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Feet of Clay is the nineteenth Discworld novel by Terry Pratchett, and a parody of detective novels. It was published in 1996. The story follows the members of The Watch, as they attempt to solve murders apparently committed by a golem, as well as the unusual poisoning of the Patrician.

The title is a figure of speech from the Bible (Daniel 2:33-45) used to indicate a weakness or a hidden flaw in the character of a greatly admired or respected person:

Thou, O king, sawest, and behold a great image ... his feet part of iron and part of clay. ... And as the toes of the feet were part of iron, and part of clay, so the kingdom shall be partly strong, and partly broken."

The script used to represent a golem's writing in the book is a corrupted form of the Hebrew alphabet made to appear as roman letters, possibly a reference to golems' origins in Jewish mythology.

The mottoes and crests of the various guilds and families are:

Assassins Guild: "nil mortifice sine lucre" -- "no killing without payment"

Vimes family: "protego et servio" -- "I protect and serve". In the centre of the crest is the number 177, Vimes' own badge number.

Thieves' Guild: "acutus id verberat" -- "whip it quick" which is a reference to the song by Devo "Whip it".

Rudolph Potts (baker): "quod subigo farinam" -- "because I knead the dough"

Vetinari: "si non confectus non reficiat" -- "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" a southern USA expression.

Edward St John de Nobbes: "capite omnia" -- "take it all"

Gerhardt Sock (butcher): "futurus meus est in visceris" -- "my future is in the entrails"


Twelve of the city golems, clay creatures forced to obey the written instructions placed inside their heads, decide to create a "king" golem. They fashion a golem from their own clay and place in his head instructions that would fulfill their hopes: "Bring peace to the world", "Treat everyone fairly" and so on. They enroll the help of a priest and dwarf bread baker to write the sacred instructions and bake the clay, respectively; Meshugah, the "king" golem, is initially sent to work in a candle factory, and later murders the priest and baker who took part in his creation.

Around the same time, a cabal of Ankh-Morpork's guild leaders seeks to gradually depose the Patrician, replace him with Nobby Nobbs as the new king and rule the city through him.

To implement this, the cabal orders the golems' newly made king, Meshugah, to make poisoned candles and have them delivered to the palace. Vetinari is successfully poisoned, making him severely ill. Meshugah, however, is "overloaded" by all the different instructions his creators gave him, and goes "mad": he starts overworking and, when he finishes raw materials, he rampages through the city.

At this point the City Watch steps in trying to solve the murders and the poisoning of Lord Vetinari. With the assistance of their new forensics expert dwarf Cheery Littlebottom, Commander Vimes and Captain Carrot slowly unravel the mystery.

Carrot and Dorfl, one of the golems, fight and defeat the golem king at the candlestick factory. Afterwards, Vimes confronts the city's chief heraldry expert, a vampire, who instigated the whole affair. Dorfl arrests him despite tenuous evidence and Vimes burns down all the heraldic record as retribution against the "elite" and "noble" plotters, who had happily and self-righteously sacrificed the lives of several "commoners" in the pursuit of their scheme.

In the end, Vetinari has recovered completely, Dorfl is sworn in as a Watchman, Vimes gets a pay rise, and the Watch House gets a new dartboard. Vetinari reveals to his assistant, Drumknott, that he had known of the plot for some time already. Vimes' rash actions in the pursuit of truth had considerably scared the city elite, which is precisely why Vetinari had let him continue: so that the plotters would know just how much worse off they'd be if Vetinari died.

Popular References and Annotations[]

  • Sergeant Colon says Mrs Colon wants him to buy a farm, which in military slang means to be killed in action.
  • Vimes says "'Cheery, eh? Good to see the old naming traditions kept up.'" The British Naming convention which was popular until the last century had a strict format for naming one's children. This play on that idea is in keeping with the naming of the Seven Dwarfs in Disney's Snow White film after human attributes: Grumpy, Dopey, Sleepy, Bashful, Happy, Doc and Sneezy.
  • Vimes says, "'I want someone who can look at the ashtray and tell me what kind of cigars I smoke.'" which is a reference to Sherlock Holmes telling Watson, that he has written extensively on the subject of cigars.
  • Slab, the drug of choice among Trolls is mentioned with the line "Slab: Jus' say 'AarrghaarrghpleeassennononoUGH" which is a parallel to the American anti-drug campaign of 'Just say no'.
  • There are several references to Britain's civil war, the regicide of Charles I and the Glorious Revolution of 1688 that followed the end of Cromwell's rule. Vimes's ancestor's side, the Ironheads are a combination of "Roundheads" and "Ironsides", two names for the Parliamentarian soldiers of Oliver Cromwell, clearly the model for "Old Stoneface" Vimes the Commander of the City Watch and regicide in 1688.
  • In discussing poisoning methods, dribbling poison into the victim's ear is mentioned - the method used in Shakespeare's tragedy Hamlet.
  • While being questioned by Cheery and Angua, the golem Dorfl says "DURING THE DAY I MUST SLAUGHTER, DRESS, QUARTER, JOINT AND BONE, AND AT NIGHT WITHOUT REST I MUST MAKE SAUSAGES AND BOIL UP THE LIVERS, HEARTS, TRIPES, KIDNEYS AND CAITTERLINGS." To which Cheery replies "That's awful." which is an obvious play on 'awful' as in a terrible job and 'offal' which is the waste products from butchering.
  • Cheery mentions the 'pet goat' in the slaughterhouse, to which Angua replies, "What? Oh, you mean the yudasgoat, ... 'Most slaughterhouses have one. It's not a pet. I suppose you could call it an employee.' In Roundworld, slaughter houses also use a "Judas goat" (named after the disciple who betrayed Jesus) just like the goat betrays his followers - the sheep.
  • The undead bar is called Biers a play on beer and bier which is a frame to support a coffin but also a pun on Cheers, the Boston pub in the TV comedy of the same name. This latter reference is carried over in the line] "But sometimes it's good to go where everybody knows your shape." which is a reference to the line from the theme song of Cheers "sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name".
  • "The Rites of Man" is a reference to Thomas Paine book in defense of the French Revolution entitled The Rights of Man.
  • The magazine title Unadorned Facts is a play on The Plain Truth and Battle Call is a play on War Cry, published by the Worldwide Church of God and Salvation Army respectively.
  • While theorising about ways the Patrician was being poisoned, Vimes wonders if the wallpaper in the palace had Arsenic in it and if the damp fog had caused it to become active somehow. This mirrors a phenomenon from the Roundworld's Victorian Era and 'Scheele's Green' wallpaper.
  • Meshugah is the Hebrew word for crazy.


Language Title Literal Meaning
Bulgarian Глинени крака Feet Of Clay
Czech Nohy z jílu Feet of Clay
Dutch Lemen voeten Feet of Loam
Estonian Savijalad Feet of Clay
Finnish Savijaloilla On Feet of Clay
French Pieds d'argile Feet of Clay
German Hohle Köpfe Hollow Heads
Italian Piedi d'Argilla Feet of Clay
Polish Na glinianych nogach On Legs of Clay
Russian Ноги из глины Feet of Clay
Serbian Glinene noge Feet of Clay
Spanish Pies de barro Feet of Clay
Swedish På lerfötter On Clay Feet