Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Review (Rant) on Terry Pratchett's 'Men At Arms'

So I had intended to keep this blog more focused on making things, sewing, cute children, making house beautiful, medieval things etc etc.....But not anymore.  Ok, so about Terry Pratchett's Men at Arms... WHAT?????  I had read Night Watch. Yeah it had the double entendres, the constant 'jokes' about prostitution (and...birth control??) of someone I deemed disturbed by it all. But it took you into Sam Vimes head. And it rang true, mostly, I loved Vimes/Keel, the whole book was about fatherhood, and lost fatherhood, in a way I still am unravelling. There was one moment where deep into the book, I was flabbergasted, stunned, when Vimes acted (what I thought) was out of character, killing the comatose torture victims because 'they were past all human help.' Throughout the book, I had been extremely impressed with Pratchett's 'nose' (=his understanding and intuition of things). But there, I was stunned. Were common sense Brits who could see through communism and understood human nature and all that really this much closer to the Liverpool Care Pathways euthanizing death traps then I had hitherto assumed? But no, its bigger than that. VImes wouldn't have killed them, because that would be Vimes giving up. And if Vimes (who really really cared about people, and is highly disturbed by evil in the world, and doesn't believe (rightly so) that the petty discworld gods care or do something about it) gave up, he would kill himself.
       Throughout the book, (and in Men at Arms too) Vimes struggles with despair, with trying to fight evil in a world so full of it that will always be full of evil no matter what you do. (And now I understand why the Last Judgement is sooo important. To keep going, to fight for justice and truth now. The commees are wrong. To believe in heaven, in a final reckoning and righting of the world, is the only way to cope and keep fighting for justice and truth and mercy in this one).  SO. So, I really liked Night Watch, even though it left me grieving, there was a sky in it. It ended with a baby, with the washed out doctor who had to help prostitutes with birth control, getting to deliver a child at the end. And the grief part, with Vimes grieving over Keel, because he is the only one who remembers him now. He grieves over the lost father, and that he had to be his own father instead, because his father was killed? I havent untangled it yet.

      Then I read an excerpt from 'The Last Hero' in which Captain Carrot is AWESOME, but...better then his gods. By a really, really, really, really long shot. So I read MEn at Arms, and I love love loved Carrot. He was a different kind of hero than Vimes, in that he is young, and innocent, and 'naive' (vs cynical) but in Pratchett's desparate human attempts to explain Faith (vs. Vimes despair and coping with a messed up world). Carrot is all justice ('simpleness'), truth (never lies), kindness and valuing each individual human being for their own sake, humility (like Captain America, real humility), 'earnest innocence' (=purity. He drinks milk when they go to bars, and he doesn't even 'get' dirty jokes when people tell them.) and he really loves the law (he memorizes the dictionary  like 'Laws and Ordinances of Ankh-Morphork). And innocent, idealistic, law-memorizing Carrot collides with a city like Ankh Morpork, with legalized prostitution and legalized assassination, full of corruption and rank human nature to its core. As Josh said, he would either
  • A. crumble and become like everyone else, or 
  • B. commit suicide. (Vimes is teetering on the B option with his despair. Copes by living like a monk and giving his pay to widows and orphans.) or 
  • C. (the option Pratchett doesn't give him) Transcendence. A god that is higher than this mess, a god that stands above the human squalor and says wrong is still wrong (even if its legal).
Because otherwise, who's to say prostitution and assassination is wrong?(2 consenting adults...and hey we all die anyway and they make it quick).  What is crime even? What is the bloody point of it all? In Night Watch there is a lot about LAW, about how it is what makes order and all. Sam's badge. The thin veneer on rage and horror, the difference between Carcer and Vimes. All that. But who came up with it? What makes it Law?Men like Vimes that care (though they aren't the majority) but why? What if a man like Vimes decided murder was A-Ok but theft wasnt. As does happen with the Assassins guild that Vimes can't stand but just has to deal with, poor guy. What if tomorrow they legalized ALL THE CRIMES. Then would Vimes be irrelevant? He struggles with this in Men at Arms. But he's right to struggle, because REALLY WHAT IS THE DAMN POINT OF IT ALL???  (and here we can be thankful, thankful that we have souls that can be damned, that there is such a thing as damnation, because damnation means there is something to be dammed from, such a thing was water, as rivers of living water flowing from the Light, the Light that came into the world, and the Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.) But here is the problem of Pratchett's self-described humanism. Us humans (ok, certain humans, like Vimes who looks after widows and orphans and wrestles with a fallen world) are bothered by all the mess. And we can try to minimize it (like Pratchett with prostitution) or hate it and struggle with despair (like Vimes despairing and wanting to give up on the Watch bc whats the point, and Carrot says 'its better to light a candle then curse the darkness' and Vimes doesn't buy it. Altho thats what he does...but he struggles with deep deep despair. The euthanizing sequence is starting to make more sense now.)  But whats to stop a Vimes type from euthanizing the world? Wouldn't that work to? Because humanism doesn't work. It leads to deep despair. Because you can't minimize all the sin (starting with theft and sexual sins...but its harder to minimize a torture chamber, that Vimes walks into in Night Watch where he despairs).  Humanism is despair. Its not just atheism, I can do whatever the hell I want cuz there is no hell and no heaven and lets live it up. Its humanism, I (and others, esp criminals) can't do whatever the hell I want because, even though there's no hell, we are humans, and um, it matters, it matters....Humanism is despair.  ok, so this post turned into a digression. The rant about how Pratchett doesn't understand Carrot is forthcoming...But basically Pratchett doesn't understand what makes Carrot tick (Faith vs. Naivete), and how Carrot (who sees even a dwarf's tools and other peoples desks as sacred, who goes out of his way to swear the oath commiting himself to sacrificing and guarding) would see sex/commitment. At all. Pratchett is always seeing/describing Carrot from the outside, and he doesn't understand how he runs. He gets so much characterization right, because I think he is cutting and pasting from the data sets he has in life, but he never really understands Carrot. And thus, he makes him do things that he would never do. And he still doesn't get how faith (not willful naivete) keeps you back from the brink of despair.*  (*Pratchett even has a digression on how each of the policemen deal with the messed up ness in the world...)  He doesn't get it. Like in the Last Hero, Carrot is too good for his gods. Except this god is Terry Pratchett. Humanism runs into a snag. When we meet something better than our standard, higher....

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