Sunday, July 31, 2005

'Personal isn't the same as important'

This is a bit of Terry Pratchett philosophy. Specifically it is the philosophy of Captain Carrot Ironfoundersson who works for the Night Watch. It is a view that is first expressed, however, by Granny Weatherwax in Lords and Ladies (p. 164), where it is something of a throwaway line. Archchancellor Ridcully, to whom it is said, doesn't really react much to this rather provocative statement. The following year, Pratchett's Men at Arms came out, and it was in this book that Carrot expressed this view as his own philosophy. He is talking to Commander Vimes (ie. his boss), telling Vimes not to shoot Dr Cruces, the head of the Assassins' Guild and Vimes says:

'He killed Angua [Carrot's girlfriend]. Doesn't that mean anything to you?'
Carrot nodded.
'Yes. But personal isn't the same as important.'
(p. 358)

Vimes, understandably is a little puzzled by this comment and queries it a little later. But both Carrot and Granny Weatherwax are expressing the same idea - that their duty to the communities in which they live (Granny as a witch in Lancre and Carrot as the Discworld equivalent of a policeman in Ankh-Morpork) is of greater importance than personal relationships, particularly when those communities are in grave danger.

Carrot's philosophy is mentioned again in Jingo and again it is in the context of his relationship with Angua. In this instance Angua has been kidnapped and Vimes is again involved, only this time we hear his thoughts on Carrot's philosophy:

There was, if you didn't know Carrot, something wrong with the situation. There were people who, when their girlfriend was spirited away on a foreign ship, would have dived into the Ankh, or at least run briskly along the crust, leapt aboard and dealt out merry hell on a democratic basis. Of course, at a time like this that would be a dumb thing to do. The sensible approach would be to let people know, but even so - But Carrot really did believe that personal wasn't the same as important. Of course, Vimes believed the same thing. You had to hope that when push came to shove, you'd act the right way. But there was something slightly creepy about someone who didn't just believe it, but lived their life by it. (p. 214)

Of course, Vimes is right - the idea of duty these days is a fairly outmoded one; interestingly, however, Carrot appears to put his personal relationship with Angua before his duty to his community in The Fifth Elephant. Commander Vimes has been sent off to Uberwald on a diplomatic mission, and Captain Carrot is put in charge of the Watch in his absence. However, Carrot receives a note from Angua, then hands in his notice to the Patrician, and heads off into the wild, tracking Angua. She has left the city and headed off towards home, which also happens to be in Uberwald, to deal with her troublesome brother who, like Angua, is a werewolf. Near the end of the book Carrot confronts Angua's brother, Wolfgang, and gets into a fight during which he's badly injured. Angua reveals that she has adopted Carrot's philosophy for herself when she observes that Carrot couldn't have beaten Wolfgang in a fair fight and she says "I know he's family, but ... personal is not the same as important. Carrot always said that." (p. 266)

Of course, in the end it turns out that Carrot's actions in going after Angua have helped to solve an important crime in Uberwald, and resolved a difficult political situation, but I still found it interesting that a young man who has lived by the belief that duty should come before anything else, would neverthless resign his post (not that the Patrician accepted Carrot's resignation, he said he would treat it as an extended leave of absence since Carrot had never taken any holiday during the years he had been working in the Watch) for the sake of a personal relationship.

Carrot is a very upright, honest, moral young man. He doesn't know how to lie and on the one occasion when he had to investigate someone under cover, he felt really uncomfortable, even though he wasn't doing anything illegal. Many characters believe that he is the heir to the throne of Ankh-Morpork, but Carrot isn't interested in being a King, he's a "copper", but he has many of the qualities that considered ideal in an ideal king, such as integrity, honesty, a caring nature, an interest in everyone from the Patrician to the least important members of Ankh-Morpork society. And he knows everyone and everyone knows him.

My thanks go to my brother Scott for the quotations from Jingo and Men at Arms, neither of which I have on my bookshelves.

1 comment:

Joseph F said...

I have recently read the Watch series by Terry Pratchett. I would like to note he did take the time to resign and to appoint someone else until Vimes return. And the Patrician did approve the person he did appoint in his stead. Both knowing the effect it would have on the city.