries. Thatcher changed all that; she and her allies believed in much more economically-motivated conservatism, Victorian-style “family values” and British nationalism, and their beliefs under her Prime Ministership have left a huge mark on politics in the UK and around the world (not least in Australia).
- In case you’re one of the sixteen people who didn’t see James Cameron’s 2009 blockbuster Avatar, the Na’vi are 10-foot tall blue cat people who share a long tendril-like organ connected into their brain with many other species on their planet, including the dragon-like Banshees. They are able to connect these to other creatures to form a neural bond which…well, it’s not really explained what it does exactly, but it seems like mind control: the animals have to be forced to do it the first time, after which they become compliant, which is gross. Also, just going to leave this fact here – connecting braids is a significant part of how the Na’vi conduct, erm, the kind of thing that happens at Mrs Palm’s, so make of that what you will.
- Anne McCaffrey’s beloved book series, Dragonriders of Pern, is another alien-dragons-with-riders story, but on Pern the riders form a psychic bond with their dragons at the time of hatching, and the bond goes both ways. The first of the 23 novels in the series – some written or co-written by McCaffrey’s son Tom – is Dragonflight.
- Lord of the Flies is William Golding’s 1954 novel about a group of schoolboys who must fend for themselves on a remote island after a plane crash. They initially form a functional society but eventually fall into tribalism and a violent struggle for power, and “Piggy”, the nerd of the book – whose glasses were the boys’ primary means of lighting fires – is murdered by one of the other boys, crushed to death under a large stone. It’s considered a classic, but Ben hated it so much in high school that he wrote a limerick about it. Elizabeth, on the other hand, was such a fan that she read it multiple times and started the (now-dormant) group “I studied Lord of the Flies In High School – and loved every minute” in the heady early days of Facebook.
- Whizzer and Chips was one of the many anthology comics popular in the UK until the 1990s – they were full of one or two page strips featuring a variety of recurring characters. Whizzer and Chips‘ gimmick was that it was two comics published together; the characters (mostly kids) in each of comic formed a gang, and there was a rivalry between the two. (Ben considered himself a Whizz-Kid, but liked most of the strips in both.) Big Comic was a similar comic magazine that reprinted strips from other smaller comics.
- “The Trio” were the major antagonists in the sixth season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, comprising long-time supporting character Jonathan, Warren who had appeared in the previous season, and new character Andrew (though actor Tom Lenk had appeared earlier in a separate role as a background vampire henchman). Each was a geek with a different area of expertise in magic or technology; they decided to join forces and take over Sunnydale. Warren was the properly evil one Liz mentions, who dominated and manipulated the other two.
- In the Channel 4 sit-com Black Books, Dylan Moran played misanthropic drunkard Bernard Black, owner of the eponymous bookshop. In the first episode, Bernard offers the optimistic but anxious accountant Manny (Bill Bailey) a job and a place to live above the shop, but he has forgotten this by the next morning. Thankfully for comedy audiences everywhere, Bernard’s friend Fran (Tamsin Grieg) forces him to let Manny stay, giving us one of the great odd couples of modern television.
- “To Protect and Serve” was originally the motto of the Los Angeles Police Department. Its popularity from appearing in Hollywood productions has led it to be adopted by many other police departments around the world.
- Nobby doesn’t actually appear in the Going Postal telemovie – Aimee and Ben are remembering Nicholas Tennant, who played him in Hogfather, where Constables Nobbs and Visit appear in the toy shop where Death is playing Hogfather. He really does look perfect! (It’s not easy to find screen grabs, but we found a good one in this Czech film review.) Nicholas Tennant went on to appear in The Colour of Magic as the Librarian (both pre- and post-transformation).
- The Dungeons & Dragons image Ben is thinking of is the cover of the original 1978 Players Handbook (they left the apostrophe out on purpose), illustrated by David A. Trampier, who passed away in 2014. This article at The Dice Are A Lie talks about his life and the illustration in question.
- Rowan Atkinson played the mostly-silent, oddly childlike weirdo Mr Bean on television and in films for many years. Mr Bean’s adventures in renovation can be seen in the “Painting His House” clip on the official Mr Bean YouTube channel.
- Guards! Guards! is indeed the first appearance of Ankh-Morpork’s finest Arthur Daley-esque dodgy entrepreneur, Cut-Me-Own-Throat Dibbler, referred to by Vimes as just “Throat”.
- “How do you solve a problem like Maria?” is the main refrain from the song “Maria”, one of many well-known songs from the hit stage and screen musical The Sound of Music. It’s sung by a convent of Austrian nuns about the protagonist Maria, a younger wannabe nun whose frivolous ways lead them to send her away to be a governess, giving her time to decide if the convent is really where she wants to be. (Spoiler alert: it’s not.) The whole thing is based on the memoir of the real-life Maria von Trapp, The Story of the von Trapp Family Singers.
- The origin and debunking of the “bumblebees shouldn’t be able to fly” story are explained well by Australian science writer Dr Karl Kruszelnicki in this “Greatest Moments in Science” piece.
- The Golden State Killer is a serial killer, rapist and burglar who committed the bulk of his crimes in the ’70s and ’80s. In the wake of Michelle McNamara’s true crime book I’ll Be Gone In The Dark, the case received renewed interest. The killer was finally apprehended when police used a free public ancestry website to compare an old DNA sample to the site’s catalogue, narrowing down the pool of suspects to a single lineage.
- Aimee is correct: this is also Detritus the troll’s first appearance. Lots of good first-time cameos in this book!
- Vimes’s “Dirty Harry moment” mirrors the monologue from the original 1971 film in which Inspector Harry Callahan tells a bank robber he’s lost track of how many bullets he’s fired, and claims his .44 Magnum is “the most powerful handgun in the world, and could blow your head clean off”. The full dialogue is on the Wikipedia page for the film. As noted in the APF, the dragon’s name, Lord Mountjoy Quickfang Winterforth IV, ends with two “fours”, echoing the gun Callahan has in the movie. He’s a clever one that Pratchett. (“Go ahead, make my day, punk” is from Sudden Impact, the third Dirty Harry sequel after Magnum Force and The Enforcer.)
- The reference to 1942’s Casablanca – a classic war-time romance, whatever Liz might say – comes about 30 pages earlier, when Vimes thinks “Of all the cities in all the world it could have flown into … it’s flown into mine…”. This echoes the words of Humphrey Bogart’s Rick, who runs an American-style cafe in Casablanca, Morocco, just before the United States entered World War II. After his ex-girlfriend Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman) appears in his cafe with her husband, a Czech resistance leader wanted by the Nazis, Rick says: “Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine.”
- Liz’s suggestion for a new Sunshine Sanctuary references the 2001 comedy film Zoolander, in which “really, really good looking” but not very smart supermodel Derek Zoolander (Ben Stiller) wants to create the “Derek Zoolander Centre for Kids Who Can’t Read Good and Wanna Learn to Do Other Stuff Good Too”. He’s later shown a model of the proposed school, which he rejects; you can watch that scene here.
- Best in Show (2001) was the second of Christopher Guest’s largely improvised mockumentary films, following Waiting for Guffman. It features Guest, Eugene Levy, Catherine O’Hara, Michael McKean, Parker Posey, Jennifer Coolidge, Jane Lynch and many of Guest’s other frequent collaborators as the administrators and competitors in a dog show in Philadelphia.
- Danny the Pekingese – or more formally, “Yakee A Dangerous Liaison” – was the “Best in Show” winner at the 2003 Crufts, the most prestigious dog show in the UK. He was also featured in the BBC documentary Pedigree Dogs Exposed, produced by Passionate Productions, which investigated the health and care issues faces by pedigree animals, and highlighted the possibility of him overheating as one of many issues faces by his breed.
- Pugs are believed to have been bred in China, and first introduced into Europe in the 16th century. Thanks to a few famous personages of the day having their portraits painted with their pugs you can indeed see how different they looked back then; a good example is the self-portrait of artist William Hogarth and his pug, Trump. (Trump appears in many of Hogarth’s paintings, and has his own Wikipedia article.)
- Sorry Ben, but a “slug horn” is not a real thing. While Professor Horace Slughorn is the replacement Potions Master coaxed out of retirement and back to Hogwarts by Dumbledore in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, when he refers to a “slug horn” Pratchett is referencing Robert Browning’s poem Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came, which features the lines “I saw them and I knew them all. And yet / Dauntless the slug-horn to my lips I set”.
- Aliens from the same species as E.T., the alien protagonist of the Spielberg film E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, appear in the galactic senate in George Lucas’ Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace. This was to fulfil a promise Lucas made to Spielberg after Star Wars toys, including a child wearing a Halloween Yoda mask, were featured in E.T.
- Torchwood: Children of Earth was a special five-day television event in which the members of the alien-hunting Torchwood Institute – an adult and previously very camp spin-off from Doctor Who – were plunged into a serious battle with factions of their own government over the response to alien invaders. It’s by far the best season of the show and completely different in tone, so you could probably get away with watching it in isolation if you’re prepared to do a little googling about the main characters’ backstories.
- Sergeant Colon’s chant echoes the classic unionist refrain “The workers, united, will never be defeated”, which may have been inspired by “The People United Will Never Be Defeated!”, a piano composition by American composer Frederic Rzewski, which itself was based on songs sung by the people of Chile in the early days of their struggle against the oppressive regime of Augusto Pinochet.
- In Luc Besson’s film The Fifth Element, Leeloo is a newly-created adult human, made by aliens as an “ultimate weapon” in the fight against ultimate evil – but she has no knowledge of humanity, and learning of their history of violence nearly causes her to give in in despair. (She’s also a prominent example of the “born sexy yesterday” stereotype.)
- Rape Culture is a term that has been around since the ’70s to describe the normalisation of behaviours that both blame victims and downplay the severity of sexual assault. It’s impossible to explain succinctly, and many good articles have been written on the topic, including this one on the Huffington Post and this from Vox. It is worth mentioning, especially given the context of us including this in the show notes, many of the articles we went through while looking for resources specifically frame it in the context of women in relationship to men – e.g. “A Primer For Fathers”. Well intentioned, yes, but still a shame that a personal connection is seen as necessary in order to start viewing women as people.
- We were going to explain Liz’s Orient Express reference, but it gives away the ending to a murder mystery, so we’re going to go without spoilers. You can read or watch Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express to find out!
- Kanban is a scheduling system originally designed for manufacturing, invented for Toyota in Japan in the 1940s. Today it’s mostly used for “agile” or “just-in-time” development of software – terms we hope you never need to understand, so we won’t attempt to describe them. Kanban isn’t generally used for plotting novels, but if you look it up and try, let us know how you go!
- Scrivener is writing software for complex long works, sometimes used by screenwriters and often by PhD candidates. Ben’s limited experience with it has taught him an important lesson he wishes to pass on: do not use it in conjunction with Dropbox, because the two do not play well together.
- Anoia, “Goddess of Things That Get Stuck in Drawers”, is a deity mentioned in the later Discworld novels Going Postal, Making Money and Wintersmith, as well as The Compleat Ankh-Morpork.
- Maid Marian and Her Merry Men is, as you might guess from the title, a non-traditional retelling of the legend of Robin Hood created by Tony Robinson in which Marian is the real hero. Robin is a cowardly tailor from Kensington who accidentally ends up the public face of Marian’s “vicious band of freedom fighters”, which also features Barrington the Rasta (played by Red Dwarf’s Danny John-Jules), the not-at-all-ironically named Little Ron, and enormous dimwit Rabies. It ran for four series between 1989 and 1994.
- Tony Robinson’s storytelling series were Tales from Fat Tulip’s Garden and its sequel Fat Tulip Too, Odysseus: The Greatest Hero of Them All (which covered The Iliad and The Odyssey) and Blood and Honey (covering a variety of stories from the Old Testament). His Pratchett audio books – which include every Discworld novel, as well as the Bromeliad trilogy, the Johnny Maxwell books, The Carpet People, Dodger and, well, most of them – are all abridged versions.
- The unabridged Discworld audiobooks were originally read by Nigel Planer (of The Young Ones fame) until long-time Pratchett collaborator Stephen Briggs took over from The Fifth Elephant. Briggs also read Eric (which hadn’t been part of Planer’s earlier series), while the unabridged Equal Rites and Wyrd Sisters are read by actor Celia Imrie, best known for her comedy work with Victoria Wood and for roles in Bridget Jones’ Diary, Calendar Girls and The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. Unabridged versions of non-Discworld Pratchetts are often read by Briggs, but some have had other narrators, like the Johnny Maxwell series read by Richard Mitchley, and The Long Earth books read by Michael Fenton Stevens.