Guards! Guards! (Terry Pratchett, 1989)

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Guards! Guards!, by Terry Pratchett (1989).

Score: side-splitting.

For the last decade I’ve been told many times that I should read Discworld novels because they’re incredibly witty, funny and in general the greatest thing since bread came sliced. I picked up The colour of magic in part because there were selling it at the newsagent’s as part of one of those periodical collections and why not. Sort of enjoyed it but every other Terry Pratchett book I had picked up afterwards with the sole exception of Small Gods didn’t do the trick for me.

They had told me they were hilarious! But I was already thirty pages in and I wasn’t laughing, and the story wasn’t that great either. Now I feel there were several reasons that this was happening. One was that I was in a specially pretentious phase of my life and fun adventures were not what I wanted to devote my reading time to. Another was that either I was reading translations or trying to read the original but didn’t have enough English vocabulary to understand it.

The third reason dawned on me when I came across this post by Tumblr user blackboard-monitor. I had tried to start with The colour or magicThe light fantastic, Sourcery, Equal Rites and Mort, none of them generally regarded as a good entry point to Discworld. So I decided to follow her advice and pick up Guards! Guards!. And now it all makes sense.

Guards! Guards! tells the story of Sam Vimes, alcoholic, loser and captain of the (plumeless) Night Watch of Ankh-Morpork. The other two members of the Watch, Sergeant Colon and Nobby, were perfectly happy trying random house doors to make sure they were locked and not running too fast after criminals lest they catch them, while Vimes drank himself senseless, when they got an unexpected volunteer. Carrot Ironfundersson was raised by dwarfs but maybe he’s not one himself seeing that he’s six feet six. Carrot is also inconveniently fond and knowledgeable of rules and laws, and that might be just as well when Ankh-Morpork is attacked by a dragon summoned by the secret brotherhood The Elucidated Brethren in order to overthrow Lord Vetinari the Patrician.

Guards! Guards! is quite funnier than any of the other Discworld novels I’ve read except for Small Gods and I agree in recommending it as an entry point. Most of the funny moments come from the comments, eccentric descriptions and hyperboles on the part of the narrator, though the dialogue and story don’t stay behind. In this novel, the parody focuses on noir and detective stories as well as dragon-related folklore. Also there was a source of laughter I wasn’t expecting and that is Lady Ramkin. Though apparently she’s parodying high-class horse breeders, my family bred cats for over a decade and cat breeders are exactly the same. I was amazed at how accurate Pratchett’s portrayal of that world is, including Lady Ramkin herself.

If you don’t appreciate “genre literature” you’re probably not going to like any of Discworld, though you’ll have a hard time denying Terry Pratchett was an incredibly cultivated man. If you’re all for fantasy and folklore and not sure where to start with Discworld, this is an excellent choice. Also, try to read the English original if you think you can handle it because there is so much wordplay and untranslatable puns that even a great translation will not do it justice.

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