Writing Tips

The World of Terry Pratchett

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Ask a fantasy lover about Terry Pratchett. If they’re from the UK, they’ll know what you mean. If they’re in the US, they might not yet have discovered Sir Terry Pratchett’s wonderful world. On this side of the pond, we might know the bestselling author’s famous collaboration with Neil Gaiman, but do we know about Discworld? And what about the best Sam Vimes quotes?

But first, Discworld. It’s a fantasy world, but it’s so much more. A satire. A loosely connected set of stories with interwoven characters and themes. In Discworld, Pratchett produced sly social commentaries and tongue-in-cheek satire but not at the expense of stories.

Reading Pratchett

I met Terry Pratchett the unorthodox way. I liked Good Omens enough that I wanted more. So I kept trying Discworld, but rather like a stranger unaccustomed to the city of Ankh-Morpork, I was overwhelmed. And then I tried Thud! And that was when I got to know Sam Vimes, Pratchett’s cynical, mystery-solving policeman.

It’s been said the City Watch books are a good place to start reading Discworld if you like mysteries. Indeed, they combine mystery and fantasy so effectively, you might need a withdrawal warning. Along the way, you’ll get some of the best Sir Terry Pratchett wisdom and erudition. After all, who but Pratchett, and Sam Vimes, could explain socio-economic unfairness with a pair of boots?

If this hasn’t convinced you to go pick up a book by Sir Terry Pratchett, maybe some of these Sam Vimes quotes will do the trick. 

Image by Markus Spiske from Pixabay

10 Best Sam Vimes Quotes

  1. Let’s start with the boots theory:

Take boots, for example. He earned thirty-eight dollars a month plus allowances. A really good pair of leather boots cost fifty dollars. But an affordable pair of boots, which were sort of OK for a season or two and then leaked like hell when the cardboard gave out, cost about ten dollars. Those were the kind of boots Vimes always bought, and wore until the soles were so thin that he could tell where he was in Ankh-Morpork on a foggy night by the feel of the cobbles.

But the thing was that good boots lasted for years and years. A man who could afford fifty dollars had a pair of boots that’d still be keeping his feet dry in ten years’ time, while the poor man who could only afford cheap boots would have spent a hundred dollars on boots in the same time and would still have wet feet.

This was the Captain Samuel Vimes ‘Boots’ theory of socioeconomic unfairness. —Men at Arms

2. If you want to meet Vimes at the very beginning, start with Guards! Guards! Not only does it have Vimes, it also has dragons. 

The people of Ankh-Morpork had a straightforward, no-nonsense approach to entertainment, and while they were looking forward to seeing a dragon slain, they’d be happy to settle instead for seeing someone being baked alive in his own armour. You didn’t get the chance every day to see someone baked alive in their own armour. It would be something for the children to remember. -Guards! Guards!

3. Vimes is an everyman in many ways. He might dislike vampires, but he notices nevertheless.

Little fussy Otto, in his red-lined black opera cloak with pockets for all his gear, his shiny black shoes, his carefully cut widow’s peak and, not least, his ridiculous accent that grew thicker or thinner depending on who he was talking to, did not look like a threat. He looked funny, a joke, a music-hall vampire. It had never previously occurred to Vimes that, just possibly, the joke was on other people. —Thud!

4. And then there are the short snappy quotes that catch you off guard.

Give a man a fire and he’s warm for a day, but set fire to him and he’s warm for the rest of his life. —Jingo

5. As well as this gem:

Whilst living in a slum was often seen as proof of criminality, owning a street of them merely got you invited to the best parties. —Feet of Clay

6. Vimes often interacts with Lord Vetinari, the city’s dictator —that is, “Patrician.” Vetinari is wily but it’s always a pleasure seeing these two clash.

Vetinari drummed his fingers on the table. “What would you do if I asked you an outright question, Vimes?” “I’d tell you a downright lie, sir.” “Then I will not do so,” said Vetinari, smiling faintly. —Thud!

7. In Night Watch there’s some twisty time travel that leads Vimes to muse: 

That was always the dream, wasn’t it? ‘I wish I’d known then what I know now’? But when you got older you found out that you now wasn’t you then. You then was a twerp. You then was what you had to be to start out on the rocky road of becoming you now, and one of the rocky patches on that road was being a twerp. A much better dream, one that’d ensure sounder sleep, was not to know now what you didn’t know then. —Night Watch

8. Throughout the City Watch books, Vimes fights his own demons. Often this reasoning is what keeps him from overstepping the law —or being one minute late reading to his infant son every night at 6.

Once you had a good excuse, you opened the door to bad excuses. —Thud! 

9. I would be remise not to mention Vimes’s other half. So I shall include this quote:

Sam Vimes could parallel process. Most husbands can. They learn to follow their own line of thought while at the same time listening to what their wives say. And the listening is important, because at any time they could be challenged and must be ready to quote the last sentence in full. A vital additional skill is being able to scan the dialogue for telltale phrases such as “and they can deliver it tomorrow” or “so I’ve invited them for dinner?” or “they can do it in blue, really quite cheaply.”The Fifth Elephant

10. Pratchett takes on hard and serious issues in the last Sam Vimes book, Snuff. Written near the end of Pratchett’s life, it has grave quotes, like this:

The worst thing you can do is nothing. —Snuff

But Pratchett still had a sense of humor, so here is one more for all the writers.

He’d heard that writers spent all day in their dressing gowns drinking champagne. This is, of course, absolutely true. —Snuff

If these Sam Vimes quotes have peaked your interest, then you really must go off and read Terry Pratchett. Or re-read. If you have more favorite Sam Vimes quotes, please comment below! We love hearing from our readers. 

Hayley Schoeppler

A lover of books, coffee, and most of all the gospel, Hayley comes from the Midwest. When she's not reading, she's often hunting for a pen or scrap of paper to write down a new idea.