In my personal opinion, there is simply no greater author than the late, great, Sir Terry Pratchett.
Funny, witty, sharp, always on point with modern issues, firmly entrenched in his own voice and passions… there is no author I have ever read who has been as consistently enjoyable as Sir Terry, nor as meaningful.
What I love about his work was that he had a completely ‘whole’ world, with its own rules and reasons. He was able to make his work a parody of our own lives, to point out truths we should all see and address… yet somehow he always managed it with humor.
I think his words resonated with people in their own ways, but I have never seen anyone read his work without finishing with a smile, so in that last aspect at least he brought unity. I highly recommend his books to anyone (teens and up!) who hasn’t tried one yet. His range of characters and story arcs mean there really is something in his writing for everyone.
With that glowing praise for my favorite author established, let me tell you a little about one of his books I love best – Jingo.
Let’s start with that title.
‘Jingo – a vociferous supporter of policy favoring war, especially in the name of patriotism.’
That is entirely what this book is about, and the subversion of what you might expect as the reader follows Sir Samuel Vimes, the chief of Ankh-Morpork’s police force.
Now, this book came out in 1997. I was still in secondary school (High school equivalent), and a lot happened that year.
Princess Diana died. Terrorism was on the rise, especially in Egypt. Steve Jobs came back to Apple. Microsoft became the most valuable business ever. Dolly the Sheep was cloned. There was the Heaven’s Gate suicide. Mother Theresa died. OJ Simpson was found guilty by a civil jury.
Personally, I think it was entirely the right time for a book about war, or at the very least, a book about the dangers of indiscriminate hate.
Jingo promised an adventure tale about war, and that was exactly what we got. It is just a shame that the next two decades of inter-country and religious conflicts would not end so neatly.
The book opens with ‘It was a moonless night, which was good for the purposes of Solid Jackson.’
It’s a simple, scene setting sentence that entirely belies the events to come.
For one thing, Solid Jackson appears relatively infrequently throughout the work, yet without his opening scene, as he fishes for Curious Squid, we would have no context or ‘eyes on’ experience of the events which would precipitate a potential war between some of the Discworld’s biggest nations.
In some books, the word ‘prologue’ would sneak out, and in some ways that would be appropriate for Jingo… but Sir Terry is very consistent in the editing of his work in at least one regard.
There are no chapters, nor are there prologues or epilogues.
There are just words, and a story winding from its beginning to its end. In many works, that might be a detriment, but in the case of the Discworld, it really works and I think that it entirely in tribute to the skill of Sir Terry as an author – he never needed those kinds of breaks to get his readers to shift gear. His words alone manage that on their own merits.
The plot of Jingo follows the put-upon members of the Watch as their city-state prepares to go to war. If hostilities break out, it will be against a nation better armed, better trained and better experienced than their own home… though the local nobility seems oblivious to this and determined to get hundreds of people killed.
Between the morals of Samuel Vimes, and the cool intellect of the city’s leader, The Patrician, the plot follows the efforts of both in the face of an overwhelming historical imperative for bloodshed. Instead, they try to stop the war, in their own separate ways.
Along the way, there are camels, cross-dressing, werewolves, desert natives, politics and… football.
It is well worth the read, especially for the big reveal of exactly how things turn out (which possible includes the largest arrest record in Discworld’s history.)
Jingo is the 21st Discworld novel, so by this point, the characters are very well established for those who have been following the series.
While it is not imperative to have read all other Discworld books prior to this one, I personally find that one should have at least read the preceding City Watch books (Guards! Guards!, Men At Arms & Feet of Clay) to get the full experience as the plot unfolds.
Sir Samuel Vimes is probably my favorite Discworld character, and he is at his finest in this work. A ‘copper’ who has gone from rock bottom to nobility (despite his best efforts), he is a very real and realized individual with excellently human responses to events happening around him and a serious drive to get involved, especially when matters contradict his personal code. His inner demons and personal battles have always made him very real, and the issues brought to light by his past are always cuttingly close to home… but witty in their execution.
Counterpoint to Vimes’ gritty scowls, one finds Captain Carrot, a very tall dwarf at 6ft+. To try and explain his character in a few sentences would do him a grand disservice, but his affable charisma and ‘innocence’ counterpoint the events in this book better than anywhere else in the series, in my opinion.
Whether it’s his ability to get along with anyone (even deadly desert nomads), the moments when his innocence is revealed to be incredibly perceptive and clever, or just the pragmatic sense he shows when his girlfriend is kidnapped… Carrot blooms through the story.
Other notables include the sometimes-cynical but entirely driven Angua, a great female character played out for her own strengths and not just to support a greater narrative, the indescribable Nobby Nobbs, who has an adventure no one was expecting, the Patrician himself, and Leonard De Quirm, who is as much as genius as a certain real inventor, but somehow even more lovable.
Not one character who appears in the story feels extraneous or un-needed, and all of them are developed with unique voices and personalities.
Experience of Reading
Like most of Pratchett’s work, Jingo was a joy to read. I’ve re-read it more times than I count, to the point my copy is somewhat battered and has marks on its pages.
It’s been lent out, lost, retrieved, and even traveled 5,000 miles with me when I emigrated, as did many other Discworld novels.
I love this book. While maybe not my all-time favorite book ever, nor a book that changed the world or all the people in it… Jingo is a must-read in my opinion.
Insightful, amusing, and perhaps even more on the money today than in 1997 when it was written, I cannot recommend it highly enough, nor the incredible legacy left to us by Sir Terry and his life.
If you haven’t heard of him, please please please give his work a try, and if you have heard of him, and haven’t seen ‘Back In Black’ yet… go watch that immediately.
You won’t be disappointed.
Author: Terry Pratchett
My favorite quote: ‘It is always useful to face an enemy who is prepared to die for his country. This means that both you and he have exactly the same aim in mind.’