NB This post contains LOTS of spoilers. Be warned!
To start off with, I inadvertently told a lie yesterday. I said that Captain Carrot’s lineage, as the rightful king of Ankh-Morpork, was never central to the plot of any of the books. In fact, it’s central to the plot of “Guards! Guards!”, in which it’s pretty much proved that Carrot is the lost king. So apologies for that.
So. I mentioned yesterday that Captain Carrot embodied two of Pratchett’s favourite devices, the first being the conflicted character, who has within him two (or more) diverse aspects, the tensions between which make her or him interesting. In Carrot’s case, it’s the fact that he’s a six foot ten dwarf, and also that he’s a king living as a city Watchman. The second is Pratchett’s commitment to diversity and nondiscrimination in all its forms.
This is one of the things I love best about Pratchett. He uses Ankh-Morpork and the Discworld as a way to – I was going to say, examine, but that’s too heavy and serious a word for what Pratchett does – gently satirise discrimination and all its outcomes. Ankh-Morpork in Pratchett’s books is a hugely successful mercantile hub, a vast, seething, cauldron of humanity and non-humanity. Only perhaps sixty percent of the characters in Pratchett’s books are human. The others are dwarves, trolls, werewolves, vampires, zombies, ghouls, golems and animals (Gaspode the talking dog, anyone? “Woof woof, whine whine.”), to name but a few. All of them behave exactly like humans, though, including all the bad bits, such as insularity and ‘isms’ – in the case of Ankh-Morpork, species-isms.
This leads to some wonderful wonderful imaginative writing. The Silicone Anti-Defamation League, for instance, which upholds the rights of trolls. The fact that you can’t say “short” around a dwarf, or gritsucker, as they are insultingly known by their detractors. (You definitely can’t say the ‘M’ word around The Librarian, since orangutans are apes, not m…….)
Pratchett often turns a problem into an opportunity, and his treatment of Otto Chriek, the vampire photographer, is a typical example. For how could you have a vampire working as a press photographer in a city as populous as Ankh-Morpork? The populus wouldn’t stand for it. They’d be at his door with pitchforks and flaming torches before you could say “Hold it!” (for, as Pratchett would point out, a mob can always lay its hands on sufficient pitchforks in time of need, even in a city as urban and densely populated as Ankh-Morpork.)
So what does Pratchett do? Why, he makes Otto a member of the Black Ribbon brigade, the Uberwald League of Temperance, whose members have sworn off “ze B-vord” (Otto has a strong Uberwald accent) and instead get by on raw steak, cocoa and temperance hymns. This leads to the pleasing conceit that whenever Otto sees an agitated young woman in a low-cut dress his friends have to gather around him frantically singing hymns while he endeavours to calm himself. Like I said – it’s the tensions within the characters which make them interesting.