Guards! Guards!

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
Guards! Guards!
Written by: Terry Pratchett
Central Theme:
Synopsis: Ever wondered what it's like to be a member of the Redshirt Army? Here's a story from their point of view!
Genre(s): Fantasy
Series: Discworld
Preceded by: Pyramids
Followed by: Eric
First published: 1989
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They may be called the Palace Guard, the City Guard, or the Patrol. Whatever the name, their purpose in any work of heroic fantasy is identical: it is, round about Chapter Three (or ten minutes into the film) to rush into the room, attack the hero one at a time, and be slaughtered. No-one ever asks them if they wanted to.
This book is dedicated to those fine men.

The eighth Discworld book and the first to feature the City Watch, one of the most popular of the major character groups/themes in Pratchett's creation, plus the first appearance of C.M.O.T. Dibbler, though as a one-note gag character. It is also notable in that it is the first of the Discworld books in which Patrician Vetinari is the Magnificent Bastard we all know and love. Up until this point Pterry was still working out the character, and aspects of the final product appeared in other books, but Guards! Guards! is the first book in which the character is recognisable as he exists now.

Once upon a time, the Ankh-Morpork City Watch was a proud lawkeeping organisation, but nowadays the Machiavellian Patrician, Lord Vetinari, keeps the peace by the simpler notion of instituting the Guild of Thieves and asking them to police crime themselves. The Night Watch has dwindled away, and now there are only three officers left - Captain Sam Vimes, Sergeant Fred Colon and Corporal "Nobby" Nobbs. The fourth, Herbert Gaskin, died a week before the book takes place when he took his job too seriously and actually chased after a thief with intent to catch him, and the thief had a couple of mates waiting in an alleyway...

They are joined by the newest recruit, Lance-Constable Carrot Ironfoundersson, who was raised by dwarfs in the mountains. A huge, powerful and highly moral and innocent young man, he immediately tries to arrest the head of the Thieves' Guild and clean up the Mended Drum pub - and succeeds. Not only is he tough, he also has a strange... charisma.

At the same time, The Elucidated Brethren of the Ebon Night is planning to summon a noble dragon using a book stolen from Unseen University's Library and use it in a ploy to place a puppet ruler on the throne as king. Almost unwittingly, Vimes and his crew are on the case, with the help of upper-class swamp dragon breeder Sybil Ramkin. But can these unlikely heroes save the city when the dragon decides to take the throne for itself?

Guards! Guards! has been adapted into a play and a graphic novel, and is often cited as the best Discworld novel for new readers to start the series. Notably, Pratchett said that Carrot was originally going to be the viewpoint character, but the structure of the book didn't allow it so he made up Vimes - who is now one of the most popular and complex characters in the whole of Discworld.

Tropes used in Guards! Guards! include:

Sybil: Do you realise we're very probably seeing something no-one has seen for centuries?
Vimes: Yes, it's a bloody flying alligator setting fire to my city!

  • Alien Geometries: It's mentioned that Unseen University Library would make even M. C. Escher take a good lie down, or possibly sideways.
  • Antiquated Linguistics: The oath of loyalty sworn by the Brethren, especially the bit about what will happen to them if they break faith, is full of obscure and antiquated words; it's a running joke that they're all in mortal fear of having their figgin taken out and toasted on a spike, without any of them being entirely sure what a figgin is. (A footnote tells us it's a pastry filled with raisins, and the guards enjoy some later on.)
    • Other words in the oath include welchet ("a type of waistcoat worn by certain clock-makers"), gaskin ("a shy, grey-brown bird of the coot family") and moules ("a game of skill and dexterity, involving tortoises"). The oath, when one doesn't know the meaning of the words in it, sounds much more menacing than it actually is. The Supreme Grand Master notes the fact that none of them have asked what any of the words mean as a sign of their stupidity.
  • Attack Its Weak Point: Colon attempts to hit the dragon in it with an arrow. He has no idea what its Weak Point actually is, but you'd know it if you saw it, right?
  • Berserk Button: The first book where saying monkey[1] in front of the Librarian is potentially lethal.
  • The Big Guy: Carrot, who not only manages to take out the entire clientele of the Mended Drum at once, but beats Detritus at the same time. For those who don't know, Detritus is a troll, and therefore made of solid rock.
  • Black and Gray Morality: The Patrician explains his worldview to Vimes in this way:

"I believe you find life such a problem because you think there are the good people and the bad people. You're wrong, of course. There are, always and only, the bad people - but some of them are on opposite sides."

    • Then again, Vimes' reaction to this worldview (namely pointing out that, even with such a dark view, Vetinari still chooses to get up in the morning), the loyalty and bravery of the Watch (particularly Carrot) and the scene near the end where the watch subverts the Patrician's expectations of them by asking for a dartboard instead of ego-boosting honours seems to hint that Vetinari's worldview might not actually be correct. And Vetinari's comment as Vimes walks away, "There's a good man", might seem like just a comforting statement, but given Vetinari's tendency to never say things accidentally might mean Vetinari himself doesn't entirely believe his philosophy, or that Vetinari has reconsidered his previous views. (It might even be that he doesn't believe it at all, and was saying that to wind Vimes up, as he does in later books.)
  • Book Ends: When we're first introduced to Vimes, he's drunkenly comparing the city to a woman. At the end of the book as his romance with Lady Sybil blossoms, he compares the woman to a city.
  • Bread, Eggs, Milk, Squick: a couple of examples:
    • A list of strange and terrible things Errol has eaten includes things like fireplace pokers and cobblestones, but what astonishes everyone is that he ate three of C.M.O.T. Dibbler's sausages.
    • And the rules of the Librarians of Space and Time are:

1) Silence.
2) Books must be returned no later than the last date shown.
3) Do not interfere with the nature of causality.

  • Brick Joke: When the heroes refuse to slay the dragon because Vetinari doesn't have a daughter to give her hand in marriage, Vetinari mention he does have an aunt. This was never referred to again until Night Watch, years later and mostly set before this book, when Vetinari's aunt Lady Roberta Meserole is a significant character.
    • Also, his little dog, which shows up in The Truth as a major character and gets another mention in Going Postal.
    • The "eye-watering words" mentioned at the start keep popping up. For instance, after going out to get some food, Nobby innocently asks the captured Brother Fingers if he wants his figgin toasted, with predictable results.
    • Among the things C.M.O.T. Dibbler sells are mystic products "made from over fifty different rare spices and herbs to a recipe known only to a bunch of ancient monks what live on some mountain somewhere". Vimes (and the reader) dismisses this as his usual sales talk given the quality of the rest of his goods, but at the very end of the book, as we pan across the Discworld, there's a brief moment where two monks on a mountain at the Hub of the world prepare to send their latest shipment to Dibbler.
  • By-The-Book Cop: Carrot.
  • Canis Latinicus: "FABRICATI DIEM, PVNC" the modern-day motto of the Night Watch.[2]
  • The Cat Came Back: How Vetinari torments Wonse near the end.
  • The Commandments: The three rules of the Librarians of Space and Time are:
    1. Silence.
    2. Books must be returned no later than the last date shown.
    3. Do not interfere with the nature of causality.
  • Conservation of Ninjutsu: the Genre Savvy Palace Guards believe that being asked to take out a single man means certain defeat for them, as he might even swing from the chandelier. Fortunately for them, Vimes isn't feeling heroic.
    • As later books show, if he was in the right mood (i.e. pissed off) he could have taken them all on and won.
  • Continuity Nod: when Vimes is fired from the Watch, Lady Sybil suggests that he leave for Sto Helit, where the Duke and Duchess (a rather young couple) are looking for a guard captain. Guess who?
  • Cool Sword: In a magical land like Discworld, Carrot's sword is unique for not being magical at all. It is so non-magical it's realer than most of the Discworld. It's one of those things, like Death, where it simply is. Since most of Discworld is magical, and the sword is not, it's a hot knife through butter.
  • Defeat Means A Little More Than Friendship: Errol and Her Majesty.
  • Decoy Protagonist: Carrot. Actually an unintentional example: Pratchett intended to make him the protagonist, but needed a voice in the city before Carrot arrived, threw the character of Vimes together out of clichés as a stop-gap, and he ended up taking on a life of his own.
  • Disney Villain Death: Lupine Wonse, a.k.a the Supreme Grand Master's ultimate fate.
  • Dissimile: How a Literal-Minded Sergeant Colon interprets Vimes' "This city is a woman" idea when they're both drunk. "Got a river running through it, sir. Lots of people and houses."
  • Drowning My Sorrows: Vimes, constantly.
  • Early Installment Weirdness: All (Morporkian) writing is in Ye Olde Butcherede Englishe, and years are numbered rather than given animal names as in later books.
  • Entendre Failure: Happens with Carrot admitting he "got a girl back home in trouble" (because she was a dwarf and he was a human), and that he stays at Mrs. Palm's brothel (which he thinks is a boarding house) every night.
  • Establishing Character Moment: Vetinari in the cell, Vimes' rant about the law to Lupine Wonse (or perhaps his earlier defence of Lady Sybil using one of her own swamp dragons as a handgun).
  • Extreme Omnivore: The swamp dragons. Errol in particular.
  • Fantastic Science: The equation that explains the Alien Geometries of Unseen University Library—not because it is magical, but simply because it is a library. "Knowledge = power = energy = matter = mass: a good bookshop is just a genteel Black Hole that knows how to read".
  • Fake Ultimate Hero
  • Feeling Oppressed by Their Existence: The motivation for most members of the Elucidated Bretheren.
  • Female Monster Surprise: The dragon.
  • Genre Savvy:
    • The Palace Guards are absolutely terrified of Vimes because he is alone, unarmed, and smiling - the most dangerous kind of enemy to a henchman army. Subverted in that he actually is as little of a threat as such a person should be.
    • Also, the members of the Watch believe that a Million-to-One Chance will be practially guaranteed to succeed - more likely than a Thousand to One or even Hundred to One Chance - and intentionally manipulate the situation to make it more unlikely, until it is as close to Million to One as possible. It still fails--but fortunately, their chances of surviving the failure were exactly a million to one.
  • Grail in the Garbage: Carrot's utterly mundane sword. His aggressively, uniquely, powerfully mundane sword.
  • Groin Attack: Actually somewhat subverted. Since Carrot has a "Protective", people who try to knee him end up injuring themselves.
    • Also, Nobby kicks a troll "in the rocks" while it's down and nearly breaks his foot in the process.
    • Their attempt to hit the dragon's "voonerables", apart from being a Shout-Out to the lore about a dragon's one vulnerable spot in The Hobbit, might be a Groin Attack, since that's what the characters tend to mean when they refer to a person's "voonerables". Unfortunately, if so, they were aiming for a spot that particular dragon was missing.

Colon: You know all about voonerables, Nobby. I've watched you fight.

We were dragons. We were supposed to be cruel, cunning, heartless and terrible. But this much I can tell you, you ape: We never burned and tortured and ripped one another apart and called it morality.

    • Harsher in Hindsight once you've read Night Watch, and realize Wonse's memory of living in terror of the Cable Street Particulars is probably what the dragon found so horrifying, not just unspecified historical atrocities.
    • Vimes also gets this when he overhears a crowd of citizens rationalising away the idea of feeding their own people to the dragon.
  • Hypocritical Humor: "But when I rule the city, the Supreme Grand Master said to himself, there is going to be none of this. I shall form a new secret society of keen-minded and intelligent men, although not too intelligent of course, not too intelligent. And we will overthrow the cold tyrant and we will usher in a new age of enlightenment and fraternity and humanism and Ankh-Morpork will become a Utopia and people like Brother Plasterer will be roasted over slow fires if I have any say in the matter, which I will."
  • I Cannot Self-Terminate: "Help. Me." To the head of the Guild of Assassins. There's only one sort of help he can give...
  • Impossible Insurance: Dibbler promises that his "dragon protection" cream will save you from being burned to death by dragon flame, and if it doesn't work then you get your money back (upon personal application only).
  • Innocent Innuendo: "Why? It's my bloody dragon."
  • Interspecies Adoption: Carrot was raised by dwarves.
  • The Ishmael: As described above, this is how Vimes was originally conceived - the observer to Carrot's hero. He was just an extremely successful Breakout Character.
  • Just Like Making Love: Vimes refers to some particularly weak coffee as "love-in-a-canoe" coffee. The standard punchline[3] is omitted.
  • The Last DJ: Although this becomes famously inverted as the watch series goes on, Vimes starts as a classic case, complete with Drowning My Sorrows.

"Every time he seemed to be getting anywhere he spoke his mind, or said the wrong thing. Usually at the same time."

  • Lawful Stupid: Carrot to the nth degree, although the fact that he can knock out trolls means there's not much the hardened criminals can do about it. He wises up in later books, but finds it useful to keep pretending he's like this.
  • Literal-Minded: Carrot doesn't understand the concept of metaphors, which leads to some hilarious moments, not the least of which involves a time where he is told to throw the book at someone. He obliges, unfortunately for the victim.
  • Lonely Funeral
  • Love At First Punch: Or rather, Love At First Sonic-Boom Backlash, between Errol and the King.
  • Made of Explodium: The swamp dragons are very prone to exploding because of their digestive processes.
  • The Meddling Kids Are Useless: The Watch end up being superfluous during the Dragon's takeover of the city, and it is implied that Vetinari was already aware of Wonse's plot. How much control Vetinari had is debatable, however, as Vimes does save him from Wonse's attempt to kill him.
  • Million-to-One Chance: A hilarious attempt at invocation.
  • Mind Screw: Vimes wonders how Vetinari can still claim to be in control when he's locked in a cell. Vetinari invites him to look at the cell door (a heavy iron one with many bolts), really look at it. It takes Vimes a minute before he sees it:

Vimes stared at the door until his eyebrows ached. And then, just as random patterns in cloud suddenly, without changing in any way, become a horse's head or a sailing ship, he saw what he'd been looking at all along. A sense of terrifying admiration overcame him. He wondered what it was like in the Patrician's mind. All cold and shiny, he thought, all blued steel and icicles and little wheels clicking along like a huge clock. The kind of mind that would carefully consider its own downfall and turn it to advantage.

It was a perfectly normal dungeon door, but it all depended on your sense of perspective.

In this dungeon the Patrician could hold off the world.

All that was on the outside was the lock.

All the bolts and bars were on the inside.

  • Monster Protection Racket: the Brethren's scheme.
  • Mooks: The dedication makes it clear that this book was intended to subvert the idea. But Terry liked the Watch too much to let them go after one book, and the rest is history.
    • He said (in The Art of Discworld), "I wanted to give them a moment in the sun, but it turned out to be a full tropical holiday."
  • Mugging the Monster: A relatively rare example from Discworld where the monster is not Angua. The first two times the dragon appeared, it was in the Shades. People tried to mug it the first time and the second time it accidentally saved the Watch from getting mugged, scaring the crap out of them in the process.
  • Myopic Architecture: Vetinari is revealed to have done this on purpose: while the lock to the palace dungeon is on the outside, the locking mechanisms are on the inside. Would-be usurpers throw him in the dungeon expecting it to serve as an Oubliette; instead, it's an impregnable fortress that he can "escape" at his leisure.
  • Naive Newcomer: Carrott, though he's not really an audience surrogate because, at least if the readers have read the previous books, they already know most of the stuff about Ankh-Morpork he writes home about.
  • Innuendo Backfire: Carrot ends up staying with Mrs. Palm and her 'daughters' thanks to this.
  • No Name Given: The Big Bad's stand-in "king" is never named. Lampshaded when a minor character assumes his name is "Rex Vivat" ("Long Live the King") because he keeps seeing the phrase on banners.
  • Nonsense Classification: The four food groups: sugar, starch, grease, and burnt crunchy bits.
  • Oblivious Adoption: The novel provides the page quote for that page.
  • Offered the Crown
  • Offscreen Teleportation: After he's let himself out of his cell ("escaped" would imply he hadn't planned to be there), Vetinari pulls this on Wonse repeatedly to mess with him, using hidden passages.

"That was commendably speedy, Wonse."

Colon: "You don't use the 'M' word. Gets right up his nose, sir. He can't help it, he loses all self-control. Like a red rag to a wossname, sir. 'Ape' is all right, sir, but not the 'M' word. Because, sir, when he gets angry he doesn't just go and sulk, sir, if you get my drift. He's no trouble at all apart from that, sir. All right? Just don't say monkey. Ohshit."

  • The Password Is Always Swordfish: Double subverted. When one of the Supreme Grand Master's conspirators is trying to get into their meeting, he has to exchange a long string of non sequitur Spy Speak to get in the door. However, these are apparently so generic that he manages to get quite a long way in before realizing one of them doesn't match up and they realize he's got the wrong address, and is trying to get into a completely different secret society. Furthermore, when he does have the right place, it turns out one of the people belonged to the other society, but no one had noticed until they said their society's name.
  • Platonic Prostitution
  • Posthumous Character: "Leggy" Gaskin, who was killed shortly before the start of the book and we first meet Vimes on the way back from his funeral.
  • Powder Keg Crowd
  • Prophecy Twist: Near the start a character briefly mentions (and dismisses) a prophecy that "Yea, the king will come bringing Law and Justice, and know nothing but the Truth, and Protect and Serve the People with his Sword". Although hardly anyone notices, the prophecy is fulfilled exactly. Note that the prophecy doesn't actually say he'll take the throne.
  • Rightful King Returns: Invoked by the plan of the Grand Supreme Master. Subverted with Carrot.
  • Sealed Evil in a Can: The old dragons.
  • Secret Circle of Secrets: The Unique and Supreme Lodge of the Elucidated Brethren of the Ebon Night.
  • Secret Handshake: The Supreme Grand Master notes to himself that the members of the Brethren are "the sort to dislocate their fingers with even the simplest secret handshake".
  • Serious Business: The Librarian considers the theft of a book to be a worse crime than murder. Of course, it is a magical book that allows one to summon dragons, but it's implied that all librarians feel this way about all books.
  • Shoot Out the Lock: "What, with a bow and arrow?!"
    • Vimes is rather confused as to why he'd given that order, but it's implied that he was tapping into some timeless copper folk-consciousness.
  • Shout-Out:
  • Smug Snake: The Supreme Grand Master, a.k.a. Lupine Wonse, who vastly overestimates his own power in summoning and controlling the dragon, not to mention the fact that he thought he could do a better job than Vetinari.
  • Spy Speak: Very prevalent among the numerous secret organizations apparently, leading to more than one humourous misunderstanding.
  • Square-Cube Law: Lampshaded. Sybil specifically points out that you can't just scale things up and have them work the same way. Justified by the dragon using magic to support itself.
  • Standard Hero Reward: Subverted. All the dragon slaying heroes insist on this for slaying the dragon, but Vetinari makes it clear there is no princess and this is not a kingdom. He does have an aunt, though. And a dog.
    • Double Subverted, though, if you think hard about what Vimes eventually gets as a result of this book. Namely, the hand of a duchess (if not a princess), and becoming one of the wealthiest men in the city, if not actually owning half of it.
    • This trope got double subverted earlier, if you consider what the fellow ( Errol) who really defeated the King got out of the deal. Granted, they didn't bother to take half the kingdom, but she'd already found out that Ankh-Morpork's idea of "gold" wasn't worth hoarding, and they could hardly bring half a city along when they flew away, perhaps to join Errol's distant relations on the Moon.
  • Summon Bigger Fish: Vimes catches Wonse planning to summon another dragon to fight the first one.
  • Sword of Plot Advancement: Subverted, of course. The fake heir to the throne has an incredibly shiny sword covered in gems and doesn't really do him much good, while Carrot's aggressively non-magical, completely sword-like sword can cut through pretty much anything.
  • Team Pet: Errol. Who's pretty much a Lethal Joke Character.
  • Think Nothing of It: Vimes is surprised to hear that he and his men will be rewarded for their efforts to save the city.

The Patrician: Oh, and do bring your men in tomorrow. The city must show its gratitude.
Vimes: It must what?

    • When they are told that they can have a reward, his men ask for a small raise, a new tea kettle, and a dartboard (being afraid that they went too far with the last one.)
  • This Bed of Roses: Carrot has no idea he's staying at a brothel.
  • This Is Your Brain on Evil: It's so freaky you're asking the head of the Guild of Assassins for help. (And it's Nightmare Fuel for the assassin: "Help. Me.")
  • Throw the Book At Them: Literally, in one case.
  • Time Travel: How the Librarian eventually discovers who stole his book. He is able to do this because all libraries are interconnected through L-Space and he is able to find the paths connecting the Unseen University Library to any other...including the Unseen University Library of two weeks ago.
  • Title Drop: The Big Bad yells "Guards! Guards!" twice, once to summon the guards to arrest Vimes (see Conservation of Ninjutsu), and another to get rid of Vetinari.
  • Trail of Bread Crumbs: The Librarian does this when navigating through L-Space with a big ball of string. He ties one end to his desk in the middle of the Library...and when he reaches his destination, the same place but two weeks ago, he ties the other end to his two-weeks-younger desk with his two-weeks-younger self sleeping behind it. Try not to think about this too much.
  • Turn in Your Badge: Wonse demands this from Vimes after he disrupts the coronation (mistaking a raven for the dragon).
  • Unfamiliar Ceiling: This happens to Vimes.
  • Welcome to the Big City: Carrot's arrival in Ankh has elements of this; he doesn't get robbed himself, but he doesn't cope well with the idea that theft is legal (and that the Watch are probably closer to criminals than the Thieves' Guild are). Although he's so naive he doesn't notice the prostitution, even when he's staying at Mrs Palm's.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Vimes "being brung low by a woman" as part of the backstory for his alcoholic state is not referred to again, even though later books explore his earlier life some more and make more than one Continuity Nod to other elements from this book (such as Leggy Gaskin).
    • The Watchmen might think that Vimes was referring to an actual woman, but considering that Vimes referred to Ankh-Morpork as a woman at least twice earlier in the book, the "woman" may have been there the entire time.
  • A Wizard Did It: The dragon is able to fly... because of Magic. Of course, in the Discworld, this is a perfectly legitimate explanation.
  • Ye Olde Butcherede Englishe: The spellbook. And Vimes writes his notes like this - he doesn't speak that way, so it's presumably implying that like Carrot (who can spell alright but commits Wanton Cruelty to the Common Comma), he's not especially literate. (This was subsequently dropped in future books.)
  1. ohshit
  2. They think it means "To Protect And To Serve" but it actually translates as "Make My Day, Punk".
  3. (it's fucking close to water)