So, I’ve already written a blog post about Night Watch. I compared it to Les Miserables, and discussed the themes of revolution in both of them. I don’t particularly feel like reiterating the points that I’ve already made, so if you want to read my thoughts on that, you can go read that post (for the record, my feelings have not changed since I wrote it). Today I want to talk more about Night Watch in relation to the rest of the Discworld books.
Night Watch is the book I see most frequently cited as a person’s favorite in the series. It is not my favorite, though it’s definitely up there. It’s also commonly agreed to be one of the darkest Discworld books (alongside Thud and Snuff, which also follow Sam Vimes and the Ankh-Morpork City Watch). I don’t necessarily know if those facts are related or not, but I imagine that they are. If you read the books in order, this is one where everything just… escalates, even within the City Watch sub-series.
This book, to me, has some of the most important character development for Sam Vimes himself. To some extent, I think that’s inevitable in books with time travel plots, where the character goes back and meets their younger self. Certain realizations, certain lessons, are unavoidable, namely “oh god I used to be such an idiot”. Now, in the first Watch book, Vimes is a washed up drunk, having given up on the ideals and duties of the Watch. Night Watch goes back even further, to when he was just starting out – when Vimes was a young lad who had just joined the Watch, before he had the idealism beaten out of him. “Was I ever so young?” he asks at one point, seeing his younger self.
Of course, I think Night Watch sees Vimes the closest we ever see him to just… giving up. He’s taken over the role of John Keel, his former mentor, in the revolution and he knows how it ends. He knows how this whole revolution plays out, and it’s killing him to try and make sure things go the same way. He wants to make things better, because that’s what he does, but this is one situation where he really can’t. He especially has to make sure that the timeline remains unchanged, because there’s something in the present that makes it worth fighting for – his wife and their soon-to-be-born son. Of course, Sam got sucked back in time just as Sybil went into labor, because of narrativium.
Becoming a dad changes Sam Vimes. I imagine becoming a parent changes most people, both in fiction and out, but for him it is especially obvious. He starts to soften, he starts to warm up – he had already done that around Sybil, but he never shows that to anyone else until Young Sam is born. In later books, the little family scenes, with Sam and Sybil and the baby are just so heartwarming, and so different from anything we’d seen with Sam before – and in my opinion, they’re necessary, because while Sam himself lightens up, the books and the stories and what happens to him get even darker. Night Watch, and the birth of Young Sam, marks that turning point. And I think it’s critical that Vimes got that back-in-time experience before this, because I think he needed to see his own development over the years.
The themes of revolution and politics and history in this book are significant, and they’re meaningful to me, but on a reread, what stood out most to me was the development of Sam Vimes as a character. And it’s made me excited to see what comes after, because I remember it and I know how much I love the upcoming Watch books – Thud and Snuff are two of my favorites, even more so than Night Watch.
“Don’t put your trust in revolutions. They always come around again. That’s why they’re called revolutions. People die, and nothing changes.”
“That was always the dream, wasn’t it? ‘I wish I’d known then what I know now’? But when you got older you found out that you NOW wasn’t YOU then. You then was a twerp. You then was what you had to be to start out on the rocky road of becoming you now, and one of the rocky patches on that road was being a twerp.”
“Ninety percent of most magic merely consists of knowing one extra fact.”
“And so the children of the revolution were faced with the age-old problem: it wasn’t that you had the wrong kind of government, which was obvious, but that you had the wrong kind of people. As soon as you saw people as things to be measured, they didn’t measure up.”