Mark Reads ‘The Fifth Elephant’: Part 14

In the fourteenth part of The Fifth Elephant, I was truly not ready for this many plot twists. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Discworld

You did this to me. YOU DID THIS TO ME.

The First Escape

You know, at the end of this, I want Vimes to get the greatest bubble bath and soak in the history of bathtubs. If anything, this entire set of scenes left me feeling this weird, existential aching, as if every injury this poor man sustained was somehow psychically transported to my own body. And on top of all of these, HE HAD TO RUN FIVE MILES IN THE SNOW.

Well, I’ll get there. Pratchett’s descriptions of Vimes’s journey here felt so much more visceral than I’m used to in Discworld books. Like, I know there’s violence, and there’s a lot of death (ha ha, get it???), but this is so specific. After locating a possible way out of the cells where he’s being kept, Vimes begins the ascent to the surface through a narrow shaft in the stone, and less than a page later, he falls. THIS IS THE FIRST PLOT TWIST OF ABOUT A THOUSAND. I figured that he’d have a difficult climb, but would get out and begin to make his way home. I did not anticipate him falling multiple times, nearly cracking his ribs in the process, and then find himself rescued not in deus ex machina style, but Margolotta ex machina. MARGOLOTTA SAVED HIM. Even the way she saved him shocked me:

The wood cracked. She grabbed his wrist.

If he’d thought about it at all, Vimes would have expected to be dangling from a vampire now. Instead, he was simply floating.

“Don’t think of letting go,” said Margolotta, as they rose gently up the shaft.

DID YOU EXPECT THAT BECAUSE I SURE THE FUCK DID NOT. I didn’t even know this was a power that a vampire could pass along to a non-vampire, and yet here we are. Oh, that’s not enough either, at least not for Terry Pratchett, who reveals in the very next sentence that Lady Margolotta is a teetotaler vampire. She doesn’t drink human blood. How did I not see that? It explains a great deal about her and the way she acts, doesn’t it? But of everything that appeared in this scene, one part stood out to me:

“But let us just say… I like people to have an even chance.”

This suspiciously sounded a lot like something we’d later hear from Wolf von Uberwald, and I’m curious: why do these people want Vimes to have a “fair” chance? What does that actually mean in the context of Uberwald and this nightmarish political situation?

The Second Escape

I don’t know what’s entirely fair about abandoning someone who is probably seriously injured (or at the least bruised and suffering from contusions) in the middle of a snowy forest without a coat and knowing that they’ve only lived in a major city that certainly does not get snow like Uberwald. There is such a distinct difference between snow in these locales! Despite that the majority of my life has been spent in California, I did have a number of white Christmases while living in Boise, and I even remember the first time we went to the forest near the Snake River when I was… six? Seven? It wasn’t too long before this that we moved to Riverside, so I couldn’t have been older than eight. But a snowy forest is a completely different beast than a snowy city. I don’t even mean that as a way of contrasting the modern with the old! There’s the silence that is downright eerie. The way the landscape blends in with itself so much that it seems like the snow stretches on forever. It’s so hard to judge distance, the depth of snow, the likelihood that you’ll step in a drift or that you’ll plunge down further than you thought because the snow seems so flat.

Basically, despite not being an expert in any of this, even I knew how dangerous it was for Vimes to be in the forest at that time and in that state. So, of course, he had to find a WOLVES LAIR, and of course Vimes FELL ASLEEP WHILE CUDDLING WOLVES, which might just be the best mental image provided to me by a Discworld book, perhaps even more so than Vimes in a bubble bath. Yes, this was just a makeshift lair at the base of a tree, but the man managed to survive because of a decision he made while exhausted. Honestly? I truly believed that this was how Pratchett would then have Angua find Vimes, given that she had an existing relationship with the wolves in Uberwald. It made a lot of sense, right?

Oh, how wrong I was.

The Game

BECAUSE VIMES LOCATES A HOT SPRINGS AND GETS TO RELAX FOR LIKE A WHOLE FIVE MINUTES BEFORE WOLFGANG COINCIDENTALLY IS AT THE SAME HOT SPRING. I’m not used to Pratchett revealing huge parts of a mystery this early into a book, y’all. Usually, he waits until the final few scenes to put the pieces together. So I was alarmed and unsettled that Wolfgang was so bold about admitting that Dee set up Vimes, that Wolfgang was using Dee for his own ends, and that they’d all conspired to frame Vimes. I read this as a character trait; Wolfgang was so certain that he’d already gotten what he wanted that he didn’t care if Vimes knew the truth. Even worse, he sets Vimes off on the Game – against his will, I might add, which Angua provides context for later – because he knows that he has the advantage. It will make the eventual end he anticipates all the better because… well, Wolfgang likes suffering, doesn’t he?

Still, I gotta respect Vimes for being in the face of MURDER and still making both that bath/Angua references and openly goading Wolfgang regarding all the happy people in Ankh-Morpork who came from Uberwald. HE IS SO BOLD.


There’s a brief set of scenes that give us glimpses of what’s going on with Colon and with Angua and Carrot. There’s an understated sense of irony and humor to the fact that Colon’s behavior has actually made crime drop in Ankh-Morpork. That at least means that while things seem like they’re a huge mess while Vimes is gone, Colon might have inadvertently made things easier. I’m certain it doesn’t seem like that to anyone but Lord Vetinari, but that’s why he’s the Patrician. He can see a bigger picture.

Which is not something that Carrot understands all of the time. His short conversation with Angua here shows that he’s trying to understand the dynamic between the wolves, the werewolves, and the humans, but he falls short of getting it. Over and over again, actually. Pratchett has driven this interesting wedge between Angua and Carrot (not in this book, I might add; it was there many books ago) because one person has experience in a topic while the other has none. And that creates a lot of friction between them! I can see why Carrot frustrates Angua, even if he is genuinely trying to do right by her. It’s not simply a matter of intending to do the best he can. That doesn’t bridge the gap at all, and if anything, that appears to frustrate Angua even more than not trying at all.

The Barn

Well, what were the odds that of all the barns Vimes could have come across, he came across the one full of three women who DESPERATELY want to go to Ankh-Morpork? At least something finally went in his favor. Despite that he may have made decent time during his head start (if Wolfgang even respected that head start to begin with), he’s still miles from Bonk, and the wolves are absolutely going to catch up to him.

I’ll make my prediction here: Pratchett is totally going to make a reference to that logic problem of crossing a body of water with a wolf in the boat. HE IS, ISN’T HE. Look at me, trying to be prepared for a joke! (Oh god, now I’m doubting myself. What if I’m wrong? H E L P.)

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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since ’09.

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