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  • Writer's pictureMelanie Roussel

Sam Vimes - Commander of the City Watch

“He created me. Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? Who watches the watchmen? Me. I watch him. Always. You will not force him to murder for you.” “What kind of human creates his own policeman?” “One who fears the dark.”

Thud, Terry Pratchett

Sam Vimes is an alcoholic, old-school policeman who considers himself to be a simple lad from Cockbill Street who rose to become the Commander Vimes of the Watch.

However, after a dragon attack on the city, he happens to meet and end up marrying Lady Sybil, a tour de force of diplomacy and getting things done, as well as a dragon breeder.

Sam then became His Grace, The Duke of Ankh, Commander Sir Samuel Vimes, His Excellency, Ambassador for Ankh-Morpork. He's also known as Blackboard Monitor Vimes, but that's a whole other story.

He'll don the ceremonial armour if he has to, refuses to wear plumes in his helmet, endures the badly darned socks Lady Sybil produces without complaint and by the end of the Discworld series, he has a son, young Sam.

Justice and Vimes

Vimes sighed. He was an honest man. He’d always felt that was one of the bigger defects in his personality.

Feet of Clay, Terry Pratchett

Pratchett's go-to figure in the Discworld book series for law and order. If Vimes agrees, we can usually be assured that it's the just option. Paradoxically, he is also often used as a figure of revolution. Even if that revelation is a revolt against stupidity and an embracing of common sense - a rare commodity on the Discworld as it is on ours.

Old 'Stone-Faced' Vimes is Sam Vimes ancestor - famous, or infamous, for picking up an axe and cutting off the head of Ankh-Morpork's last King several hundred years ago. But like our Commander Vimes, Old Stone-Face's actions weren't viewed as for a greater political point or for personal motivated. The Vimes family usually do what must be done - even if it means getting their hands dirty. Their family motto: PROTEGO ET SERVIO

Commander Vimes often finds himself the key mover in a lot of historically important moments. For example, a misadventure on the rooftop of the Unseen University during a thunderstorm leads to him being propelled back to the Glorious Revolution and becoming the mentor to his own younger self. Or the time when an ancient curse attaches itself to Vimes and leads him to create peace between the Trolls and Dwarfs - something no one else had ever managed to do.

More often than not, he only survives and eventually gets his way out of pure stubbornness.

Internal Policeman

"Vimes is fundamentally a person. He fears he may be a bad person because he knows what he thinks rather than just what he says and does. He chokes off those little reactions and impulses, but he knows what they are. So he tries to act like a good person, often in situations where the map is unclear."

Throughout the books. Vimes is often played off against his subordinate, Captain Carrot, his natural foil. Carrot is a natural-born 'moral' character and rarely has to question what the right thing to do is. He's the optimist to Vimes's pessimism. Whether this is down to his simple nature, or he has a better understanding of morality, he often clashes with Vimes's sense of the world.

Vimes does not have a natural sense of right and wrong - or rather, long years in Ankh-Morpork, seeing some of the worst humanity has to offer, has eroded that part of him. It's also clear through many of the books that Vimes lives on a razor-thin temper and is prone to angry outbursts.

But that doesn't make Vimes a-moral. On the contrary, it makes him almost hyper-aware of his own decision-making. In Thud, we see that Vimes's psyche has gone so far as to create an internal policeman - hence the quote from the beginning of the post.

Final Thoughts

It's not hard to see that Vimes is inspired by a mix of Clint Eastwood's hardman personas and American hardboiled detectives. Vimes grows from his humble and drunk beginnings into a powerhouse of the Discworld. It's considered the most extensive character arc in the novels (though I will argue there's another worthy of this title) and there's little doubt why he's a fan favourite.

"This is Lord Mountjoy Quickfang Winterforth IV, the hottest dragon in the city. It could burn your head clean off." Captain Vimes limped forward from the shadows. A small and extremely frightened golden dragon was clamped firmly under one arm. His other hand held it by the tail. The rioters watched it, hypnotized. "Now I know what you're thinking," Vimes went on, softly. "You're wondering, after all this excitement, has it got enough flame left? And, y'know, I ain't so sure myself..." He leaned forward, sighting between the dragon's ears, and his voice buzzed like a knife blade: "What you've got to ask yourself is: Am I feeling lucky?”

Guards, Guards, Terry Pratchett


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