I'm really feeling it!

On the Side of Mooks: A Discworld Highlight

Mooks. The Red Shirts on the wrong side. The faceless horde whose sole role is to get slaughtered by the hero. The Evil Overlord will at least get a dramatic death scene and probably a back story with a side of Freudian Excuse, but Mooks are little more than scenery.

Kind of unfair, don't you think?

Terry Pratchett thought it was unfair too, so he wrote a whole bunch of books from their pov. Those books, called The City Watch series, tackle, dissect, lampshade, subvert and satirize the hell out of the fantasy tropes that are widespread all over fantasy media, including our beloved videogames. And it's hilarious.


They may be called the Palace Guard, the City Guard, or the Patrol. Whatever the name, their purpose in any work of heroic fantasy is identical: it is, round about Chapter Three (or ten minutes into the film) to rush into the room, attack the hero one at a time, and be slaughtered. No-one ever asks them if they wanted to. This book is dedicated to those fine men. –Guards!Guards!

The Ankh-Morpork City Watch is the police force of the fictional city of Ankh-Morpork, domain of the Patrician Vetinari, an Evil Overlord so damn good at his job that he has become a sort of benevolent dictator. Sure, he legalized theft and murder, but the victim will always receive a receipt. And he banned mimes too!

Ankh-Morpork! Pearl of cities! This is not a completely accurate description, of course - it was not round and shiny - but even its worst enemies would agree that if you had to liken Ankh-Morpork to anything, then it might as well be a piece of rubbish covered with the diseased secretions of a dying mollusk. -The Light Fantastic


In the first book of the City Watch series, Guards!Guards!, we find our "heroes" in a rather dark place. One of the previous Evil Overlords had been forcing them to work under an oppressive secret police force that employed torture with gusto, then the new Overlord Vetinari made it illegal for them to arrest criminals (they paid taxes!) so they basically had nothing to do for years and slowly wasted away until there was only a handful of men left, and finally one of their own was murdered by a couple of random thugs just the week before.

Well, that's depressing. Luckily, when you can't sink any lower you can only go up!


New members joined the Watch, starting with Carrot Ironfounderson (a human raised by dwarfs after his biological parents were killed by bandits when he was a baby; his adoptive parents felt they shouldn't hide the truth from him anymore when he reached 6'11"…), and went on awesome adventures. Over the course of the series the Watch goes from a handful of incompetents with an alcoholic chief to a respected and well-organized group of professionals, including humans, dwarfs, trolls, a werewolf, a golem, a zombie and a vampire.


As mentioned above, the series never misses a chance to play with tropes. A particularly funny example in Guards!Guards! has the men planning to fight a massively stronger opponent that could squish them all like bugs. They point out that the hero always succeeds when there are a million chances to one that he will fail, but it has to be exactly "a million chances to one." Nobody ever won anything when the chances were 978463 to one! So they start carefully calculating variables to try and get to the "a million to one" point. The sergeant ends up having to take the shot while standing on one leg, sticking his tongue out, singing a country hymm and spreading ashes on his face.

A perpetual theme is the conflict between Lord Vetinari and Sam Vimes, Captain (and later Commander) of the Watch. As mentioned before, Vetinari is an Evil Overlord, but Vimes is Lawful Good. It just so happens that the Law in his city is depraved. And Vetinari is actually better than his predecessors, because he doesn't believe in gratuitous cruelty (only necessary cruelty) and is extremely careful to keep things working. Being forced to follow orders he so despised drove Vimes to alcoholism and almost destroyed him. Even so, Vimes repeatedly saves Vetinari's life, which earns him Vetinari's sincere respect.


Other themes range from civil rights ("racism was not a problem on the Discworld, because — what with trolls and dwarfs and so on — speciesism was more interesting. Black and white lived in perfect harmony and ganged up on green") to human nature, from freedom of will to family bonds. The stories can go from action-adventure to whodunit. The books are always funny, but the type of humor can go from slapstick to dark comedy, and sometimes it temporarily leaves space to genuinely tragic scenes. Overall, the books manage to portray a rare combination of optimism and cynicism: yes, sometimes things suck, really suck, but if you manage to survive you can experience beautiful and wonderful things too.


The series so far is comprised of the following eight books: Guards!Guards!, Men at Arms, Feet of Clay, Jingo, The Fifth Elephant, Night Watch, Thud!, Snuff. In December 2007, Pratchett announced that he was suffering from early-onset Alzheimer's disease, and currently it's unlikely that he will write more books. However, he has mentioned the possibility that his daughter Rhianna Pratchett will continue his work. Rhianna has worked on titles such as the Tomb Raider reboot, Heavenly Sword, the Overlord series and Mirror's Edge.

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