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The Fifth Elephant

Updated on May 24, 2010

"He was aware that a wise man should always respect the folkways of others, to use Carrot's happy phrase, but Vimes often had difficulty with this idea. For one thing, there were people in the world whose folkways consisted of gutting other people like clams and this was not a procedure that commanded, in Vimes, any kind of respect at all."

I have said it before, but I'll say it again, Sir Samuel Vimes is my favorite character on the Disc. Every one of the stories that feature him and his constables have been read and reread a dozen times. And this is one of my favorites. The dwarven leaders in Überwald are preparing to elect a new Low King, and because the Low King is the ruler of all dwarves, even in Ankh-Morpork, the patrician needs to send an ambassador. And who better to send to lawless Überwald than the Commander of the City Watch and Duke of Ankh, Sam Vimes? It’s never that simple though and the first clue that foul deeds are afoot is found with a theft. Someone has stolen a replica of the Scone of Stone from the Ankh-Morpork Dwarf Bread Museum. The real Scone is used as the coronation seat for their newly elected leaders and is well hidden deep in the mountains. With the coronation approaching, and the replica missing, Vimes suspects trouble but there’s no way he can avoid the trip to Überwald.

One of the charming aspects of Vimes is his complete lack of diplomatic skills. We saw an example of his diplomacy in dealing with the Klatchian Army in Jingo. Knowing his weakness he decides to take two of his officers with him, Sgt. Detritus, a troll, and Cheery Littlebottom, the Watch's dwarven forensic expert and female. The dwarf community still hasn't come to terms with females acting like females and the presence of Cheery should shake things up almost as much as the presence of a troll. So the four of them, along with Vimes' wife, Sybill, begin their trek to Überwald.

Meanwhile, in Ankh-Morpork, Angua has learned that her brother Wolfgang is up to no good and has left the Watch in order to try and disrupt his plans. When Captain Carrot Ironfoundersson finds out where she's gone, he enlists the help of Gaspode, the Disks only talking dog and self-proclaimed "greatest nose on the Disc" to help track her down. Unfortunately this leaves Sgt. Fred Colon in charge and in over his head. Things in the Watch begin a slow decent from that moment on, as Colon realizes exactly how unprepared he is to be a leader. I believe it’s the sugar that eventually breaks down all barriers and drives him mad.

Once Vimes gets to Überwald he begins his diplomatic mission. In this case that means sticking his nose where it's not wanted. From his first introduction to the local watch, trying to flex its muscles and search his carriage, to his first intro to an Igor, Vimes learns fast that the Ankh-Morpork way of life hasn’t quite made it to the mountains. But Vimes is Vimes and he is very firm on how he gets things done. And somehow he will figure out a way to find a stolen Scone, crown a dwarf king, and get back to Ankh-Morpork in one piece.

 

Some Thoughts

There's a lot going on in this story. Ankh-Morpork is developing rapidly, both culturally and technologically. The City Watch has expanded far beyond Vime's prejudices to include almost every race on the Disc (but still, no vampires!) The city has embraced the Clacks, a network of semaphore towers that allow communication in minutes from one rim to the other, which allows the Patrician to keep fingers in pies across the Disc.

Vimes mission, to negotiate better prices on the fat the dwarfs mine, is a recognition of the importance that fossil fuels play in our own world, and the lengths leaders go in order to get the lowest price possible. One exchange that stays with me was the negotiation between the Low King and Vimes. Vimes is explaining his mission to the King and the King points out that Ankh-Morpork is a vampire: it sucks the fat from the mines and the youth from the caverns. It's a complaint that has been echoed in many countries. Industrialized societies take the resources of other nations, and what do they leave behind?

Following Vimes as he stumbles with his usual hard-headedness through the morass of Überwald politics is entertaining and still thought-provoking. The Mystery is well thought out and Pratchett gives the reader the clues which are necessary to solve the crime before Vimes explains what happens. Much as Jingo looked at war through the eyes of the Disc, The Fifth Elephant looks at international diplomacy and economics, and the results are a fun, well-paced story that leaves you laughing and thinking.

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