Terry Pratchett Book Club: Snuff, Part I

Story


As Pratchett himself noted, the title does have two rather significant meanings…

Summary

Vetinari is reading up on the plight of the goblins, who are a race commonly thought of as vermin. At the same time, Vimes is bemoaning what appears to be his forced retirement, but is in fact a two-week trip to the country with his family. It turns out that Vetinari definitely had a hand in this trip coming to fruition, and the reason has something to do with goblins and also with smuggling and the rich getting up to things that they shouldn’t. The Patrician knows everything will be fine because Vimes claimed to stick his badge in a sealed envelope and give it to Carrot, but it absolutely does not contain his badge. Vimes and Sybil and Young Sam make it to the family estate and are introduced to the household staff, which unnerves Vimes enough that he insists on shaking the gardener’s hand and then refuses to greet the butler and housekeeper properly. Willikins has come with the family to make Vimes feel better, and he tells Vimes what he can make of the household, being that everyone is skimming from the top, like normal. Vimes has a hard time sleeping out there in the fresh air with all the animal noises.

Vimes wakes to eat sausage for breakfast (he’s on holiday), but promptly finds that all the maids in the house whirl around to face the wall when he enters a room and cannot look him in the eye. He asks Willikins, who doesn’t know the specifics, but isn’t worried, and then heads to the nursery, which is full of every toy you could imagine. Vimes asks Sybil what the behavior is about (it’s from the old days, to prevent the maids being too “accommodating” to wealthy young men who used to visit) and the two argue about Vimes’s importance as a person because he finds all this behavior demeaning—behavior Sybil is unbothered by. Willikins, Vimes, and Young Sam go for a walk, and they meet the estate’s hermit, who has his family’s bones about. Willikins tells Vimes all about Sybil’s family, and that Vimes needs to figure out who he is exactly. Sybil takes Vimes and Young Sam down to the family crypt, and Vimes decides that he’d like to go for a walk, despite Sybil worrying over it. He makes it into town and finds the local pub called the Goblin’s Head (which does have a goblin’s head on the wall), and meets the proprietor, a man named Jiminy, who Vimes learns used to be a copper by snooping.

Vimes watches the locals filter in, and is immediately pegged by Jethro, the town blacksmith, who is aching to fight any man who considers himself better. Vimes refuses and goes outside, learning the rules of crockett, then is spotted by Lord Rust, who informs Vimes that there is nothing hereabouts that could possibly interest him… thereby assuring Vimes that there is. He goes home to read a new book to Young Sam called The World of Poo and finds out that the author has a home nearby, and that Sybil wants to invite her over. Later, he goes with Sybil to visit her friend Ariadne and her six daughters (only five are present), and when they talk about how they need to find wealthy husbands, Vimes goes on a tear about how they could easily strike out on their own and find work to do, then find good men to share their lives with. One of the women is a writer named Jane who wants to write books about complex interpersonal relationships. He worries that he’s overstepped in his rant, but Sybil apparently brought him there to do just that for Ariadne’s sake. Vimes goes back to the pub to ask Jiminy what’s really going on here, but can’t get a word out of him. Then Jethro shows up and starts threatening him again, prompting Willikins to pop up with a crossbow.

Vimes tells Willikins to leave the weapon, and makes him write out the terms of a proper bout between himself and Jethro. He wins the fight with ease and lets the blacksmith know they could use him in the Watch, and also that he knows Jethro is wise to what’s wrong around here. Jethro tells Vimes to meet him at midnight. That night there’s a dinner and Vimes finds that the children’s book author, Miss Beedle, seems to have knowledge about what’s going on around here, and is not welcome among the wealthy class, but merely tolerated out of politeness. Colonel Makepeace also clearly knows something, which his wife is very keen that he not give away. It clearly has something to do with the goblins. When Vimes heads up to Hangman’s Hill to meet Jethro, he’s stopped by Willikins (who was to keep an eye on him from the shadows as they agreed) and the two find no blacksmith, but a great deal of blood and a goblin’s severed claw with a stone ring on it. They head down to the pub to ask Jiminy about it, but he refuses to say a word, other than letting them know where Jethro lives with his old mum. Vimes heads back with Willikins and gets into bed with Sybil. In the night, he wakes hearing strange noises and thinks there must be some form of contraband heading out of this place.

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Snuff

Commentary

My gosh, the Ankh-Mopork dream team are on form throughout the opening of this book, though, aren’t they? Vimes is in a continual spiral about how awful the country is and how he doesn’t understand rich people stuff, while Vetinari is busy exclaiming victory over the woman who makes the crossword and the fact that he absolutely did not aid Sybil in kidnapping her husband for his own less-than-nefarious purposes.

With the bit about the Diamond King being glad for the Patrician’s stance on drugs: Vetinari’s opinions about drug use are right on for my money, being that you should do what you want with your own body provided you don’t hurt others, but the people selling you substances are obligated not to kill you with their wares. (Having a propensity toward addiction can make this subject gnarlier, of course, but that is a separate problem in terms of how it needs tackling—one that should be addressed through societal support and universal healthcare, but I digress.)

Being a kid who grew up in the D.A.R.E. era, it’s impossible not to see the strings on the counter argument; a war on drugs is as effective as abstinence-only education (i.e., it’s not), and particularly hypocritical when you get old enough to realize that what “counts” as a drug is completely arbitrary to most people. Every human being is doing something to get their dopamine, and what works for you is largely outside your control. Vetinari gets this, and in any case, he can’t throw stones because what he does to get dopamine is way weirder than your average person, which is his job and also fighting the crossword lady.

It really does feel like these last several books are considerably more blatant about the morality of their protagonists, as though Pratchett wanted to be clear about a few things, a-thank you. Here we have Vetinari saying outright “I have no problem with poor people breaking the law! Go nuts! But if rich people keep doing unethical shit out of insurmountable greed, I’m gonna punish to scale, Drumknott.” And it’s so disconcerting that Drumknott needs to remind Vetinari that he definitely pays for all his own paper clips. (Sweetie, he adores you. You’re fine.)

Simultaneously, we’re getting a very stark example of how privilege functions and how Sam Vimes has adapted to it over the years through the conversations he’s having with Sybil. And this is important because, up until this point, we haven’t actually heard much from Sybil with regard to how she feels about her station. (Signing all her property off to her husband was a pretty good hint, though.) And she adheres to that very Old Money mentality that it is her duty to help those less fortunate, but they are still not her equals, and that there’s nothing wrong with denoting the difference. Which is something that Vimes can’t really handle, unsurprisingly, because he wasn’t born to it and will never feel like he belongs to it.

Sybil’s comment about Vimes conflating value and worth? After the importance of the term worth, as presented through Nutt two books ago? Yeesh. It’s rough to read. And more important for the fact that we’re clearly being set up to think about goblins, a race that are thought of as vermin according to Vetinari. What is value and worth to beings like them? How will they ever achieve it?

There’s a lot of fun bits in this opening all the same, including seeing how Vimes and Willikins’ relationship has progressed down the years, and all the asides about the country. Vimes’ difficulty with the noises is a thing I know all too well. It’s all down to what you’re used to, but my partner came from the country, and the first time we went back to the childhood home, sleeping was rough—crickets are noisy as hell when they’re right outside the window? Birds start at first light? Frogs bellow? What’s with all the howling? The city is noisy too, but those sounds are intermittent and easily identifiable on my end: a siren, stray cats fighting, someone dropping a bottle, neighbors having a party. I can deal with that, less so with nature yelling at me.

But in the meantime… there’s crime afoot.

Asides and little thoughts

  • Okay, while the bulkiness of the socks is clearly an issue, if Sybil’s socks are that itchy, it’s probably the yarn that she’s using to make them, right? Vimes, you can ask her to use different yarn—it has no bearing on her skill at knitting whatsoever.
  • The spiral that Vimes has about BLTs and no vegetables ever being bad for you and his love of onion gravy is just a Grade-A meltdown, top tier, I adore this horrible gremlin man.
  • This offended Vimes down to his shakily egalitarian core is a great one to throw in there, acknowledging that Vimes has very specific ideas of hierarchy when it comes to chain of command. He believes everyone is equal… up until the point where he should be allowed to tell them what to do.
  • Another for the good pun tally, about Lord Rust: There were surely only a few more years to go before he would rust in peace. Also, I don’t remember him saying “what?” nearly so much before this, but I don’t mind it for all the silliness it provokes here.

Pratchettisms

The other sun was setting on this particular son when the coach pulled up outside a pair of gates.

When they seemed to be safely out of earshot, he said, waving his hands in the air, “Why? I mean… why?”

They navigated their way around a ha-ha, kept their distance from the ho-ho and completely ignored the he-he, then climbed a gentle path up a hill on which was planted a grove of beech trees and from which you could see practically everywhere, and certainly to the end of the universe, but that probably involved looking straight up with no beech trees in the way.

They wore clothes that looked as if they had been nailed on.

Vimes felt for the man, who seemed puzzled at having developed enemies among the lower crustacea.

He thought, Ah, yes, contraband! and, feeling cheerful, and hopeful for the future, he gently closed the window and went back to bed.

Next week, we’re up to:

“And tell them I was emphatic, and tell Young Sam what emphatic means!” icon-paragraph-end

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