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  • Writer's pictureMelanie Roussel

Detritus - Husband, Father Watchman & Troll

As mentioned before, readers consider Sam Vimes's arc to be one of the most transformational through the novels. However, I fervently believe this title should go to Detritus, my favourite Troll of the Discworld.

Discworld's Trolls

Detritus was particularly good when it came to asking questions. He had three basic ones. They were the direct (‘Did you do it?’), the persistent (‘Are you sure it wasn’t you what done it?’) and the subtle (‘It was you what done it, wasn’t it?’).

Feet of Clay

Trolls are one of the many species which live in the Discworld city of Ankh-Morpork and are continually left out of movie adaptions.

One of Pratchett’s many and glorious gifts was his ability to take fantasy and folklore we’re all too familiar with and give it a reason. Everyone knows trolls are big, dumb and stupid. However, all Discworld fans (we “bloody nutters”) will know that this is because trolls have silicon brains that work better at cooler temperatures. This makes life in the big city of Ankh-Morpork difficult compared to their cool, native mountainous regions.

The trollish language is not complex, but it is wonderfully expressive. I have adopted the word Aagragaah, which is trollish for ‘foreboding’: it “lit’rally der time when you see dem little pebbles an’ you jus’ know there’s gonna be a great big landslide on toppa you and it already too late to run. That moment, that Aagragaah.”

You have to admit, we have no real word in the English language to express that emotion.


Detritus has all the qualities of a good policemen: a loud voice, a commanding presence, and the ability not to let imagination get in the way of persistence.

The Pratchett Portfolio

Detritus first appears in the 8th Discworld novel, Guards! Guards! where he's seen working for the Mended Drum as a 'splatter' - basically, a bouncer. He's also seen soon after in Moving Pictures where he has a brief career as an actor where he meets his eventual wife, Ruby. He next appears in Men at Arms where he becomes a Corporal with the City Watch (a move he makes in order to impress Ruby with holding down a steady job).

A mere seven novels later, Detritus is now a sergeant with an adopted son, Brick, who he takes under his wing in Thud.

That's a hell of a transformation, as Commander Vimes notes himself:

"Er... permission t'speak freely, sir?" said Detritus, knuckling closer. Vimes stared at him. When I first met you, you were chained to a wall like a watchdog and didn’t speak much beyond a grunt, he thought. Truly, the leopard can change his shorts. Thud, Terry Pratchett

And a quick word on Troll-ish naming conventions. While it may seem irresponsible of a parent to name their son Detritus (meaning waste or debris of any kind) it's not unusual in this world. Troll parents adopt a convention of geological names. This perhaps makes sense given they themselves are a geologic race. Mr Shine, the King of the Trolls, is made out of diamond. Brick is so-called because he resembles house bricks, as a born and bred city troll.

The Piecemaker

Detritus begins in the City Watch as a sort of mobile battering ram. He's known for his ability to wield the Piecemaker; a massive converted siege-crossbow which fires a single shot under incredible pressure. Once fired, the cloud of high-speed, burning wood shrapnel levels anything in its path.

The first time the Piecemaker was fired, it removed several archery targets, the bunker wall behind them, and a flock of seagulls directly above Detritus.

Interesting side note, Pratchett was either using this as a pun on the Colt S.A.A. 'Peacemaker' Revolver or on the nuclear missile "The Peacekeeper MX" or possibly both.

But Detritus isn't simply the heavy man. He's also heavily invested in the Troll community and works to get Slab (a type of Troll drug) off the streets.

Simple-Minded Wisdom dispenser

Detritus often fills the trope role of Simple-Minded Wisdom dispenser. Like Don Quixote's Sancho Panza, Detritus seems (and often is) absurdly obtuse. And yet, through simplicity, great wisdom is found. Consequentially, he has some of my favourite lines in all the Discworld novels.

"Didn’t know what’d hit ’em, eh?" said Vimes. Detritus looked mildly offended at this. "Oh no, sir," he said, "I made sure they knew I hit ’em."

Thud, Terry Pratchett

"We're not at home to Mister Reasonable, sergeant." "I do not hear him knockin", sir."

The Fifth Elephant, Terry Pratchett

Final Thoughts

Detritus is very much a secondary character in the Discworld, but one I feel grows and develops as much as any of the primary characters. And maybe more. Commander Vimes starts out as a drunk, sure, but he's still a man. The citizens of Ankh-Morport barely consider Detritus a person when he first appears and he ends a sergeant, a husband and a father.

While we don't get to meet many Troll characters, Detritus more than represents their potential and puts a lie to the dumb troll myth.

If you're a fellow Discworld fan and want to keep up with these posts, don't forget to follow! Come back next week when we'll be looking into Susan, the granddaughter of Death.


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