Pratchett, Terry: (24) The Fifth Elephant (audio)

The transformation of Carrot is complete in The Fifth Elephant, which is the fifth of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld books to feature him and the rest of the City Watch. Not only is he possibly—but not certainly—unnaturally good, but he doesn’t do anything goofy or clearly incompetent, either. It’s quite the odd character arc, and I continue to wonder what Pratchett has in mind for him. (I can see a couple of possibilities for Granny Weatherwax, the other character that Pratchett seems to have maxed out, as it were; but neither of the obvious paths for Carrot feel right.)

Instead of Carrot, this is a book about the rest of the Watch: mostly Vimes, but Angua, Cheery, and Fred all have important sub-arcs. (Fred’s feels somewhat awkwardly over-the-top comic relief when compared to the others, but it’s hard to see what else could be done with that setup.) This trend in the Watch books could almost be plotted on a graph: as the proportion of Carrot in a book goes down, the proportion of Vimes goes up, reaching its culmination in the next book, Night Watch, which takes place almost entirely before Carrot was born. From the point of view of a re-read, I’m not sure how much new or different there is about Vimes in this book; but, on the other hand, that doesn’t seem to bother me in either the City Watch or the Lancre Witches books.

Two other things that struck me about this book. First, it’s very much a prequel to Thud!, as it starts the in-depth exploration of dwarf culture. Second, I have no idea why I remembered the three sisters when I’d forgotten everything else about the book but “werewolves,” because they have a really small role in the book. Perhaps it’s just that “the gloomy and purposeless trousers of Uncle Vanya” is such a wonderful phrase.

(Stephen Briggs does a good job reading the audiobook, as always, and his voice for Vimes sounds right to me (unlike Nigel Planer’s, which set my teeth on edge).)

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  1. As an avid Pratchett reader I appreciated the above post muchly. I, too, wonder what Pterry has in mind for Carrot Will you be (or did I miss) your thoughts about Monstrous Brigade? The fandom response on that one is all over the map.

  2. Hi Dawno!
    I was pretty “meh” about _Monstrous Regiment_; I logged it around the time it came out here.
    (All my Discworld posts are linked off the “categories” bullet point at the bottom of the post.)
    I just listened to this book recently because I’m doing the world’s slowest-motion re-read of the Watch books.

  3. I had an ex who used to say that he was Carrot. I dumped him because he wasn’t more like Vimes. He could never see what I meant, but really, how could anyone love someone who honestly believed that personal wasn’t the same as important.

  4. And yet you’ll have noted that Carrot abandons his responsibilities in the Watch without a second thought to go after Angua, as (I infer) it’s clear to him that no-one else will, unlike the case in _Jingo_.
    I think Carrot’s a bit more flexible in implementing that principle than it might appear.
    That said, I’m inclined to say that anyone who unironically says he’s Carrot is waving a great big “dump me” sign, because, well, he’s *not*, and unsuccessfully trying to be is a terrible idea.

  5. I’d be inclined to say that *trying* to be like Carrot is not only a terrible idea, but would be mutually exclusive of actually *being* like Carrot.
    I recently did a reread of the Watch books (end of last year). I can never decide if those are my favorite or the Death books are. (a common problem, I think.)

  6. Anne, I think you’re right; Carrot certainly starts out not thinking about being himself, though when he gets to the inscrutable level he’s currently at, people do wonder if he’s using his persona as a weapon. All the same, genuine sincerity such a big part of being Carrot . . .

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