The Discworld series by Sir Terry Pratchett is pretty old; it started in 1983, ended in 2015, and has over 40 novels. The popular comedy fantasy takes place in a world that’s flat and rests on the backs of four elephants that stand on a giant turtle’s shell, as the turtle swims thro”ugh space. It’s amazing.
The series breaks off into mini-series that cover various facets. Discworld includes the City Watch series that looks at the city’s police force, the Rincewind series on wizards, the self-explanatory Witches series, and a series on Death (its personification). The series is a comprehensive exploration into a world that’s similar to ours, yet so far apart.
“If you did it for a good reason, you’d do it for a bad one.”
The largest city in this world is Ankh-Morpork, run by Lord Vetinari. The city’s police force, also known as the City Watch, is a rag-tag team of people that grew from a handful of working-class men to members from every species (including werewolves and trolls). The City Watch works less like a police force and more like a community, watching out for the citizens.
Sam Vimes, the captain of the City Watch, is not a dashing hero. He’s actually a recovering alcoholic. Lord Vetinari, rather than abolish crime, establishes guilds for it. Resulting in a form of ‘legalized’ organized crime, the City Watch becomes reduced to a joke, and Vimes turns to alcohol. The establishment of the Thieves Guild, for example, results in crime being acceptable, as long as you have a license for it. As the novels proceed, Vimes recovers from his alcoholism and spends his energy on the city.
“You couldn’t say ‘we’re the good guys’ and do bad-guy things.”
He’s a deeply cynical man and a very angry one. We see him battle with his anger, with his inner demons, in almost every novel. He fights constantly with his inner self, with his rage, and with his alcoholism. Despite this, he keeps a level head, refuses bribes, maintains the peace, and protects the innocent man.
Vimes is a perfect captain. His cynicism keeps him grounded, and in tune with the city. He recognizes dirty tricks and stays ahead of the curve. What I admire the most, though, is his ability to hold back. Even at his angriest, he would never willingly hurt another creature, especially if he’s in pursuit. Our police forces need to learn a thing or two from fictional characters. Police brutality exists everywhere because of this lack of restraint, this unwillingness to hold back. We have to turn to fiction to see what good police officers in charge look like, and why they’re so needed.
(On policing and violence) “And if you did it for a good reason, you’d do it for a bad one. You couldn’t say ‘we’re the good guys’ and do bad-guy things.”
What I love most about Sam Vimes is that underneath it all, he’s a good person. He cares for other people, and he fights viciously for those that can’t. He actively fights against the worst parts of himself, and he never stops. He never takes a step back or lets something go unnoticed. He’s an admirable commander precisely because he’s broken, but manages to do the right thing anyway.
Being a working-class man himself, he stands with the people and fights viciously for the little guy. Later in the series, he’s described as ‘Vetinari’s watchdog’, because of his refusal to be corrupted. Having seen the dregs of society, he knows how easy it is to slip up, and holds himself to impossibly high standards. He’s honest, hardworking, and incorruptible.
“No excuses. No excuses at all. Once you had a good excuse, you open the door to bad excuses.”
Sam Vimes faces a number of challenges, both fantastic and realistic. From defending his city against a dragon to surviving a revolution, Vimes manages to protect people and uphold the law, without resorting to violence against his fellow man. He runs the City Watch on a tight ship, and makes sure to include members from almost every species. He knows how tight-knit communities can be in the big city, and it’s important that the police force is seen as approachable, rather than alienating.
“I’m not a natural killer! See this? See what it says? I’m supposed to keep the peace, I am! If I kill people to do it, I’m reading the wrong manual!” – Jingo
In the real world, people have grown to fear policemen, and it’s not a regional issue. There are countless examples of police brutality in the US, in Nigeria, Columbia, and in India. It’s clear that the police see themselves as apart from the people. This degree of separation is what leads to cases of police brutality, of treating citizens as less than human. The police force is meant to serve and protect the community, to keep people safe.
Sam Vimes, and by extension, the Discworld series, honestly reminded me of what police forces are actually supposed to look like. I loved the fact that Vimes sees the police for what they truly are – citizens with a uniform. It’s a fact that we seem to have forgotten.
“What was a policeman, if not a civilian with a uniform and a badge? But they tended to use the term these days as a way of describing people who were not policemen. It was a dangerous habit: once policemen stopped being civilians the only other thing they could be were soldiers.” – Snuff
We’ve seen how brutal protests get, because of the police. There are calls for abolishing the police because of this separation. We need a captain that recognizes who the slogan ‘serve and protect’ actually covers. We need a captain that holds himself to high standards, who recognizes that the law covers everyone. Sam Vimes may be incorruptible and honest, but he’s also human. He’s flawed, and he recognizes it. That’s what makes him perfect. We need a captain like Samuel Vimes, and I hope someone like that comes up soon.
The Discworld books have also inspired a BBC adaptation, titled City Watch that’s set to hit the small screen on January 3, 2021. I’ve seen the first few episodes and I have a lot of feelings about this series – it definitely doesn’t hold a candle to the original books, but it does have its redeeming values.
Are these moments worth it, when the show stumbles and falls? Keep your eyes peeled for a more detailed review brought to you by yours truly on January 3rd!
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