The Fifth Elephant

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The Fifth Elephant
Written by: Terry Pratchett
Central Theme:
Synopsis: Vimes is sent to Uberwald, ostensibly to negotiate access to their fat exports, and ends up investigating the disappearance of the Scone of Stone - a vital part of the new Under King's coronation ceremony.
Genre(s): Fantasy
Series: Discworld
Preceded by: Carpe Jugulum
Followed by: The Truth
First published: 1999
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The 24th Discworld novel and the fifth in the Watch theme. The Scone of Stone, an ancient dwarven artifact, has been stolen, and without it, the new Low King of the Dwarfs cannot be crowned. It's up to Sam Vimes and the Ankh-Morpork City Watch to travel to Uberwald and unravel the dark conspiracy surrounding the theft. Also, Vimes fights werewolves.

Very significant in that it introduced the Clacks, breaking the Disc's former tradition of Medieval Stasis maintained by the Reset Button (as lampshaded by Lord Vetinari), and (along with the previous book Carpe Jugulum) began a theme of Uberwald being an important story setting that would continue for several books.

Not to be confused with The Fifth Element.

Tropes used in The Fifth Elephant include:
  • Above Good and Evil: A number of the vampires and werewolves hold to this thinking; Vimes sees it as what people firmly under the Evil category would use as an excuse.
  • Addiction Displacement: Lady Margolotta is a "blood teetotaler" who has transferred her lust for blood to a lust for control/politics. And fine tobacco.
  • All Animals Are Dogs: Not generally, but werewolves have doglike tendencies that become a plot point.
    • Well, as the book itself puts it, anything part human and part wolf must have some dog in there.
  • Ambadassador: Vimes and Detritus
  • Arc Words: "It is the thing, and the whole of the thing."
  • Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: Vimes sarcastically finishes his list of titles with the fact that he was a blackboard monitor at school. His assistant mentions that he should hold it in reserve in the event of a tie. But subverted in that the dwarfs, with their belief in the importance of the written word, assume that a responsibility for erasing words must surely only be given to a very trustworthy person indeed.
  • Ax Crazy: Wolfgang, acknowledged in-story.
  • Badass Boast: "Down there it's the Lore, but up here it's me "
  • Bamboo Technology: The Clacks, though based on a real system, are inexplicably faster, far cheaper, and vastly more effective than the telegraph was when first introduced on Earth. Given they function as a parody of the Internet, a modern offshoot of the telegraph, this is mostly forgivable.
    • A reason for their effectiveness is given in passing: Discworld has gargoyles, who are good at sitting around watching things and too uncreative to make many mistakes.
    • Also, since Discworld has no curvature, unless there are mountains in the way, a signal can travel very far indeed.
  • Betty and Veronica: Hinted at with werewolf Angua, who has run away from her human life with good, dependable Carrot and joined up with a "good friend" Gavin, a true wolf who is implied to be an old flame. She seems undecided as to whether she is going to return to Ankh-Morpork afterwards.
  • Bond One-Liner: Deliberately averted; Vimes thinks of some in his head after killing Wolfgang and realises that saying any of them would make him nothing more than a cold-hearted murderer.
  • Boomerang Bigot: Dee.
  • Cerebus Retcon: The Scone of Stone and B'hrian Bloodaxe are mentioned as throwaway gags in Feet of Clay but become a serious and dramatic part of this story.
  • Chekhov's Gun:
    • In the empty clacks tower, Vimes finds a mortar flare and reads the instructions, "Light fuse. Do not place in mouth." He also explains why it is a stupid weapon since it can't be aimed. Both of these come into play at the end of the book.
    • A Night at the Opera turns out to be important later, although Vimes himself hadn't been paying attention to the plot.
  • Colony Drop: The titular Fifth Elephant lost its footing on Great A'tuin's shell in prehistory and collided with the Disc, breaking apart its Pangaea-type supercontinent and being responsible for Uberwald's fat reserves.
  • Combat Pragmatist: Huge parts of the book read like a love letter to this trope.
  • Convenient Escape Boat: Subverted (and Invoked Trope), because werewolves really are very clever.
  • Covers Always Lie: Despite the enraged plummeting pachyderm on the cover of some editions, to say nothing of the title, the book is not actually about an elephant. Well, it is about an elephant, but a metaphorical, not literal, one. OK, OK, there is a literal elephant, but it's a legend of something that may or may not have happened millions of years ago.
    • The blurb on the back cover of one of the editions is also extremely misleading, with statements like "It's up to the dauntless solve the puzzle of the missing pachyderm" (that's not the crime he's solving at all, the fifth elephant is merely a legend, and is also a Uberwaldian phrase meaning "something that is not what it seems", but the back cover makes it sound like Vimes is actively looking for the literal fifth elephant).
  • Determinator: Vimes knows Wolfgang isn't finished due to these tendencies. He makes a short speech to Sybil comparing him to the men in Ankh-Morpork who will charge into insurmountable odds and won't give up until they're dead. One of the few times in the series that Vimes doesn't understand the irony of his and other people's statements.
  • Did We Just Have Tea with Cthulhu?? : Sam Vimes taking tea with Lady Margolotta. She might not look too scary in a fluffy pink jumper, but Tantony runs out the door, revealing his Obfuscating Stupidity by reacting to Vimes's dismissal before Cheery translated it.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: The geopolitical plot, with shattered Uberwald harboring rich fat reserves needed to make candles for Ankh-Morpork, is a parody of the West needing oil and gas from Russia—right down to the metaphor of "the lights go off."
    • Not to mention the Nazi werewolves.
    • On a less serious note, mention is made of some people using the new communication system in crowded public places, to the annoyance of people in their general vicinity. Now are we talking about the clacks, or cell phones?
  • Dress-Coded for Your Convenience: Averted with Margolotta: She dresses like a '50s mum but is probably one of the most dangerous and manipulative characters in the book.
  • Fantasy Counterpart Culture: Although Überwald was already Hammer-Horror-Transylvania, here it is expanded to take in Ruritania and the former Soviet Union—mention is made of the now defunct "Unholy Empire", a neat combination of the USSR and Holy Roman Empire.
    • And there's the fact that the Low King is chosen by important dwarfs and is King over a bunch of lesser Kings that run their own mines, just like the Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire being chosen by seven princes who all run their own kingdoms.
  • Fluffy the Terrible: Gavin the wolf, so called because he once ate someone called Gavin. Well, parts of him.
  • Foreshadowing: See the Our Lawyers Advised This Trope example below.
  • Fun with Acronyms: BCBs, or "Burnt Crunchy Bits," are impurities in the fat—possibly a Shout-Out to CFCs or to PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyl) a persistant organic pollutant that is, fittingly, highly soluble in fat.
    • Also, Leonard of Quirm as usual can't come up with snappy names for his inventions - after he invents a clacks code machine for the Patrician, he calls it the "Engine for the Neutralisation of Information by the Generation of Miasmic Alphabets", a sly cryptography Shout-Out.
  • Fun with Foreign Languages: Vimes can't quite speak dwarfish, introducing himself as "Overseer Vimes of the Look" and inadvertently using a form of the word 'dwarf' that indicates miscreant (which, as a policeman, is no doubt the term he used most often in street dwarfish).

"It is good for a diplomat to appear stupid. I'd say you've made an excellent start."

  • Fur Against Fang: Although it's more werewolves, vampires and dwarfs vs everybody (and each other).
  • Good Old Ways:
    • The setup for the whole plot is a major cultural schism between, broadly, the conservative mining dwarfs and the progressive city-dwelling ones.
    • Angua angrily compares the hunts her brother stages with the ones her father staged, where the hunted man had an honest chance. Deconstructed with Carrot's response that the men still died. (He was trying to not be nice for once.)
  • Good Is Not Dumb: Exhibited by Sybil when she negotiates the fat trade between Ankh-Morpork and the Dwarfs.
  • Gossip Evolution: Thirty men and a dog...
    • A Lampshade Hanging in that Vimes correctly predicted the final form as soon as the story got started.
  • Half-Human Hybrid: There's a little discussion about the technicalities of werewolves interbreeding with both humans and wolves. They can't change, but depending on the non-werewolf parent they come out either as particularly clever wolves or hairy and boisterous humans.
  • He's Got a Weapon!: Averted by Sam Vimes. When he is imprisoned by the dwarves, someone smuggles a single-shot crossbow into his cell. Vimes notes that if you want to help someone escape, you send them a key - sending someone a weapon will only get them killed via this trope, which is exactly what the sender had in mind.
  • Hint Dropping: Sybil keeps trying to tell Vimes that she's pregnant, but he's continually distracted by the mission and Watch duties.
  • Howl of Sorrow: Gaspode starts a mourning howl, which is passed on into the night by unseen wolf packs.
    • Given how small and mongrelly Gaspode is, this is something of an achievement.
  • Hunting the Most Dangerous Game: A tradition in Uberwald, where a peasant could legitimately win by outrunning the werewolf chasing him, gaining a substantial least until Wolfgang took it over. He doesn't play fair.
    • The name is less fitting here since in Überwald, you can hardly call humans the most dangerous things you could hunt, and werewolves are barely at any risk at all in so doing.
      • Until they decide to chase Vimes, that is.
  • Impossibly Tacky Clothes: Cheery and some other lady dwarfs put on some Pimped Out Dresses, to show off their femininity, but they go a bit too far.
  • Interspecies Romance: It's implied that werewolf Angua and the ordinary wolf Gavin (for the given value of "ordinary") were once romantically involved, despite the oft-repeated point that werewolves and wolves are entirely different species. For that matter, Carrot (human/really tall dwarf) and Angua (werewolf) also count. Angua even compares Gavin and Carrot to each other by their admirable qualities.
  • Intellectual Animal: Gavin is a lot smarter than he looks. He's also one of the only characters in the entire series who appears to be immune to Carrot. In fact, based on the fact that he can keep the wolves from killing Angua, he may even be their equivalent to Carrot.
  • Just Following Orders: Played straight and subverted. This is Tantony's excuse to Vimes after he let Sybil go with Serafine. Immediately and ruthlessly subverted upon when Vimes, in order to make a point to Tantony, orders Detritus to shoot him and Detritus tells him to shove it.
  • Killed Mid-Sentence: Skimmer is killed Mid-Verbal-Tic.
  • Malaproper: Nobby memorably says "verysillymiditude" instead of "verisimilitude".
  • Mister Muffykins: Margolotta owns one of these, although possibly it's as part of her Maniplulative Bitch In Sheeps Clothing deception, not because of any actual inclination towards small yappy dogs.
    • In fact, it's strongly hinted that it might not actually be a dog at all...
    • Although, given her relationship with and similarity to Lord Vetinari, who seems to hold a sincere affection for small, ugly dogs, it may be quite genuine. The fact that it plays into her façade is just a bonus.
  • Noble Bigot: Albrecht Albrechtsson. Lampshaded by Rhys.
  • Noble Shoplifter: Carrot insists on leaving money behind when he takes food from isolated farmhouses whilst trailing a werewolf pack into the mountains.
  • Not So Different: After Wolfgang's disappearance, Vimes explains to Sybil why he keeps his guard up by describing Wolfgang as "bottle covey" - someone who does not quit no matter how soundly he has been trounced. Sybil remarks that it sounds like someone she knows well.
  • Nothing Up My Sleeve: Inigo Skimmer has a specially designed palm dagger which allows him to remove people's heads with nothing more than a karate chop. Being a Crazy Prepared assassin, he also has little blades that come out of his shoes, a razor-edged hat, and an illegal spring-gonne. None of which saves him in the end.
  • Obfuscating Stupidity:
    • Skimmer tries this, but is too clever for his own good. At one point Vimes throws him an orange, and Skimmer lets it bounce off of him. At this point, Vimes knows that he is a professional, since an ordinary person would have either tried to catch it or at least flinched.
    • Skimmer also advises Vimes that this is a good trait in a diplomat.
    • Lady Margolotta is a more successful example, seeming pretty harmless for someone who tutored Vetinari in magnificent bastardy.
  • Our Lawyers Advised This Trope: The emergency signal flare rockets for the clacks tower have the warning "Do Not Place In Mouth". This turns out to foreshadow how Vimes kills Wolfgang (a werewolf that can only be killed by fire or silver): he tricks him into catching one of the rockets in his mouth before the flare goes off.
  • Partial Transformation: Unlike the way the trope usually works, werewolves mid-transformation are momentarily disoriented and the worst of both forms. He uses this to kil- defeat a couple of them in close combat. Wolfgang gets stuck halfway between wolf and man at the end, and is pretty fearsome.
  • Plot Armor: Vimes reflects that Carrot may have this in-universe, thanks to his royal destiny.
  • Pun-Based Title: On The Fifth Element.
  • Putting on the Reich: Wolfgang and Co.
  • A Riddle Wrapped in a Mystery Inside An Enigma: Lord Vetinari describes Uberwald as "a mystery inside a riddle wrapped in an enigma." Sergeant Colon misinterprets this and later refers to it as "a misery wrapped in an enema."
  • Sacrificial Lion: Inigo. Who ever thought Vimes would feel bad for an assassin?
    • Inigo was a scholarship boy, meaning it was effectively his only way out of poverty. Vimes knows full well how difficult it is to escape from that kind of background, and tends to judge those who have done so more leniently, with the important caveat that they do so without harming any innocents. Inigo works for Vetinari - the embodiment of Lawful Neutral, and is only ever shown killing in self-defence, or in defence of those he was ordered to protect.
  • Servile Snarker: Skimmer, after a while. Vimes commends him on dropping his original deferential attitude.
  • Shapeshifter Mode Lock: Apparently quite common in werewolves—Angua had a human-shaped sister and a wolf-shaped brother. Wolfgang killed the former and chased off the latter.
  • Shapeshifter Swan Song: Downplayed—when Wolfgang comes back the last time, he seems to be having trouble controlling his transformations, and is wobbling around the halfway point between man and wolf.
  • Shout-Out:
    • A wad of thick ones to Anton Chekhov, of all people. The three sisters that equip Vimes against the werewolves are a mash-up of references to Chekhov's works: they are The Three Sisters, who are stuck in an old house with a Cherry Orchard and used to have an old Uncle named Vanya. Their specific characterisations are also a mash-up of Chekhov's female characters from those books.
    • Colon's frantic obsession with "missing" sugar is a shout out to the captain's obsession with strawberries in "The Caine Mutiny".
    • Lady Sybil realizes her husband is alive because the werewolf villains are so intensely upset: "...when the shouting started she knew Sam was alive and well, because only Sam made people that angry." This references John McClane's wife realizing he's not dead when she sees a "terrorist's" insane degree of rage: "Only John can drive someone that crazy."
  • Shrouded in Myth: The titular Fifth Elephant; the Scone of Stone. Even several of the political figures of Uberwald.
  • Spy From Weights and Measures: Skimmer pretending to be an ordinary clerk.
  • Steampunk: Though lacking actual steam engines, the Clacks in this book begins a trend of driving Ankh-Morpork from Medieval Stasis over to this setting.
    • Also, the traffic control subplot carried over from the previous Watch book. The traffic security came—I mean, imps, for example.
  • Stop or I Will Shoot: Very consciously averted. Vimes makes it a point to do it by the book and spell it out crystal clear to a perp he's in hot pursuit of: He is armed, and will respond with force if the perp continues to resist arrest. Vimes thus gives him ample time and opportunity to surrender. Wolfgang doesn't. Vimes shoots him, having never expected him to take him up on it for a second. If he hadn't done it by the book, though, it would have been murder.
  • Tempting Fate: A subtle example appears in Wolfgang's chosen symbol of a wolf's head biting a mouthful of lightning bolts. Granted, they're not literal fireworks, but symbolically it rates as this trope.
  • Third Line, Some Waiting: While many Discworld books are Two Lines, No Waiting or Four Lines, All Waiting, this one cuts to short scenes of Colon and his power trip, ensuing paranoia and inability to count to thirty as Acting Captain. And in doing so brings the much-needed funny to a primary plotline that is about as dark and serious as anything Pratchett has ever written.
  • Too Dumb to Fool: Vetinari's insinuating way of speaking, which are usually enough to terrify anyone talking to him into submission, flies completely over Colon's head, even as Vetinari gets increasingly unsubtle about his feelings about Colon's work. (Amusingly enough, Colon is one of the many people in Ankh-Morpork terrified of Vetinari using sarcasm on him, even as he fails to notice it happening.)
  • Überwald: Obviously.
  • Unfortunate Names: The town of Bonk. (This is funnier in British English[1]) Also "Ankh-Morpork", because "Morpork" in the Uberwaldian language means "an item of ladies' underwear" (Vimes wonders which item). Also note Bonk is supposedly more strictly pronounced Beyonk.
    • This is a reference to Slavic languages having phonemic palatalization, and this being consistently ignored in transcriptions into languages which don't; which is to say, most of them. In this case, the initial 'B' is palatalized, which inserts a 'y' sound between it and the next vowel. In Cyrillic, it would probably be spelled Бёнк, which could also be transliterated "Byonk".
      • For a bit of an unintentional Bilingual Bonus, the proper Russian translation of "bonk", трах or трахнуть, retains the British double-entendre nature of the word - it can mean either "hit someone over the head" or "have passionate sex with someone".
  • Uncanny Valley: In-universe—Vimes notes than Lady Margolotta is trying very hard to look like a harmless middle-aged housewife, but she's missed it by just enough to give quite a chilling effect. Of course, considering who we're talking about, this could be entirely deliberate.
  • Unsettling Gender Reveal: Not only Dee, but it's strongly hinted that the Low King is female as well.
  • Vampires Are Sex Gods: Nicely subverted with Lady Margolotta, who is said to resemble an attractive, middle-aged housewife, and wears fuzzy pink sweaters with bat patterns.
    • Vetinari's uncharacteristic pauses of nostalgic longing seem to indicate a special something she had with him. Whatever she is now, she might have had a much greater "presence" back in Vetinari's younger days.
  • Vampires Are Rich: Lady Margolotta
  • Verbal Tic: Inigo has one, mhm mhm.
  • Villainous Breakdown: At the end, Dee is confirmed to have done it all specifically because of the growing Dwarf Femininity movement in Ankh-Morpork. Anyone who has been around a Transgendered person when they're first realizing what's going on inside them could probably have quoted significant chunks of that discussion and the one that came afterward.
  • Weapon for Intimidation: This is Vimes' philosophy, as opposed to Skimmer's.
  • What Measure Is a Non-Human?: Subverted
  • A Worldwide Punomenon: The title is a pun on The Fifth Element; interestingly the next two books also talk about the Discworld's own Fifth Element, Surprise.
    • Also the Scone of Stone is a humorous reversal of the stone upon which Scottish monarchs were crowned (until the English stole it), the Stone of Scone (pronounced 'skoon' - they have it back, but are 'asked' to return it for the monarch's coronation, their monarch too of course, as it is a part of the ceremony).
      • This is priceless: not only we get a Shout Out to the real, English coronation rituals, but a scone is a) an old word for altar, and b) a kind of pastry. And dwarfs do treat their baked goods very reverentially, and make them rock-hard... All that simply by reversing the word's order. But this is Pratchett we're talking about.
  • You Are What You Hate: Dee.
  1. "bonk" being a fairly harmless word for "have sex with"