Monday, 30 March 2015

The Fifth Elephant by Terry Pratchett



published 1999

Fifth Elephant

[Sam Vimes and his wife Sybil are on a diplomatic mission to Uberwald, home of the dwarfs. They are attending the opera there. Vimes is late, so Sybil catches him up]

‘It’s nearly over,’ whispered Sybil. ‘they’ve only performed the bit concerning the baking of the Scone, really, but at least they’ve included the Ransom Aria. Ironhammer escapes from prison with the help of Skalt, steals the truth that Agi has hidden, conceals it by baking it into the Scone, and persuades the guards around Bloodaxe’s camp to let him pass. The dwarfs believe that truth was once a, a thing… a sort of ultimate rare metal, really, and the last bit of it is inside the Scone. And the guards can’t resist, because of the sheer power of it. The song is about how love, like truth, will always reveal itself, just as the grain of truth inside the Scone makes the whole thing true. It’s actually one of the finest pieces of music in the world. Gold is hardly mentioned at all.’

Vimes stared.

 
observations: I was reading this book to get information about wolves, obviously, in order to write some more about Wolf Hall and Ford Madox Ford - you can see the results here. Sadly, my reading became very pertinent with the death of Terry Pratchett, who was remembered on the blog here.

The book was the usual terrific fun: amusing, entertaining, brilliantly clever, and satirizing everything in sight, from the Enigma spy machines to Chekhov’s – three sisters who have a cherry orchard, the gloomy and purposeless trousers of Uncle Vanya, and a great longing to get to Ankh-Morpork, which they see as ‘A veritable heaven of culture and sophistication and unattached men of quality.’ Vimes is astonished.

The Patrician has a very high hitrate with great lines in fleeting appearances: he describes how in the past ‘young men from Ankh-Morpork used to go on what we called the Grand Sneer, visiting far-flung countries and cities in order to see at first hand how inferior they were.’ When The Watch goes on strike, he tells Corporal Nobbs ‘I gather you have withdrawn your labour. In your case, I am sure this presented a good deal of difficulty,’ which Nobby is very unsure about.

At one point a list of werewolves are named to include ‘Nancy …Unity. The pack’s all here then?’ (Special unexpected Mitford reference for Col). The werewolves are horrifying and quite splendid characters:
People don’t like wolves that can think like people, and people don’t like people who can act like wolves. Which just shows that people are the same everywhere, even when they’re wolves.
On posh occasions, Lady Sybil normally ‘wore ballgowns of a light blue, a colour often chosen by ladies of a certain age and girth to combine the maximum of quiet style with the minimum of visibility.’ But she always has great presence, as she demonstrates when she sings the dwarfs favourite song, Ironhammer’s Ransom song.
The dwarfs were staring at Lady Sybil as she changed up through the gears into full, operatic voice…. Snow slid off roofs. Icicles vibrated. With a spiky corset and a hat with wings on it she could be ferrying dead warriors off a battlefield.
Everything turns out all right in the end, Vimes and Sybil get a holiday, and the final words are
‘Wolves never look back,’ he whispered.
Oh Terry Pratchett you will be sorely missed, though at least you produced a really satisfying quantity of work in your lifetime.

The picture, from a book about opera, shows Hagen and Alberich-the-dwarf from Wagner’s ring Cycle. As a Terry Pratchett expert reminded me, Albrecht Albrechtson (practically the same name) is a very important dwarf in Uberwald, so it seems a particularly good choice.










8 comments:

  1. Moira - It takes real talent to do satire well, and I give Pratchett credit for that. And to do so in the context of a sort of fantasy novel takes even more skill. Pratchett will be sorely missed indeed...

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    1. He was SO extraordinarily clever - his terms of reference were unbelievably wide. Even now, when I am used to the idea, he can still surprise me with his satire...

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  2. I do look forward to trying the Sam Vimes books by Prachett. Maybe it won't take me too long to get there. I don't do well reading satire; I just don't pick up on things, but I am sure his writing can be enjoyed at many levels.

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    1. I think you will like them Tracy, because you like a certain amount of fantasy. And in my view the Vimes books are the best ones, though other people's opinions vary of course.

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  3. Sounds good, but if I do read him it will be Daniel's Guards book recommendation

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    1. It wouldn't suit you to be starting in the middle Col - go with the beginner book!

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  4. I read a few of his, thoroughly enjoyed them, but somehow didn't catch the Pratchett bug - no idea why not as most of my froends did

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    1. Well you gave it a fair shot Sergio. And you can always pick up another one when you feel like it - I consider myself a big fan, but there's still plenty I haven't read, I'm working my way through them, usually taking advice from my son, who is a very serious fan and owns and has read them all.

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