Guards! Guards! has one of the first Big Deal Discworld moments for me, and I’m not very good at articulating what that means.
The moment I’m thinking of is the dragon’s speech to Wonse – “we were supposed to be cruel, cunning, heartless and terrible. But…we never burned and tortured and ripped one another apart and called it morality.” That’s a passage that always makes me stop and reread it a couple of times. And it’s a small moment – it’s the only time we hear the dragon speak at all, and it’s a speech that has no bearing on the rest of the story. It could have been taken out of the book entirely and nothing would feel like it was missing. But the fact that it’s there is a Big Deal moment. The great big monstrous antagonist’s judgment of humanity is unavoidable in its accuracy.
And the Discworld series is full of moments like that. Sometimes it’s just one line, sometimes it’s a full scene, and most of the book is so full of shenanigans coming so quickly one after another that you don’t always see the Big Deal moments coming. We think of Pratchett as a humor/satire writer and yes, the books are hilarious, but in between the jokes are these Big Deal moments that casually rearrange our perspective and stick with us even after we think we’ve forgotten.
Then there are the other Big Deal Moments, that are Emotional Meteorite Strike Moments (e.g. the phrase “that is not my cow” can now instantly put me in the fetal position) but I’m having a hard enough time describing this one as it is so I’ll probably go on a tirade about those ‘round about that One Part in Feet of Clay. (You know the one.)
Suggestion: Reblog this with your favorite Big Deal Moment.
YES. It’s so fun hearing everyone’s Big Deal Moments! (although choosing just one is so hard…)
I think my favorite one changes, but right now it’s in Feet of Clay:
The vampire looked from the golem to Vimes.
“You gave one of them a voice?” he said.
“Yes,” said Dorfl. He reached down and picked up the vampire in one hand. “I Could Kill You,” he said. “This Is An Option Available To Me As A Free-Thinking Individual But I Will Not Do So Because I Own Myself And I Have Made A Moral Choice.”
“Oh, gods,” murmured Vimes under his breath.
“That’s blasphemy,” said the vampire.
He gasped as Vimes shot him a glance like sunlight. “That’s what people say when the voiceless speak.”
All my Discworld books are packed, and usually I’m a City Watch guy, but the first moment like that for me, and still I think my favorite, was in the first Discworld book I read, Small Gods, where Didactylos the Ephebian philosopher is brought before the militant evangelist Omnian priest, Vorbis.
Vorbis demands that Didactylos recant his claim that the world travels through space on the backs of four elephants who stand on the back of a giant turtle (which in Discworld is true). Vorbis insists that Didactylos agree that it is a sphere, as the Great God Om intended.
To all appearances, Didactylos easily and happily recants, saying something like “Sure, let it be a sphere” and Vorbis – for whom this is as much about humiliating Didactylos as it is about what’s “true” – decides to let him go. Didactylos gets all the way to the doorway before he turns, throws the lantern he carries into Vorbis’s face, and yells “NEVERTHELESS…THE TURTLE MOVES!” before legging it.
I was thirteenish at the time and wrestling with religion, and I was familiar with Galileo and eppur si muove, but it’s never as satisfying for there to be a myth of a whisper when you want there to be a legend of a roar. Didactylos bashing Vorbis on the head and screaming the truth before beating feet was much, much more satisfying. And as someone who has never borne fools in power easily, it was an object lesson in how to do the thing.
There is so much I sympathize with, when it comes to Moist Von Lipwig, but if I had to cite a “big moment”, it’s when he’s deconstructing the idea of currency.
“But what’s worth more than gold?“
“Practically everything. You, for example. Gold is heavy. Your weight in gold is not very much gold at all. Aren’t you worth more than that?”
When you get your head around the idea that something’s worth is based on a subjectively agreed upon set of standards, it can rock your capitalist-based worldview right to the core.
He was also the first character to articulate what has kind of become a guiding philosophy for me:
“Make the change happen fast enough and you go from one type of normal to another.”
There are so many for me, but the one that jumpstart out is death and Susan talking at the end of hogfather about the importance of believing in morality and goodness.
“Humans need fantasy to be human. To be the place where the falling angel meets the rising ape.”
I want to add one more, because I just finished reading Raising Steam.
The bit where Moist literally throws himself under a train to save a pair of children had me in absolute tears.
A lot of that book is really good to be honest. This line is also really good.
“That’s the trouble, you see. When you’ve had hatred on your tongue for such a long time, you don’t know how to spit it out.”
One of the top ones for me is one that crops up a couple times and a quote/comment that I use in conversation frequently.
I always remember it from in I Shall Wear Midnight;
‘What was it Granny Weatherwax had said once? ‘Evil begins when you begin to treat people as things.“
But of course it’s also in this conversation in Carpe Jugulum
Granny Weatherwax: “…And that’s what your holy men discuss, is it?”
Mightily Oats: “Not usually. There is a very interesting debate raging at the moment on the nature of sin. for example.”
Granny Weatherwax: “And what do they think? Against it, are they?”
Mightily Oats: “It’s not as simple as that. It’s not a black and white issue. There are so many shades of gray.”
Mightily Oats: “Pardon?”
Granny Weatherwax: “There’s no grays, only white that’s got grubby. I’m surprised you don’t know that. And sin, young man, is when you treat people like things. Including yourself. That’s what sin is.”
Mightily Oats: “It’s a lot more complicated than that–”
Granny Weatherwax: “No. It ain’t. When people say things are a lot more complicated than that, they means they’re getting worried that they won’t like the truth. People as things, that’s where it starts.”
Mightily Oats: “Oh, I’m sure there are worse crimes–”
Granny Weatherwax: “But they starts with thinking about people as things…”
•People as things•
I always loved the line from the Hogfather mentioned above, but one that usually sticks out more to me from the same book is Susan’s reminder that “Someone should do something” isn’t at all helpful if you’re not gonna end it with “and that someone is me”
because nothing gets done if everyone just sits around thinking “someone should fix this” but no one actually gets up and tries to fix it
I’ll also add another one of my favorites from Feet of Clay which is “Someone’s got to speak for them that have no voices” [I’m probably misquoting slightly but that’s the core of it] and on a larger scale is that the same book gives a voice to one of those voiceless- instead of JUST speaking for [over] them, one of the voiceless gets a voice of their own and a platform to speak from which is so important on so many levels
“A watchman is a civilian, you inbred streak of piss!’
Just like that, in one angry line, Commander Sam Vimes defines what a police officer is and by extension how they should act. A watchman is not a soldier, and therefor can (should) never act like one.
As a very, very young transgender person who didn’t quite understand what he was, this line from The Fifth Elephant stuck with me:
“But they at least shared one conviction—that what you were made as, wasn’t what you had to be or what you might become…”
It’s from the scene where Lady Margolotta is at the vampires’ society. Now there are a LOT better lines about trans-ness—–that are actually ABOUT trans-ness, and not self-destructive behavior—–but… well, I was always pretty literal.
Also a line from Snuff. I don’t remember it perfectly and I can’t find my copy, but it’s where Vimes is conversing with the Dark about the goblins.
“The hated have no reason to love!”
Again, it’s not a line explicitly connected to queerness, but I relate pretty heavily to it considering the amount of hatred queer people get.
I’m quite tempted to say the entirety of I Shall Wear Midnight, because really, that book hit home in so many painful and wonderful ways for me. But I think the pieces that really stood out the most to me, if I had to pick them - was this:
“The cook has told me that you are a very religious woman, always on your knees, and that is fine by me, absolutely fine, but didn’t it ever occur to you to take a mop and bucket down there with you? People don’t need prayers, Miss Spruce; they need you to do the job in front of you.”
Of course the brown-haired quote:
“ But she had seen what they had not seen; she had seen through it. It lied. No, well, not exactly lied, but told you truths that you did not want to know: that only blonde and blue-eyed girls could get the prince and wear the glittering crown. It was built into the world. Even worse, it was built into your hair colouring. Redheads and brunettes sometimes got more than a walk-on part in the land of story, but if all you had was a rather mousy shade of brown hair you were marked down to be a servant girl. “
And this one:
“Poison goes where poison’s welcome. And there’s always an excuse, isn’t there, to throw a stone at the old lady who looks funny. It’s always easier to blame somebody.”
That one hit me the heaviest, I think. There were times reading it when I had to stop because it hit so close to home.
hands down my biggest Big Deal Moment is from ‘Jingo’ where vimes arrests the army for attempted murder.
the man. the legend. the boots.
“words in the heart cannot be taken”
pretty much the entirety of Thud!, especially the very end - you cannot make vimes kill an unarmed man. Witches Abroad - granny Weatherwax putting the wolf out of his misery. Night Watch - when Vimes burns the cable street station - and then goes back in to save the torturer. Tbh, most of vimes.
(The knowledge that Vimes has darkness in him, has the Beast in the back of his mind, caged and always ready to break out - but he /can/ cage it, and that needing to doesn’t make him less of a hero, has been incredibly important to me.)
Probably my top two of all time are “Words in the heart cannot be taken” and “Sin is when you treat people like things.”
But there’s also this one from Unseen Academicals. At first glance it looks like just a pun, even if it follows on some heavy stuff, but there’s so much going on here:
“I would like you to teach [the orcs] civilized behavior,” said Ladyship coldly.
[Nutt] appeared to consider this. “Yes, of course, I think that would be quite possible,” he said. “And who would you send to teach the humans?”
There was a brief outburst of laughter from Vetinari, who immediately cupped his hand over his mouth. “Oh, I do beg your pardon,” he said.
“But since it falls to me,” continued Nutt, “then, yes, I shall go into Far Uberwald.”
“Pastor Oats will be very pleased to see you, I’m sure,” said Margolotta.
“He’s still alive?” said Nutt.
“Oh, yes, indeed, he is still quite young after all, and walks with forgiveness at his side. I think he would feel it very appropriate if you were to join him. In fact, he has told me on one of his all too infrequent visits that he would be honored to pass the rate of forgiveness on to you.”
“Nutt doesn’t need forgiveness!” Glenda burst out.
Nutt smiled and patted her hand. “Uberwald is a wild country for a man to travel in,” he said, “even a holy man. Forgiveness is the name of Pastor Oats’s doubled-headed battle-axe. For Mister Oats the crusade against evil is not a metaphor. Forgiveness cut through my chains. I will gladly carry it.”
There’s so much here that’s important to me. The way Nutt calls out Margolotta’s reference to “civilized behavior,” Glenda’s insistence that Nutt, as a victim of violence and conditioning, doesn’t need to be forgiven, and Nutt’s subtle implication that the struggle against evil means liberation and the breaking of chains.
I really loved the development of Mightily Oats’s character in Carpe Jugulum, and the first time I read Unseen Academicals I was wonderfully surprised to catch this glimpse of where his journey ultimately takes him. Nutt was kept chained up for years, because everyone knows that orcs are unthinking monsters - until Oats, a man who now spends his life battling with monsters, cut him free.
Sometimes PTerry manages to pull off a sentence that’s both a groan-worthy pun and a Big Deal moment. “Forgiveness cut through my chains” is one.
I know someone already mentioned all of Night Watch. But seriously. All of Night Watch.
‘That’s a nice song,’ said young Sam, and Vimes remembered that he was hearing it for the first time.
‘It’s an old soldiers’ song,’ he said.
‘Really, sarge? But it’s about angels.’
Yes, thought Vimes, and it’s amazing what bits those angels cause to rise up as the song progresses. It’s a real soldiers’ song: sentimental, with dirty bits.
‘As I recall, they used to sing it after battles,’ he said. ‘I’ve seen old men cry when they sing it,’ he added.
‘Why? It sounds cheerful.’
They were remembering who they were not singing it with, thought Vimes. You’ll learn. I know you will.
Also even though it’s not Discworld, I think Nation was arguably the most profound and Big Deal books that Sir Terry wrote. And the most beautiful.
“No more words. We know them all, all the words that should not be said. But you have made my world more perfect.”