In the eighteenth and penultimate part of Men at Arms, Vimes faces down with his adversary. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Discworld.
Trigger Warning: For talk of gun violence/gun control, police brutality, death, and grief.
Holy shit, I truly wasn’t ready.
I admit that I don’t quite understand Dr. Cruces’s motivations here, though I wonder if the final few pages will help me figure out what I’m missing. But his story is so intimately tied to the power of the gonne that I wonder if that’s the key to all of this. Cruces claims here that Vimes has no understanding of his motivations, but as far as I can tell, Cruces wanted to re-instate kings to Ankh-Morpork for pretty much the same reason as Edward did. Well… not quite:
“I had to kill Edward! He was a romantic, he would have got it wrong! But Ankh-Morpork needs a king!”
I suppose this is a clever reference to romanticism, but is that worth killing Edward over? Again, I’m drawn back to the power of the gonne, which is hypnotic within the narrative itself. It doesn’t control people, per se, but it does influence the way they behave, almost like a possession. And if we consider the gonne as something of a commentary on romanticism as a whole, wouldn’t the very production of the gonne fly in the face of a world that is so very much not an industrial society? It’s anachronistic in that sense, though I know it’s odd to use that word given that there are already so many anachronisms within the Discworld books.
Look, maybe I’m just overthinking this. (You can blame AP European History for embedding the Industrial Revolution and Romanticism within my memory.) The truth is that the gonne has to be the key to everything. On his own, would Dr. Cruces really have taken up Edward’s mantle? Or was he pushed in that direction after handling the gonne? I think it’s the later, and the gonne showed Cruces the power that he could have if he murdered a few people and sent Ankh-Morpork into chaos. Why even push Carrot to become king? How would that benefit Cruces at all? I think that’s not even the point here.
Which is a perfect time for a segue!
The Power of the Gun
It is of course not the point of Men at Arms to address things happen in the present time because Pratchett wasn’t trying to tell the future. Yet it’s hard for me to ignore the eerie themes that still have relevance today, especially when you consider the nightmare currently unfolding in my country. While I think that “romantic” line is meant as a means to convey to us the point of using the gonne as an antagonistic force within the Discworld, I can’t also ignore that there’s a lot of textual evidence that is meant to criticize guns as an institution. Now, I can’t claim to understand what gun culture is like in Britain, so I won’t even bother tackling that. But there’s a shocking horror in Angua’s death because the gonne is a weapon that can extinguish life in such a rapid and savage manner.
Let’s take it a step further, though. Vimes chases after Cruces, desperate to catch him, and yet his internal monologue changes as soon as the gonne is in his hands. What goes through his mind?
Suddenly the stock was against his shoulder and his finger was on the trigger.
We don’t need him any more.
Vimes’s perception of guilt changes to the point that the voice in his head is telling him that he alone can administer justice. I’m framing it that way not to make it a point but because we see within the text that Vimes is prepared to murder Dr. Cruces because he killed Angua. Even Dr. Cruces knows that Vimes legally cannot shoot him because he’s unarmed. SERIOUSLY, I KNOW THAT I’M VIEWING THIS THROUGH A MODERN LENS, BUT THE PARALLELS ARE DOWNRIGHT EERIE. It takes Carrot – brave, selfless, magnificent Carrot – to talk Vimes down from doing something he otherwise would never do:
Vimes turned his head slightly.
“He killed Angua. Doesn’t that mean anything to you?”
“Yes. But personal isn’t the same as important.”
Goddamn, what a biting line. But it’s vital in that moment because Carrot demonstrates why he’s so good at being part of the Watch. He can separate his own feelings from what’s required of him on the job. And in this case, it might be personally rewarding to kill Dr. Cruces, but it’s not what he needs to do. Which is exactly what he does: what’s necessary. When Cruces presents the evidence that Carrot is the next in line of succession for king of Ankh-Morprok, when he points the gonne directly at Vimes, Carrot STABS HIM STRAIGHT THROUGH CRUCES AND SLICES THROUGH STONE. (Hey, it’s a pretty neat reference to the myth, no? And it’s certainly more impressive that a future king can stick a sword in a stone rather than pull one out. WE CAN AGREE ON THAT.) Not only that, but unlike those who encountered the gonne and were tempted by it, Carrot destroys it the first time he touches it. Just like that.
I kept waiting for some sort of surprise or twist, but no. Angua was just dead. And even more heartbreaking was Carrot’s reaction:
He wrote his report. He swept the main room’s floor; there was a rota, and it was his turn. He had a wash. He changed his shirt, and dressed the wound on his shoulder, and cleaned his armor, rubbing with wire wool and a graded series of cloths until he could, once again, see his face in it.
He continued to work. He focused on the routine of his daily life. He avoided Vimes’s wedding, though he does have a private toast to both Vimes and Lady Ramkin. He lets Gaspode in, and the dog quietly sulks to a spot under the table, and it is the worst thing imaginable, until:
The door opened. Angua entered, walking softly.
Carrot turned, and smiled.
“I wasn’t certain,” he said. “But I thought, well, isn’t it only silver that kills them? I just had to hope.”
I WAS SO RELIEVED, Y’ALL. Oh shit, I was ready to be pissed that Pratchett killed off Angua, but THIS IS A MUCH BETTER OUTCOME.
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