Mark Reads ‘Men at Arms’- Part 1

In the first part of Men at Arms, various members of the Night Watch struggle with the weight of tradition, all while the last of a line tries to bring tradition back. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Discworld.

Ah, hello, new Discworld book, and greetings to the Night Watch once again! I think I can say that I’ve got a grasp on the language, humor, and politics of the Discworld to some extent, though I’m always viewing each new book as a challenge. This one, however, seems to be presenting a theme right from the get-go that I’m fascinated by, and I hope I’ve got a sense of it that’s correct or else THIS IS A GIANT DISASTER. Which I’m okay with! I like getting to wax philosophically regardless, and I’m going to do that. Because if I had to guess what this book was about?


Edward d’Eath

Oh my god, I still don’t know how to “properly” pronounce his name, and I love the idea that it’s probably pronounced just like “death,” but Edward wants to be fancy and royal, so he arrogantly corrects people. “It’s DUH-EETH, okay???” It fits completely within his characterization, doesn’t it? It’s important that I not refer to his focus as just an obsession because as far as I can tell, Edward’s identity hinges on the Ankh-Morpork royal line. Whether or not this started before or after he was sent to the Assassins’ Guild isn’t revealed here, but I could see this working regardless. He clearly has something against the Patrician, and I wouldn’t be surprised if that motivated his desire to unseat the man. At the same time, it’s possible that his time spent in the Assassins’ Guild built up a misguided sense of purpose within him, one that made him believe that he could find direction through his pursuits. Indeed, it’s really sort of irrelevant to pinpoint this on any single act or moment:

It was said later that he came under bad influences at this stage. But the secret of the history of Edward d’Eath was that he came under no outside influences at all, unless you count all those dead kings. He just came under the influence of himself.

Thus, we have a man who is beyond obsessed with the old royal line in Ankh-Morpork, so much so that he truly, genuinely believes that the city has sunk into moral decay because it no longer believes it needs a king. The meeting he has with the various lords and ladies doesn’t go as planned, though, because he is singular in his interest to bring back the royalty. His evidence that Carrot is actually a direct descendent of the last known king isn’t that bad. I mean, it’s also kind of hilarious because Pratchett toys with the fantasy tropes we’ve all seen a million times in this story. But Edward is probably right. Carrot was abandoned in the forest alongside a mysterious sword and a magical ring, and he was raised by dwarfs, and he’s oblivious to his “destiny.”

But is it destiny if you don’t know about it and don’t desire it?

The Night Watch

While this is unfolding, Pratchett examines the traditions that have held fast within the Night Watch for decades. Centuries, even! Namely? The Night Watch was a forgotten relic of an old time, until recent events on the Discworld proved that it was needed, and now those traditions are being dismantled.

Sort of. We see this from a couple perspectives, both in the Watch itself and from a distance as Vetenari and Vimes talk about the future. Vimes’s career in the Watch is about to end. (OR IS IT???) His marriage to Lady Ramkin is at the end of the week, and he’ll be retiring from the job that’s usually bored him and angered him for most of his adult life. What sort of tradition awaits him? Will he be satisfied as a “gentleman of leisure,” or is he better suited in the Watch? That questioned isn’t answered here, but we do see how Vimes leaving is a sign of change. Not only will his absence affect the Watch, the Patrician ordered the Watch to more accurately represent the city of Ankh-Morpork. Not only is that a big deal, but the fact that the Night Watch is actively accepting new recruits is a new thing.

And yet, even as he’s leaving the Watch, Vimes can’t help but feel drawn to the changes happening before his eyes. After years alongside the same men, he’s not exactly welcoming to the newcomers:

Vimes had only given in because he knew it wouldn’t be his problem for long.

It wasn’t as if he was speciesist, he told himself. But the Watch was a job for men.

Which… is just as speciesist as one could be, right? Except it goes much further than that, especially when we get to meet one of the other new recruits: Lance-Constable Angua.

She wouldn’t have a full uniform yet, not until someone had taken a, well, let’s face it, a breastplate along to old Remitt the armorer and told him to beat it out really well here and here, and no helmet in the world would cover all that mass of ash-blond hair but, it occurred to Carrot, Constable Angua wouldn’t need any of that stuff really. People would be queuing up to get arrested.

Yep, the very first woman in the Night Watch. So Vimes was being literal! He honestly thought the job was for men only. It’s not hard to see why women haven’t ever been in the Watch, especially given how Angua is treated here. Even when she’s shocked by the fact that she was hired specifically to increase diversity, Carrot drops one hell of an explanation for her presence:

“The Patrician said we had to have a bit of representation from the minority groups,” said Carrot.

“Minority groups!”

To men, women are a MINORITY. Despite that there’s probably JUST AS MANY OF THEM IN ANKH-MORPORK. The thing is, I’d feel a lot better about this portrayal if Pratchett didn’t treat Angua like virtually all women are portrayed in the Discworld books. Once again, the woman is described in terms of her attractiveness to men, and men are awkward and uncomfortable around her, and it’s the exact same dynamic we’ve seen throughout this series, as if women are some alien species that no men interact with ever. It speaks to the same issues I’ve had with representation within the Discworld books as a whole. You can have metaphors for racism in these books, but almost no people of color are ever given the space to be characters themselves? There’s a commentary on misogyny within the Night Watch, and yet, Angua is still treated as an object more than a person.

I hope this isn’t the case for the whole book, especially since the Watch seems like it’s finally going to grow. A lot. Who’s to say that the Night Watch only belongs to men? I think it’s time for it to change, just as the Patrician does.

The original text contains use of the words “mad” and “insanity.”

Mark Links Stuff

– I will be at numerous conventions in 2016! Check the full list of events on my Tour Dates / Appearances page.
– My Master Schedule is updated for the near and distant future for most projects, so please check it often. My next Double Features for Mark Watches will be season 1 of Agent Carter, seasons 1 & 2 of The 100, Death Note, and Neon Genesis Evangelion. On Mark Reads, Diane Duane’s Young Wizards series will replace the Emelan books.
- Mark Does Stuff is on Facebook! I’ve got a community page up that I’m running. Guaranteed shenanigans!

About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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1 Response to Mark Reads ‘Men at Arms’- Part 1

  1. zenfrodo says:

    Misogyny. In the Watch.
    Ooooooh, Mark, are you in for a surprise.


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