BOOK REVIEW – TERRY PRATCHETT – DISCWORLD #22 – THE FIFTH ELEPHANT. 1999 Victor Gollancz.
A decent enough Discworld saga, but not one of Pratchett’s best. The Ankh-Morpork City Watch takes centre stage, and in particular, they’re Captain, Vimes, who is sent to the distant country of Uberwold. The vampire and werewolf infested region only last appeared in the previous Discworld book, the superior, Carpe Jugulum.
The action begins in Ankh Morpork with a mysterious murder and the theft of what is believed to be an obvious fake replica of the Dwarf Coronation Scone Of Stone. (A silly pun on the Stone Of Scon used by Scottish Kings). The incident sparks a political row that some dwarfs hope to turn into a war. The dwarfs of the mines of Uberwold are not happy with the dwarfs descended from those who migrated to Ankh Morpork, as their cultural differences have softened them in personality and nature. The story therefore has many genuinely interesting observations on cultural differences. The way the dwarfs of ankh Morpork are dismissed as feminised (by a community where even women have beards) is not going to like the fact hat one dwarf accompanying Vimes on a diplomatic mission to Uberwold is a transvestite. Vimes, (as Chief of the police and husband to the Duchess Lady Sybil who also goes, leaves the running of Ankh Morpork to Corporal Carrot, a tall policeman raised by dwarves and who is engaged to a werewolf, (Angua). Learning of the threat to Vimes by the werewolf brother to Angua, Wolfgang, the main villain of the story, he delegates the position to others who promptly go on strike, plunging ankh Morpork itself into sub-plot crisis. Carrott and Angua, and their talking dog, Gaspode, give pursuit to Vimes, and all too conveniently arrive at various points in the narrative to save the day.
There are great moments in the story; the Igors make a welcome reappearance and one even joins the City watch for future stories. Vimes’s fight with Wolfgang is genuinely thrilling stuff. The resolution to the theft is well handled – the King of Uberwold knows full well that the Scone Of stone is a Fake, and doesn’t care. He just accepts that it is a relic and that it gets replaced bit-by-bit or wholesale over the years. He draws a comparison to an axe that is Vimes’s family heirloom, though in changing the blade and then changing the handle it has nothing left of itself, even though it is still the same axe.
The biggest flaw is the title, - a pun on the film The Fifth Element, in the story it hinges on a 5th Elephant that is believed to have tried once to join the four elephants that stand on the Star Turtle Great A'Tuin and support the Discworld itself on their mighty backs. Though alluded to at the beginning of the book, and the fight that takes place in the shadow of a statue of the creature, it is utterly irrelevant to the book. The front cover image of a burning Elephant falling like a comet onto an army of dwarfs is extremely misleading. No such event occurs in the book.
© Copyright. Arthur Chappell
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