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Feet of Clay

Updated on November 20, 2009

He hated the very idea of the world being divided into the shaved and the shavers. Or those who wore the shiny boots and those who cleaned the mud off them. Every time he saw Willikins the butler fold his, Vimes's, clothes, he suppressed a terrible urge to kick the butler's shiny backside as an affront to the dignity of man.

There is a plot stirring in the great Discworld city of Ankh-Morpork, a group of city leaders has decided that it is time for the Patrician to step aside and allow a new leader to take charge. And who do they have in mind for the job? The Night Watch's very own Nobby Nobbs. Oh, now there's a frightening thought. And if that's not enough to keep Samuel Vimes busy, someone has gotten it into their head to start killing off old men. Add a golem revolution and a new forensic technician (a dwarf named Cheery Littlebottom), and the city of Ankh-Morpork is in for some fun.

It seems that, buried deep in the wells and hidden behind walls, the golems have finally decided that they should be free. Tired of being just a tool, they have thought up a way to get their freedom, and have even built a king (complete with clay crown) to lead them to it. But there was a problem with the king, he wasn't built quite right, and when the golems filled him with all their dreams, well, he went a little mad. And because they used their own clay to help build him, they feel his breakdown. All across the city, golems who can't deal with the shame of what their king is doing are making the decision to destroy themselves. Except one: Dorfl.

Dorfl has turned himself in to the city watch for the crimes of his king. But Carrot doesn't believe he's guilty and instead turns him loose. As if that weren't enough, Carrot buys the golem from his owner and then places the receipt in Dorfls head, giving him ownership of himself, the first golem ever to be truly free. And he goes just a little mad. Dorfl however quickly adapts to his new status and decides that maybe there is a better way for the golems to earn their freedom.

During all this, of course, there's still the little matter of someone trying to, well, not kill the Patrician exactly, just make him ill enough that he needs to step down. Who ever thought up that idea obviously knows nothing about Vetinari or Vimes, dangerously underestimating both men. With Cheery Littlebottom helping out, Vimes slowly but surely eliminates every possible way that the Patrician is being poisoned. And as Sherlock Holmes will tell you, it's only by  eliminating the possibilities that you get to the truth. Then again, if you don't get through them quickly, someone may die. Good thing the Patrician is a tough man.

Some Thoughts

As with most of his books, Mr. Pratchett builds his tale from another story, in this case the golem of Jewish myth. In the original stories of the golems, they were considered to be very holy and close to god, a trait that is carried over into the Discworld as a strict moral code. If a person, in the original stories, was holy enough, they would be granted the power to imbue life upon a creation, but because only god has the power to create life, their constructs would be limited, merely a shadow of true life. This becomes a major point in the book as the guards and priests are confronted with the question of what is life. It is a question that confronts computer scientists as they work to develop artificial intelligence: at what point does a self-directing machine become an equal to a human?

Another theme running through the book is equal rights. Even today in our society, there are those that are considered menial, beneath us, and so are some how less deserving of the rights and respect we demand for ourselves. A parallel can be drawn between that mindset, the slavery of 100 years ago and the situation of the golems. The difference is that the slaves of 100 years ago and those that are trod upon today don't way a ton, and so they need, as Captian Carrot says "someone to speak for those who have no voices." We like to think that equality has been achieved, that there is no more discrimination and hatred in the world, but unfortunately there's still work to be done.

But, lest you think this is a book of deep thought and weighty subject, it is of course done with all the humor and fun that Terry Pratchett can inject. The comic duo of Nobby Nobbs and Corporal Colon as they try to deal with Nobbs sudden elevation to the nobility is great, Following Angua as she tries to show Cheery the ropes, without letting on that she's a werewolf is fun. And of course the barely suppressed anger of Samuel Vimes as he stumbles his way through the mystery is always a source of amusement to me. I've mentioned before, Vimes is one of my favorite characters ever. In him I see my own somewhat cynical view of the world, and yet he inspires me to keep working to try and make things just a little better. Thanks Sam.


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