There is no more fascinating, deep, and complex character in my Fictional Favorites theme than that of Samuel Vimes, and there is no way I am going to be able to do him justice within the bounds of this challenge*. Of all the characters in Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels, this is the one who is the closest representative of the author himself. He’s rough, cranky, even-handed, fierce, grounded. He has no patience for fools and even less for bullies. No matter his social standing, he’s a copper. He’s the law. Conflict is crime. It really is that simple.
Sam Vimes was born into abject poverty, but his mother did her best to give him the best she could offer. Their stoop was scrubbed clean, and his clothes were threadbare but meticulously mended. He was sent to school. He was expected to be more.
“Vimes had never mastered ambition. It was something that happened to other people.”
He joined the City Watch at age sixteen. There was a free uniform and the chance to make some money, but it came under the auspices of corrupt politicians, war, and the shaping of a city that didn’t care for its poor and forgotten. Vimes battles alcoholism, crippling cynicism, and the Beast, a barely contained soul-deep rage.
“These were dangerous thoughts, he knew. They were the kind that crept up on a Watchman when the chase was over and it was just you and him, facing one another in that breathless little pinch between the crime and the punishment.”
But there is the oath he swore. There is the law. There is his understanding of human nature with all of its darkness, but there is an unshakable belief in justice and in a love for his city. For those who serve under him. For the badge, the symbol that keeps the Beast at bay.
“Only crimes could take place in darkness. Punishment had to be done in the light. That was the job of a good Watchman, Carrot always said. To light a candle in the dark.”
He has a reflexive dislike of the upper class (after all, he’s a descendent of Ol’ Stoneface Vimes, who killed the last king of Ankh-Morpork), which makes things awkward when he falls in love with/marries the supremely amazing Lady Sybil Ramkin. There are trappings and expectations which he very grudgingly adopts.
“He hated being thought of as one of those people that wore stupid ornamental armour. It was gilt by association.”
He deals with violence, cruelty, sexism, stupidity, war, and prejudice.
“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.”
He navigates his own past, mentors his younger self. He battles an ancient darkness, in no small part because he is expected to be there to read his infant son a bedtime story. He’s brutal and kind. He’s broken and astonishingly steadfast. He’s the conflict within us all, and he’s the assurance that what is just, what is right, what is good will win out.
“He wanted to go home. He wanted it so much that he trembled at the thought. But if the price of that was selling good men to the night, if the price was filling those graves, if the price was not fighting with every trick he knew…then it was too high.”
He’s also wry, funny, unexpectedly charming, and no little bit sexy. Vimes is a great gift from a deft and accomplished storyteller. Thank you, Terry Pratchett. Thank you for Sam Vimes. I’m honored to know you both.
*keep it concise? There are four solid pages of quotes alone.