I have been listening to these three books on audio on repeat all year. It has been an anxiety filled couple of years and I have found audio books at night help me shut down the worry voice in my head. I know the stories so well it doesn’t matter if i have missed pieces along the way.
The rereads have reinforced my understanding of Pratchett as a great writer and observer of humanity. There are likely to be unintended spoilers, as i have read these so many times. If you have not read Pratchett before, I cannot recommend him strongly enough. Guards!Guards! Is a good place to start (do not start witht he first two books of the series, Colour of magic and Light Fantastic unless you are a serious fan of the 60s and 70s fantasy landscape- that’s what they riff on)
I started reading the Discworld books in the early 1990’s when my family moved to England and i discovered Guards!Guards! At the local library, almost as soon as we arrived. I have an intense memory of reading Lords and Ladies on a family trip that November, and I received the hardback version of Men at Arms for Christmas and Wikipedia tells me it came out in 1993. Pratchett’s North America publisher did a terrible job of promoting his books, I had a Canadian rave at me in about 2003 on the topic of the is amazing unknown author- Terry Pratchett and had to refrain from pointing out how popular he was in the UK and Australia.
The three books are all part of the city watch books of the Discworld series. Discworld is a world that is flat, carried on the back of four elephants standing on the back of a great turtle, floating through space. Magic exists, but science less so. Ankh-Morpork is the greatest and grubbiest of Discworld cities (per the description in the books), and the city watch is its nascent police force.
At least three of the watch books follow a similar plot line – someone plans to overthrow the Patrician (ruler of the city) and install a king. The watch prevents this, in various ways. Both Guards and Men at arms have this as their central core, although who is to be installed as king. Jingo is about going to war against a foreign country – and should have been required reading for all lawmakers in the US and UK in 2003.
Guards is a relatively early book in Discworld, back when each book was a different slice of the the world. It introduces the core characters of the series- Captain Vimes (drunken), nature’s sergeant Fred Colon, certified human Nobby Nobbs and new recruit adopted dwarf Carrot Ironfoundersson (6 ft tall). Men at arms sees the watch expand to include three new recruits- Cuddy the dwarf, Detritus the Troll and Angua- who appears to be token female recruit, but who is also a werewolf.
It’s a running joke that Carrot is the true heir to the throne of Ankh-Morpork but but does not acknowledge this. Men at arms shows him realising that he should not take the throne. There’s a scene when he and Vimes are on patrol and Vimes makes a very good case for not monarchies, and at the end there is a really good moment where he tacitly acknowledges he could be king, but it would be bad – people should make the right decision because it is right, not because Corporal Carrot tells them to.
The characters of Colon and Nobby are observations and lessons drawn. They represent the stereotype of the donut eating, complacent and incompetent, prejudiced cops. But their interactions, particularly with each other, serve to highlight the problems with their views. The example that springs to mind is in Jingo, Colon has been called to account (offscreen) for using derogatory terms for Klatchians (the country with which they are at war) and complains to Nobby that he cant understand why someone would be insulted by not having their name/title used. He then promptly objects to the casual name Nobby uses for him, undermining his own point.
The moments of absurd humanity, the keen observations and the mirror held up to our lives is what makes the Discworld books (and Pratchett) so great. Listening to them in audio has been revealing- so many of the observations slide by and then you think about them further. It highlights how the characters interact and the world they live in.
If you have read this far and have not read these books- find a bookstore or library!