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Jingo by Terry Pratchett

Updated on December 15, 2009

"It was so much easier to blame it on Them. It was bleakly depressing to think that They were Us. If it was Them, then nothing was anyone's fault. If it was us, what did that make Me? After all, I'm one of Us. I must be. I've certainly never thought of myself as one of Them. No one ever thinks of themselves as one of Them. We're always one of Us. It's Them that do the bad things."

Jingo - a person who professes his or her patriotism loudly and excessively, favoring vigilant preparedness for war and an aggressive foreign policy; bellicose chauvinist.

Welcome once more to the fantastic world of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld. There’s trouble brewing on the Disc as a strange, the long-lost island of Leshp has suddenly surfaced in the Circle Sea, surfaced dead-center in fact, and two of the biggest nations on the Disc want to claim it as their own.  On the one side is Klatch, a land of desert and sand storms, camels and lost empires. It seems that the Klatchain ruler has been hard at work pacifying the desert tribes, and as the last ones fall under his control his eyes have begun wandering in new directions. Leshp could be just the place to start his expansion plans.

On the other side is the city-state of Ankh-Morpork (whose national anthem is We Can Rule You Wholesale) and when the Klatchian’s send Prince Khufurah to negotiate peace, with his rather shifty body guard, 71-hour Ahmed, Sir Samuel Vimes has his hands full trying to keep a normally peaceful city from going on the war path. And when an assassin manages to hurt the Prince, it seems that the city is headed to war.

Now, it’s been a while since Ankh-Morpork has been to war. It turns out that they have generally made it an unprofitable enterprise for all concerned. But there is always someone who is ready to fight for king (who is long dead) and country and it’s time for them to take the reins. Lord Rust, one of the cities upper-crust, steps up to take charge when the cities tyrant, Lord Vetinari, decides to step aside and immediately declares martial law and begins drafting soldiers.

Of course, Sir Samuel Vimes, commander of the night watch, can’t just sit back and watch this happen, even as he struggles to get to the bottom of the plot to kill a Klatchian prince. As things begin to spiral to chaos, Vimes and his crew rally together to form their own battalion and head off to Klatch, not to fight a war, but to fight against a war. It’s there that they run into an unexpected ally and discover that football can be an effective way to bring peace, one broken nose at a time.

Some Thoughts

Published in 1997, Jingo is very much a parallel to the conflicts that have occurred between western countries and the Middle East in the last several years. Aside from the obvious physical nature of the locations, the camels, the oasis, dates, there is a tribute to the tribes that make the desert its home and way it shapes their lives and minds. You can tell that Mr. Pratchett recognizes that, while life in the tribes may be foreign, there is an honor to their lives and that, more important, it is possible to find a compromise, a way to live with each other in peace, if not always in understanding. Considering our failure to learn that lesson thus far, perhaps more of our world leaders need to read this book. It is one of the issues that always seems to be the sticking point: one culture certain that its way of living, its way of doing things is the right way so everyone should do it like us. Obviously this can't be the case. If I grew up in a desert (Arizona doesn't really count), I would probably have a far different outlook on things than I do now.

Xenophobia, the fear of the outsider. Jingoism, the advocating of aggressive foreign policy to assert nationalism. Combine the two and there seems to be little chance at peace. Mr. Pratchett seems to feel, as other have, that the sports arena may be an effective way for nations to compete in a way that doesn't have to lead to bloodshed. What if at the next war someone brought soccer balls instead of bullets? There's a thought.

As always there’s a lot of fun mixed into the message. Following Nobby Nobbs as he tries to get in touch with his feminine side, to better understand women and perhaps be more attractive to them, is certainly a high point. Watching as Lord Vetinari has to deal with both a confused Nobbs and a nervous Sergeant Colon in a tight submersible built by Leonard da Quirm is certainly fun. Colon as an expert on all things Klatchian hit close to home, with too many people claiming to be experts  from the University of What Some Guy In A Bar Told Me.  The confrontations between Vimes and Rust have an element of sarcasm that makes me wish I had half the wit Mr. Pratchett puts into his writing. And of course the trial of Lord Vetinari at the end, wherein he demonstrates exactly why he rules Ankh-Morpork, is superb.  Yet another fantastic story by one of the greatest writers of our generation, you must read this book.


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