If you’re reading this post because you follow the blog and are expecting to read about historical romance or Mills & Boon then be aware- this post is different.
It’s only fair to warn you now that this isn’t going to be very coherent because after hearing about Terry Pratchett’s death on Thursday I’m still too sad to articulate properly. I’ve been reading the Discworld series since I first picked up Sourcery back in 1989 and was hooked. I wanted to write something to mark the event which has – no exaggeration – hit me like the loss of a friend and which days later still brings a tear to my eye when I think of it. I could wax lyrical for hours about the humour, warmth, optimism, humanity and anger in the series but there are better writers out there doing a much better job of discussing Sir Terry’s legacy and impact than I could. I’ll just descend into fangirl quoting, try to explain the plots of 40 books and then go off for a cry.
What I do do though is write heroes and throughout the Discworld series I believe one character evolved more than any other. To me he is one of the great alpha male creations in literature and I’ll freely admit to having a huge crush on His Grace, His Excellency, The Duke of Ankh; Commander Sir Samuel Vimes (Blackboard Monitor) and I know I’m far from alone.
A series of books set on a flat world that moves through space on the back of a turtle might seem an unlikely place to find a hero, but the embittered loner fighting his demons is a staple of fiction and I would argue (and will at length if given enough vodka and ginger beer) that had Sam Vimes appeared in any other genre he’d be hailed as one of the great examples of the last half-century. He’s written in the vein of Noir detectives: jaded, cynical and at rock bottom. Like them he needs a purpose in life and the love of a good woman to redeem him and across the Guards strand of novels the story of how he gets these makes compelling reading.
All alphas need a fault to overcome and we first meet Sam Vimes in Guards! Guards!, drunk in a gutter and despairing, having seen the worst and believing there is nothing better to come. He’s been ground down by years of working for psychotic leaders and as we see in Night Watch -to my mind one of the most moving and justifiably angry books written in any genre- from his first days on the job he’s lived through revolution and seen death and loss that would make any man turn to the bottle.
Over the course of Guard! Guards!, in part through his meeting with Lady Sybil, Vimes gradually begins his redemption. This will eventually lead him to become one of the most powerful men in the city while still maintaining his integrity and determination. He’s the archetypal poor kid from the slums made good and throughout the series his innate sense of justice sees him evolve into a knight-errant figure and champion of the underdog (or under goblin) who would not be out of place in any romance novel.
Vimes an anti-authoritarian cynic who constantly sees the worst in humanity (and dwarfantiy and trollanity etc- this is the Discworld after all) yet manages to remain a believer in the need to do the right thing, however hard that might be and however difficult the decisions are. He has swagger and presence; whether facing down the tyrant who rules the city, a gang of backstreet thugs or a group of civic leaders and scheming nobles who still view him as a jumped up slum dweller.
An alpha hero needs to be able to fight. Physically Vimes is tough. He walks the street of the city in battered armour and old boots even when he’s the richest man in the city. He’s capable in a street brawl, battle scarred and often beaten and bruised but gamely carrying on, chewing on his cigar in a manner reminiscent of Clint Eastwood’s Man With No Name and waving a crossbow or dragon with extreme prejudice. When I wrote the duel between Hugh, the hero of Falling for Her Captor, and the villain Duke Stephen it was at least in part influenced by the image of Vimes wearily pulling himself to his feet for a final showdown.
He isn’t perfect- he has his faults but like all great heroes strives to overcome them. He keeps a bottle of best whiskey in his desk drawer to prove daily he can resist temptation and because these are fantasy, when he battles his inner demons he does so in the very real sense of the word.
Because these are humorous fantasy novels rather than Romances we don’t get to peek through the keyhole of Sam and Sybil’s bedroom. They aren’t that sort of books. We do, however get a clear insight into their relationship and romance and one thing is absolutely clear- this is a man who simply adores his wife. Who is devoted to her and who will do anything for her (crime solving allowing). This is a man who runs barefoot through the forest, pursued by werewolves to save his wife. A man who will fight across time itself to get back to her. A man who will crawl on his knees through underground caverns to single handedly exact vengeance on a group of fundamentalist conspiracists , all the while screaming the words of a bedtime story he’s promised to read to his son.
I defy any red-blooded woman not to read these books and fall in love with Vimes to some degree.
I first met Vimes at the tender and impressionable age of 14. Terry Pratchett said he imagined the character looking like the late Pete Postlethwaite but to me he was always a little bit Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones, a touch of Sean Bean as Sharpe and later on, a bit of House era Hugh Laurie (apparently a popular choice for the role if it ever comes to the screen).
Vimes, along with Lindsey Davis’ M Didius Falco, pretty much set the bar by which all men are judged.
If I could ever write a hero with one tenth of the appeal of Sam Vimes I’ll consider myself a very happy author indeed.
That we’ll never discover what happens to Sam, or any of the other characters is one of the reasons Sir Terry’s death has hit fans so hard. There is a Disc shaped hole in the world and I’m already missing the future books that will never be written.
I’d like to imagine circumstances contriving to necessitate Sam eventually becoming Patrician, a role he’d take reluctantly but one he’d shoulder in order to ensure the lives of Ankh Morpork citizens are worth living. Whatever happens he’s out there in seven books (not counting cameos) wearing old boots, giving chase and aiming to keep the promises he’s made.
Now if you’ll excuse me I’m off to raise a glass of Bearhugger’s Whiskey Cream.