In the thirteenth part of Night Watch, Vimes is reminded of the importance of his work. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Discworld.
Trigger Warning: For talk of police brutality.
You know, this is a little unorthodox for a time travel book, and I kinda adore it, y’all. In the midst of this strange journey, Vimes seeks out the people who he perceives as orchestrating it all, and he basically says, “Yeah, I’m out. NO THANKS.” And it’s incredibly in character for Vimes, while also existing to remind us of the “rules” of this book. Those rules aren’t as perfectly defined as Vimes would like them, and that’s why Lu-Tze agrees to give Vimes an anchor of sorts.
But before I get to that—and I don’t have a guess as to what that thing is—I wanted to examine what it meant for Vimes to confront the time monks as he does. From a craft perspective, it does help ground the reader in the weirdness. It’s like Pratchett’s way of saying, “Hey, remember that Vimes’s presence is vital and important, but I’m giving you no guarantee that this will turn out like you want it to.” Already, this is changing! The details of this revolution have already shifted into a new reality, and it’s here that Pratchett finally spells out what’s really going to trigger the bloodbath that’s going make this day so infamous in the future. So, Vimes’s confrontation has another meaning: he is exercising agency. He is telling Lu-Tze and Qu that he cannot expected to sit by and let history happen exactly as it did, especially when he can save lives.
In short: Vimes refuses to be a pawn or a patsy or a bystander. AND IT IS THE MOST VIMES-Y RESPONSE IMAGINABLE.
So what does this mean? Once Vimes lets the time monks know that he’s gonna do what he wants, not what is expected of him, he’s faced with a change in command: Ronald Rust. Who we haven’t seen since Jingo, where he was pretty much the worst!!! EXCEPT HE’S ACTUALLY THE WORST HERE, Y’ALL. Oh my god, there are few things worse than men who believe so wholly that they are right and perfect that they try to bend the world to their whims. Of course, he’s interacting with Vimes throughout this, so there’s a lot of fun to be had as Vimes manipulates him. But that only goes so far, right? For every snappy insult that flies over Rust’s head, Rust pushes the Watch ever closer to a confrontation with the citizens of Ankh-Morpork.
It’s here that Pratchett once more touches on an uncomfortable reality. There are too many people in positions of power who think of others as Rust does. He views “ordinary” citizens through a lens of disgust. They are beneath him. There’s no attempt whatsoever to understand why there is a mob, or why the Watch Houses were targeted. Rust only cares about order. He wants the chain of command to merely be a chain of obedience, and he wants those agents of the Watch to do what he wants and nothing more. So even if Rust wasn’t originally in this story in this capacity, he’s still pushing towards the same bloody confrontation, just in a different way.
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