Terry Pratchett Book Club: Snuff, Part III

You did not just fire a crossbow at Feeney’s old mum.


The goblin harp performance moves Sybil to tears, and she tells Sam that she knows she was short with him before, but she does want him to pursue this murder, and to bring Willikins with him. Vimes does and collects Chief Constable Upshot as well, who was told not to help Vimes by one of the local magistrates—the very same one who told him to arrest Vimes earlier. They head to a turkey farm and meet Mr. Flutter, who Vimes corners and questions about the the death of the goblin girl. Flutter didn’t kill her, but he accompanied the man who did, Stratford. Vimes goes to the cellar, finds the Summoning Dark and gets the whole story from it. When he gives it to Flutter all laid out, he tells the man to turn King’s evidence. Flutter agrees. A few people from town gather to watch Vimes open the contraband tobacco they’re hiding on Flutter’s farm; the turkeys mask the smell of it. In the barrel, they also find Crystal Slam, and then many more of the drugs that kill troll kids. Vimes plans to send Flutter on to Ankh-Morpork as soon as he can and keep him locked up in Pseudopolis yard. Flutter tells him that Stratford claimed to be in with Lord Rust, and admits that they talked about Jethro being sent to see the queen, though Vimes isn’t sure what that means.

Back in Ankh-Morpork, Carrot and Angus go to visit Harry King and ask if any of the goblins working for him might be willing to talk to them. Harry points them in the direction of Billy Slick and his grandmother, the only goblins who’ve stayed in his employ. They ask Billy about unggue, but he doesn’t hold with any of the goblin traditions, and advises them to ask his gran (but only if they’ve got brandy on them). They grab some of Harry’s and meet Regret of the Falling Leaf—who is actually Billy’s great-gran. They tell her about the pot Fred found, and she explains that this sort of pot is created when a goblin mother is starving and has to eat her own infant to survive. She stores the spirit of the child in the pot until she can imbue it into her next child. Fred might die from being in contact with the pot, and she suggests they bring her more liquor and snuff before she’ll say anymore. Carrot and Angua send Cherry and Wee Mad Arthur to the tobacconist, who confirms that the cigar came from Howondaland. Wee Mad Arthur tells the group that he can get there and back in two days owing to a Feegle trick he learned; he jumps on an albatross and is off. Vimes wakes and briefly wrestles with the implications of listening to Summoning Dark in his investigations, wondering if it works for him, or the other way around.

Young Sam tells Vimes to come downstairs; Mr. Stoner, clerk for the magistrates, is there to issue him a Cease and Desist order. He’s also there to arrest him, having been named a temporary policeman after Feeney Upshot’s removal. Vimes refuses this outright and heads to the lockup, where Feeney’s mum is yelling at a gang of young men who’ve shown up. Feeney tells his mum to go inside and starts telling the young men off for upsetting his old mum. He also lets them know that he’s appointing Stinky as the first goblin constable. Vimes tells Mr. Stoner to run to Ankh-Morpork and throw himself on the mercy of the actual law, which is most certainly not what’s going on around here. He also finds out from Feeney that Flutter admitted several goblins were put on a ferry boat and taken away from here just the past evening. In Howondaland, Wee Mad Arthur finds a plantation full of goblin slaves who are being beaten and dying. He beats and chains up the guards before setting the goblins free. Vimes finds out more about the boat carrying the goblins from Flutter, a transport called the Wonderful Fanny, and decides he’ll have to set about catching it. He deputizes Willikins to look after the prisoner at the Hall while he’s gone.

Vimes and Feeney intend to catch up to the ship on horses, which Vimes is terrified to ride. Thankfully, Stinky shows up, insisting that he join them and making Vimes’s steed entirely amenable to the proceedings. It begins to storm heavily and Feeney explains that the river here, Old Treachery, is sometimes home to a “damn slam” where a storm pulls enough debris into the river to create a dam that eventually bursts. They find the Fanny, which is about to deal with a slam. The group dismount and jump aboard the barges. They meet a chicken farmer named Mr. False who is too afraid to go to see what’s happened because he heard screaming. Vimes gets weapons from the man’s toolbox, and they get to the next barge, which is holding the goblins—all weak, dying, or dead—with enough food for a long journey. They free them and find the captain’s wife and child being guarded by Mr. Brassbound, who turns against his comrades and offers to help. When Vimes makes it to the captain and finds Stratford, it turns out to be a bluff: Brassbound is Stratford. But Vimes had already guessed and handed him a useless weapon. Stratford is taken out by a branch that runs through the boat. Vimes then has to fight with both Sillitoe and his man Ten Gallons to get the goblins on board when they have to cut the rest of the barges loose.


There’s a thing we’ll have to get into in the next time about recognizing sentience through art—which is simultaneously a lovely thought and also a horrible method of “proof” to require anyone to provide. We’ve only just started with the harp-playing, though, so I think I’ll bring that up in the final part.

The way that Vimes’ relationship with the Summoning Dark plays out in this book really does make me wish that Pratchett had the chance to write more Watch books because this arc seems like something he intended to build upon, and I’m incredibly curious to what end he meant to take it. There’s a question within this about whether Vimes can use the Dark to his own ends, or he’s an agent of it, which is fascinating on its own from a sort of mythological standpoint: What does it mean to be the servant/wielder of an embodiment of affronts to justice?

What’s more interesting is the fact that Vimes keeps using the Summoning Dark to get information on what happened, and there’s a very clear ethical difficulty in that: Can he trust its version of events? Sure, when he goes to Flutter with the information it provides, he seems to corroborate the story, but we know that this is a method police often use to coerce confessions from people. So we’re being given a problem through fantastical means that asks a very real question about how the police obtain information and interrogate witnesses. And as usual, the only reason we’re given wiggle room to trust it here is because Sam Vimes is—in the broadest sense of the term—doing The Right Thing. He’s trying to free an entire race from slavery—obviously this is what we want him to do.

But there’s the Summoning Dark. And we don’t fully understand its motivations or desires, if it can be said to have any. And it is imbuing Sam Vimes with power that he otherwise would not have. And you have to assume that Vetinari knows about this state (or at least suspects it) because how could he not? So there’s an acknowledgement that the stacking of power here is getting really off-balance, even if we’re glad that Vimes is here to sort a few things out. And I’m so glad that Pratchett does this, that he never imparts magical power without the acknowledgement—not that “all magic comes with a price” (sorry, I hate that trite crap), but that all magic in the world isn’t just a neat little energy drink that makes things easier.

I also must point out that this is the first book where Sam Vimes actually acknowledges that he does need rest no matter how much he would like his body to carry him forever beyond any sense of exhaustion. Granted, the rest he takes is simply sitting down next to Willikins for a moment, but I’ll take it. Apparently age has finally imparted that small bit of wisdom. (Well, that and age also forces you to take those lessons to heart, but let’s not go there right now.)

Sam Vimes also may hate that Vetinari put him in an oversight position on the Watch, but those are lessons he’s taken to heart too. Vimes is so good at delegating now that he doesn’t even realize he’s doing it: He sets up Willikins to take care of the prisoner; he accepts help and expertise from Feeney and Stinky as they offer it; and he’s always listened, but now he’s better at it. He extrapolates faster; his head is clearer; he’s working more efficiently. He levels up, and it’s easy not to notice it because we’re always so deep inside his head that we’re mostly just getting his self-loathing and worry. But it’s all there.

And he does have a knack for inspiring people to stand on their own two feet. Feeney Upshot is actually a pretty smart kid, but he had no chance of coming into his own before Vimes showed him that he was more competent than he felt. And that’s a particularly important skill for people in high-up positions to have—not controlling others, but empowering them to take responsibility for their own lives and work. Vimes just comes that way, he gets it intrinsically. Feeney already seems like a completely different person from when we met him.

This book is also scathing in reminding us that so many among us are comfortable thinking of entire groups as Not People. We get a plethora of moments where we’re casually told that no one cares about the goblins because they’ve simply decided to agree with the magistrates: The rich nobs said they’re vermin, so we’re all allowed to think it—and treat them accordingly.

Good thing we’re about to get that sorted.

Asides and little thoughts

  • I cannot help the fact that my brain has decided that Stinky sounds exactly like Fidget in the The Great Mouse Detective. Things are more enjoyable that way, and I highly recommend trying out that voice in your head.
  • Sometimes I wonder if there were further plans for Carrot, or if what Pratchett does with him was always the point: Carrot kind of finds his place, settles in, and grows like this huge steady tree. The Watch books center on Vimes because he’s always going to be the person who gets things done, but also because he has a capacity for change that Carrot largely lacks. I dunno, I just kinda love that about them.
  • Love Mr. Sillitoe trying to get Vimes to use “port” and “starboard,” only to have Vimes reply, “Wouldn’t know about that, Gastric, never drank starboard.” Nerd.


The Street was talking to him even if it was in fact nothing more than a wide lane.

Mrs. Gumption would be very pleased about that and certainly more pleased than she was to be called a Gumption.

Meanwhile, on one astonished surreptitious albatross sat one hugely satisfied Feegle, who settled down in the feathers and began to eat a piece of the single hardboiled egg and two-inch slice of bread that were his rations for the tripe, while the universe rushed past them making a noise like weeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee.

He held in front of him a scroll with a red wax seal affixed, the kind of thing believed to make a document official—or at least expensive and difficult to understand, which, in fact, amounts to the same thing.

At this point there was a roll of thunder, not really appropriate to the last comment, and therefore without occult significance.

There was so much water in the air and so little light left that the difference between the river and shore could only be judged by seeing which one you fell into.

Next week we finish the book!

Source link

About The Author

Scroll to Top