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Prequel Problems: Terry Pratchett’s “Night Watch”

Thande

Directly Elected Mayor of the Western Hemisphere
Published by SLP
As I said at the end, I regret that the tone of this one ended up being more negative than I intended or reflective of my actual opinion of the book.

edit: Also I think Gary's photo of Terry Pratchett may have been taken by a bloke I used to know on the Nitcentral forums fifteen years ago, which is a bizarre coincidence if so.
 

Hendryk

Nothing ever ends
Published by SLP
Location
France
That fantasy section is usually stuffed with overextended trilogies of eleven numbered books, getting more and more brick-thick as you go, and frequently starring characters that rip off Tolkien while missing the message of ”The Lord of the Rings”
I've always been something of a heretic in the geek community in that I think Tolkien is overrated anyway. As far as I'm concerned Pratchett is a way superior writer, not only in terms of literary skill, but also in terms of messaging. Tolkien's message, such as it is, is indeed easy to miss what with all the Wagneresque pomp and the manichean worldview that often allows readers to figure out where characters stand on the moral scale by how far they stray from Englishness. Whereas it's a lot more difficult to come out of a Discworld novel not having reached the conclusion that jingoism isn't a good thing, that people of different backgrounds and identities can and should get along with a modicum of goodwill, and that the world becomes a better place when we open ourselves up to new ways of looking at it.
 

DocU

'Legacy fan'
Location
South Notts
It's interesting - I'm also a massive fan of the Discworld (I'm currently re-reading the series as I tend to do every few years). I tend to agree that it was somewhat out of place in what had become the continuity, and some of the things jar (although my head tells me Sam Vimes had started smoking cigars by that point, so I wonder if the cigar case is from a previous novel, and the reference was missed out in error).

Personally, I've continued to take the view that whatever is said in the particular book I'm reading is the correct version at that time, mostly so I can enjoy the jokes and observations the story is the carrier for
 

Redolegna

Champagne Socialist
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Yet even if we look at the story purely from the view of a character study of Vimes, there are still issues with it. Easily the biggest of these is that Vimes has an arc in which he despairs, fears he will never get back to the present (or the present may cease to exist altogether thanks to Carcer’s actions) and needs something, a connection back there, to inspire him to carry on. He is constantly at war with ‘the beast’ inside himself (a working title for the book was “The Nature of the Beast”) and an important moment at the end is when he doesn’t kill Carcer but sends him to the hangman, the law overruling the beast. To return to this moment of despair, the History Monks give him that solid connection with the past, and it’s…a silver cigar case Sybil gave him, which was stolen before he woke up in the past. Now this sequence could have been very powerful, and I know some readers do find it so, so this is subjective. But I cannot get over the fact that this is an item that was never mentioned before this book, and by the time the sequence rolls around, I’d forgotten it was even mentioned at the beginning of this one. I realise that it would be a tall order to have established an item many books in advance for a purpose that couldn’t possibly have been foreseen, and it is possible to make the argument that it was established that Sybil had gotten Vimes on cigars as a substitute for his past alcoholism so it is a link to the present in that way – but it smacked too much of ‘remember this important McGuffin we totally just didn’t make up on the spur of the moment’ to me. I feel this could have been handled a lot better.
WRONG
 

Redolegna

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Most of it, but mostly that it is not a powerful character moment.

As usual, of course, we're reminded that our favourite Discworld novel is the same and that makes us want to violently disagree on something else.
 

Charles EP M.

Well-known member
Published by SLP
It's been a few years since I've last read Night Watch but I remember the Reg Shoe reveal really working for me - not that he was a past activist, that just seemed like "ha ha Reg Shoe", but that you learn the reason he's a zombie is he was betrayed & cut down. Suddenly he's not just a running gag but someone who meant what he said and was killed for it.
 

Redolegna

Champagne Socialist
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Carcer is evil Valjean
I strongly object to that.

Yes, in the sense that Valjean is facing Javert, but no, since the most evil Valjean was involved him reflexively stealing after spending nineteen years doing forced labour in jail (for a good deed!) while Carcer does crime because he likes to cause suffering. Since Valjean's entire purpose in life after his reformation is to be good and do good including at the cost of his own happiness on several occasions, evil Valjean is a contradiction in terms. Carcer is just evil and a criminal.

As for Javert, his whole point is that Lawful equals Good and when he is shown mercy by Valjean and understands there is more to life than this dogma, it breaks him. He writes a long letter pleading for more humaneness in prisons as a way to foster rehabilitation in convicts, then goes to commit suicide since he can't reconcile himself to having been wrong so long and with so damaging consequences. Vimes never needed to be told the law and good did not perfectly coincide. He's not a good Javert, he's just a good and dedicated cop.

It's been a few years since I've last read Night Watch but I remember the Reg Shoe reveal really working for me - not that he was a past activist, that just seemed like "ha ha Reg Shoe", but that you learn the reason he's a zombie is he was betrayed & cut down. Suddenly he's not just a running gag but someone who meant what he said and was killed for it.
Yeah, there a quiet and dignified tragedy to the character, but I don't think Thande's own view of revolutions allow him to see it.
 

Gary Oswald

Old and Foolish now
Sea Lion Press staff
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I strongly object to that.

Yes, in the sense that Valjean is facing Javert, but no, since the most evil Valjean was involved him reflexively stealing after spending nineteen years doing forced labour in jail (for a good deed!) while Carcer does crime because he likes to cause suffering. Since Valjean's entire purpose in life after his reformation is to be good and do good including at the cost of his own happiness on several occasions, evil Valjean is a contradiction in terms. Carcer is just evil and a criminal.

As for Javert, his whole point is that Lawful equals Good and when he is shown mercy by Valjean and understands there is more to life than this dogma, it breaks him. He writes a long letter pleading for more humaneness in prisons as a way to foster rehabilitation in convicts, then goes to commit suicide since he can't reconcile himself to having been wrong so long and with so damaging consequences. Vimes never needed to be told the law and good did not perfectly coincide. He's not a good Javert, he's just a good and dedicated cop.
Right but there's literal references to Carcer saying Vimes is after him for stealing bread.

It's a take on Les Mis with the motivations and audience sympathy switched so obviously characterisation doesn't line up but it's very much a Les Mis pastiche.
 

Redolegna

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Right but there's literal references to Carcer saying Vimes is after him for stealing bread.

It's a take on Les Mis with the motivations and audience sympathy switched so obviously characterisation doesn't line up but it's very much a Les Mis pastiche.
I suppose I object because to me Les Misérables is a novel before it is a musical and so the pastiche can never quite land. And we're told the bread line as a transparent lie by a serial murderer looking for some sympathy.

Javert never goes after Valjean for murder. Marius suspects Valjean of murder (Javert's), Thénardier thinks Valjean murdered someone (Marius) and it's when they confront each other that Marius realises that they're both wrong and Valjean is the one who saved his life.
 

Artaxerxes

Alexa, play the Pfizer Chiefs
Location
#VALUE!
A good story and but a bad prequel, so many characters brought up just to say "oh these guys knew each other long before Guards Guards, here are your favourites".

The city felt a little smaller as a result.
 

Ncw8

Like a Camelid in Wickwar
Patreon supporter
Published by SLP
Location
Baselland
It's been a few years since I've last read Night Watch but I remember the Reg Shoe reveal really working for me - not that he was a past activist, that just seemed like "ha ha Reg Shoe", but that you learn the reason he's a zombie is he was betrayed & cut down. Suddenly he's not just a running gag but someone who meant what he said and was killed for it.
It does spoil the part in Jingo where Reg is recruited into the Watch. At that point Vimes has to be told who he is, which really shouldn’t have been necessary given that young Vimes had met him in Night Watch. (Cue muttering about the Trousers of Time).

For anyone who’s interested, the Usenet group Alt.Fan.Pratchett did work out a timeline of the Discworld series. Though it depends upon Cohen getting caught up in the 15 year Lancre Timeshift in Wyrd Sisters.

And AFP also had an interesting discussion on the construction of the Clacks network (including a couple of posts by PTerry), that seems to have been triggered by one of my drive-by postings 19 years ago. God I’m getting old.
 

Lemon flavoured

A crass and dangerously inaccurate account.
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Of course the thing with the timeline is that its all easily handwaved by the events of Thief Of Time¹. Which is a cop out, but its one that is explainable in universe.

¹Which, as noted, takes place immediately before / overlaps with the start of Night Watch, so I suspect this cop out was entirely intentional.
 

Geordie

SEA LIONS ON MY SHIRT
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I find this a confusing read, because pretty much everything you say in this is correct, but I still really like Night Watch.

I don't know whether it was where I was (physically, mentally, emotionally, in my Discworld journey) the time I first read it; but it really appealed to be, and still does.
 
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