ON SEEKING WAR, AND PREPARING FOR IT: RE-READING JINGO by TERRY PRATCHETT
Book title: Jingo
Author: Sir Terry Pratchett, OBE
Jingo is the 23rd Discworld novel written by Terry Pratchett published in 1997.
Commander Sir Samuel Vimes dreams of small time crimes. The kind where the criminal runs and he chase. Walk the beat at night, feel the city through his boots. Maybe by the end of the week he could get to the bottom of the mountain of paperwork on his desk. Plain old policing. Alas, the universe conspires or more accurately, people conspires. An island suddenly sprung in the seas between Ankh-Morpork and neighbor country Klatch. Soon enough, more undesirables surface – diplomats, princes, assassins, patriots and sardines! A policeman can’t help but feel out of his depth! War has come, and the whole of Discworld watches what Sam Vimes would do!
SPOILERS AND POSSIBLY SQUIDS FROM THIS POINT
Jingo is easily Terry Pratchett’s craziest stunt. Unlike most City Watch novels, Jingo didn’t start with a murder or death (or at least not obviously criminal). It starts with squids and fishermen! It is fair to say that everything would have continued peacefully where it not for a freak geological movement which caused an island (much like Atlantis, though possible less grander and definitely smellier), to surface.
Crane up to Ankh-Morpork where the social weathercocks are stirring in the direction of war! From the humblest citizen to the bigwigs in the war councils of Ankh-Morpork, everyone is talking big and thinking small.
But this being a City Watch novel and our main heroes and heroines -policemen, it’s not going to be about the merits of diplomacy. It’s going to be about the delights and excites of proactive crime fighting.
Honestly I couldn’t go on without mentioning the many sequences I love in Jingo. There’s Sam Vimes and Co “hijacking” a ship in hot pursuit of kidnapped Angua and the alleged criminal who singlehandedly started the war. Let’s just say that Sam Vimes is not a nautical man!
We also get to see Lord Vetinari, tyrant ruler of Ankh-Morpork (deposed pro tem), out of the city with his own crew in the shapes of Colon, Nobby and Leonard da Quirm in a subterfuge mission to enemy land. Exclusively in Jingo!
If Terry Pratchett taught us synchronized proceeding with the beats of our City Watch regulars in Men at Arms, while in Feet of Clay he drowned us to the sights, sounds and smells of Ankh Morpork, In Jingo, he showed us a different scenario. Gone are the dark alleys of Ankh-Morpork. No fog to obscure crimes, no rain to wash away evidence. It’s all sun and sand with a chance of Nobby! And Sam Vimes is looking at a different kind of crime. In the desert, the crimes scene is so bright he had to squint to see it! It doesn’t help that he had to keep second guessing everything he says so he goes for the jugular of honesty.
But while Jingo had a lot to say about the stupid things people do that gets them into stupid wars, most of the novel is just gratuitously fun. And that fun goes a long way when your subject matter is something as grave as war.
And I realized something peculiar at how Terry Pratchett frames his omniscient authorial voice. One can’t help but laugh when Colon goes on with his aggressive jingoism, but feel truly disgusted when the nobles do the same. Terry Pratchett would always favor the everyman and ridicule snobs. And he would mock the mob and humanize the individual. And therein lies a point of view that would invalidate all arguments for war. It is a crime against humanity and those contemplating it must be treated like suspects. And here comes Discworld’s only policing body that would arrest whole armies from both sides. There is a use for Sam Vimes’ recklessness and single-mindedness. There is also a use for Captain Carrot’s extreme sensibility. There’s use for Sergeant Colons everywhere. And let’s just say that what the world need most of the time is a visionary tyrant like Vetinari.
ALL THE FUN AND ALL THE PUN!
“If you would seek war, you must prepare for war,” says Lord Vetinari. (a spin at the popular military quote, “If you want peace, prepare for war.”)
Jingo is definitely one of the best City Watch novels but why the hell do I bother? I keep saying this on every City Watch novel I re-read these days you probably don’t believe me anymore!
But it is. It’s like the whole Watch went on a holiday (Vetinari too!) and got their own little adventure overseas! And of course there’s war and the stakes are high but let’s not get our priorities confused. When in doubt, Discworld always offer fun and pun!