Carpe Jugulum (Discworld series)

Carpe JugulumCarpe Jugulum
by Terry Pratchett
Rating: ★★★★½
isbn: 9780857524157
Series: Discworld #23
Publication Date: November 22, 2016
Pages: 412
Genre: Fantasy, Fiction
Publisher: Doubleday


It’s done; I’ve read the whole thing.  Which really isn’t saying much because at only a little over 400 pages it’s not like it’s a door stop.  But, and I say this as one who thoroughly enjoys Pratchett, reading the discworld books is hard work for me.  I love the characters, and I laugh out loud at the jokes, and I welcome the footnotes, but something about Pratchett’s narrative style doesn’t flow effortlessly for me, and because of that I’m always looking at them and thinking up excuses to put off reading them.

This was the case with Carpe Jugulum although once Granny Weatherwax finally got involved, the story started moving along enough for me to ignore the effort.

On the surface, the story is a hilarious one that follows the efforts of Count Magpye and his family to overcome the stereotypes of being vampires, or vampyres, as they prefer.  It’s a cautionary tale of what can happen when the wrong mix of intelligence and self-help books come together.

Underneath that are some pretty dark musings, in my opinion.  How much of my opinion is coloured by the knowledge of Pratchett’s early onset Alzheimer’s I’m unable to say, but must be mentioned; there are also shades, I’m sure, of my own current and likely permanent cynicism about humanity.

The book starts off with Granny in a dark place; she’s feeling invisible and forgotten by her friends and her community, and an accident with a cow left her forced to make a difficult choice for someone else.  I’m not sure if we’re meant to believe that’s why she takes herself off to the gnarly moors or if I missed the moment when her true purpose was foreshadowed.  Either way, Granny puts her affairs in order and leaves without a word to anyone, in the throes of a dark depression.

Meanwhile, in an effort to be modern and embrace a modern tolerance for all beings, King Verence invites the vampires into the castle to celebrate the naming of his newborn daughter.  Tolerance taken too far is a touchy topic these days, when everybody is supposed to embrace inclusiveness in all forms but naïveté and inclusiveness aren’t a good mix and it wasn’t hard to draw a line from Pratchett’s vampires being invited in to today’s ‘open-mindedness’ that leads to widely accepted conspiracy theories and general apathy about all the ways the world is currently going to hell.

Then there’s the theological battle that takes place throughout the book.  This felt very auto-biographical to me, as if Pratchett used Oats and the witches to vent his spleen – a very bitter spleen from the feel of things.  So while I was laughing at the numerous moments of hilarity and sly humour, there was a stain over it of … sadness, I guess.  The idea that this genius of storytelling was at his core quite possibly an unhappy man.  And I don’t say that because I claim that without faith in a higher being it’s impossible to be happy, but because to spend so much time elucidating the reasons why such faith is misplaced doesn’t seem like something a person at peace with his personal philosophy, and fundamentally happy, would spend his time doing.  I don’t agree with him about the higher being, but I do agree with him (and Oats and Granny) that one can find the sacred everywhere.

The ending is both simplicity itself and a perfect reflection of the one-way thought processes of humanity.  Not to mention that justice and mercy don’t always come wrapped in bows and happiness.


I read this book, which had been on my TBR for years anyway, on the advice of Themis Athena as a good book for the Splatter square on my 2021 Halloween Bingo card.

4 thoughts on “Carpe Jugulum (Discworld series)”

  1. Neil Gaiman, in an introduction to one of his / their books (might be “Good Omens”, I’d have to check) quotes Pratchett as saying that at his core there is a great deal of rage — and that’s where all the jokes come from. Reading that, it instantly made sense to me.

    And that, incidentally, is not a “Pratchett via Gaiman” quote from the last years of his life but from decades ago, when they were in the U.S. together (again, might have been to promote “Good Omens”); and Gaiman relates it in the context of an episode that sounds hilarious if told in hindsight — and which it is easy to imagine Pratchett in particular having made to sound hilarious when telling it later on — but which at the moment when it happened was extremely frustrating for both of them; and yet, Pratchett, rather than reverse course and give up, stuck to his guns against all reason with gritty determination. Even though I don’t remember where exactly Gaiman wrote this, the passage as such stuck in my mind because it felt like in a mere paragraph or so, he had summed up the essence of who Terry Pratchett was.

    1. It seems like an awfully high price to pay for his humor and his genius at storytelling. So much rage to all appearances so repressed. A lot of is obviously re-channeled, but a lot of it repressed too, for it to seep around the edges in his writing. I suppose that’s why it makes me sad (that and I think his rage misplaced, but that’s just my opinion and says just as much about me as it does about him.)

  2. It’a been a very long time since I read this. Your review reminded me of all the things I enjoyed about it. I also agree with the dark undertones. I don’t know whether they’re dementia related but I think Pratchett often makes us re-examine the monster vs human issues an he often ides with the monsters as they’re nicer than people.

    I want to re-read this now.

    1. I was trying not to turn my review into a thesis, and I took some shortcuts. It sort of seemed a reasonable reason (his dementia) for the rage, especially the rage against gods and faith. But as TA points out above, he’s always harbored a core of anger, even before his symptoms and diagnoses.

      You’re absolutely correct about his examination of issues re; monster vs. human, but what gets me the most about Pratchett is that even when the monsters are clearly better, it’s obvious that he still puts his faith in humanity. If I had had any faith in humanity as a macrocosm, I’ve long since lost it. His enduring optimism about our race confounds me in much the same way I’m sure my faith in a higher being would have confounded him.

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