Samuel "Sam" Vimes is a policeman from Terry Pratchett's Discworld series. His full name and title is His Grace, His Excellency, The Duke of Ankh, Commander Sir Samuel Vimes of the Ankh-Morpork City Watch. Other titles used occasionally are Ambassador for Ankh-Morpork as well as Blackboard Monitor Vimes (mostly by dwarfs, due to their near worship of words and therefore dislike of blackboards and their being monitored). He first appeared in the novel Guards! Guards!. While no detailed description of his physical appearance shows up in any of the Discworld novels, Pratchett says in the companion work, The Art of Discworld, that he has always imagined Vimes as British actor Pete Postlethwaite. Artist Paul Kidby, who has collaborated with Pratchett on several works, portrays him as resembling Clint Eastwood.
Vimes is the Commander of the City Watch, the burgeoning police force of the Discworld's largest city, Ankh-Morpork. His rise from alcoholic policeman to respected member of the aristocracy, and the growth and development of the Watch under his command, have together been one of the major threads of the Discworld series. Born into poverty, he is now a highly reluctant member of the nobility, having been made both a knight and a duke. He is married to Sybil Ramkin, the richest woman in the city.
Sam Vimes was born in Cockbill Street as the son of Thomas Vimes, whose father was Gwilliam Vimes in the Rimwards part of the Shades, the poorest area of Ankh-Morpork. It was so poor that there was little crime, though Sam was part of a street gang (The Cockbill Street Roaring Lads) with Lupine Wonse (who later became secretary to Lord Vetinari).
Vimes was educated at a dame school, where he was once blackboard monitor for a whole term. His "Blackboard Monitor" epithet is used like a title in Snuff, implying it may actually have been accorded some official weight by the Low King of the dwarfs.
His mother told the young Sam that Thomas was run down by a cart, but this is untrue. Whatever happened to him, she raised the young Sam on her own.
The City Watch apparently runs in the Vimes family. The Annotated Pratchett File notes that Suffer-Not-Injustice Vimes is closely modelled on Oliver Cromwell, and that the name of his supporters, the Ironheads, is a portmanteau of Roundheads and Ironsides, Cromwell's faction and regiment, respectively.
Vimes was sixteen when he joined the Watch. Despite being a self-described speciesist, Vimes has nonetheless allowed the Watch to become one of the most species-blind employers in the city, and recognizes better than most the value of its non-human members, such as dwarfs, trolls, and even vampires, for which he still admits an innate dislike. As he explained to Lady Margolotta in The Fifth Elephant, this is because, teetotal or not, a vampire will always seek to dominate a human being. In the book Feet of Clay, he has said he didn't like humans either, so he isn't actually speciesist. The conflict within Vimes is between his virtuous nature ("the Watchman") and what he calls "the Beast". In The Art of Discworld, Pratchett explains that Vimes protects himself from the Beast with the symbol of his own badge, which prevents him from becoming the criminal he despises, at least in his own mind. Vimes has also beaten off and "killed" part of a pack of werewolves in "the game"; a chase back to civilization that humans did not often win during a period when it was organised by Angua's brother Wolfgang.
In the days of Guards! Guards! he could tell exactly where he was anywhere in Ankh-Morpork just by the feel of the cobbles beneath his feet, due to the thinness of his boots at the time. Later in the series, the expensive, good quality boots his wife persists in buying for him restrict this ability.
Vimes' firm grasp of basic human nature, and of the Ankh-Morpork psyche in particular, led to him spending some years as a drunk, and the Watch believe that this was because his body didn't produce any "natural" alcohol. They estimated that Vimes was about two drinks below par. This meant that when he hadn't been drinking, he was beyond sober - he was knurd. Thus he saw reality as it really was, stripped of the mental illusions that most people construct in their minds to get to sleep at night. This horrifying state of mind caused Vimes to try to balance it out through drinking, but he would get the dosage wrong and end up drunk. Vimes gave up alcohol after his marriage to Sybil, and now smokes foul-smelling cigars instead. However he still keeps a bottle of 'Bearhugger's Whisky' in his bottom desk drawer as a 'permanent test'.
Terry Pratchett noted the following about Vimes on the Usenet: "Vimes is fundamentally a person. He fears he may be a bad person because he knows what he thinks rather than just what he says and does. He chokes off those little reactions and impulses, but he knows what they are. So he tries to act like a good person, often in situations where the map is unclear." This, along with the Discworld habit of pushing any theory as hard as it goes, appears to have culminated in Vimes' psyche creating its own "internal policeman" to "Guard the Guardsmen" (cf. Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?), and Vimes' own sense of justice being so strong that, in Thud!, it was even able to fend off an attack by a 'quasi-demonic thing of pure vengeance'.
Vimes often has to go to report to Lord Vetinari, although most of the time he keeps a poker-face and answers very simply to avoid Vetinari's probing questions. When given bad news, he has a tendency to, on his way out, pound his fist against a certain spot of wall near the office door. Though he sometimes has to call in a plasterer when Vimes is particularly angry, Vetinari doesn't worry about it—a sign that he intentionally angers Vimes so as to goad him into a desired action. In fact, when Vimes was temporarily relieved of command in Men at Arms, the fact that Vimes didn't pound the wall led Vetinari to realize that he 'may have gone too far'.
It has been noted that, in personality and mental setup, Vimes bears some similarity to Granny Weatherwax. Both are effectively 'good' characters who nevertheless secretly fear the darkness inside them, and constantly strive to control the darker side of their nature.
Sometimes this darker side comes out when Vimes loses control of his anger and he effectively 'goes spare'. In Feet of Clay, Corporal Nobby Nobbs refuses the position of Earl of Ankh, terrified that Vimes would 'go spare' when he found out. In Thud!, after an attempted assassination of his family, Vimes becomes very angry at the 'deep-down dwarves,' a problem only made worse by the presence of a dark entity of pure vengeance within his mind. However, he never totally loses control.
Sam married Lady Sybil Ramkin at the end of Men at Arms; however, the pattern of his married life was set the moment he turned away from his wedding to chase an assassin that had just made an attempt on the Patrician's life. Lady Sybil is a remarkably patient woman; she spent nearly the entirety of The Fifth Elephant attempting to inform her increasingly distracted husband that she was pregnant with their child. It is clear that Vimes loves his wife dearly; indeed, when he was trapped in the past during the events of Night Watch, alone in a world he no longer recognised, the History Monks gave him a silver cigar case his wife had bought him to inspire him to continue with his mission. It is not entirely clear whether his hatred of crime and the evil of humanity is greater than his love for his wife. Sybil bears this divided loyalty with some grace; however, nearly every Watch novel concludes with Sam making some form of amends to his neglected wife, either a delayed honeymoon, or simply time alone with their new baby.
Vimes as Duke of Ankh
Vimes' involvement in preventing a pointless war with Klatch in the novel Jingo led to his being once more rewarded with an unwanted title, in this case, Duke of Ankh. He now finds himself in the awkward position of continuing to despise the ruling classes of the city, while actually being a member of them.
In the course of his mission to Überwald as ambassador, he was disgusted to learn that he was also entitled to be addressed as "His Excellency".
His role as Duke of Ankh largely involves diplomacy (his visit to Überwald in The Fifth Elephant for example), in fact, his rough and ready upbringing has given him some unexpected advantages in this field (He once, after a bad day at work, threatened to personally send an opposing diplomat "home in an ambulance," an act that caused the man to order a troop withdrawal). He occasionally finds the opportunity to do some police work. Despite having competent subordinates, including Captain Carrot and Sergeants Angua and Detritus, Vimes finds it difficult to delegate, and is frustrated by the fact that the growth of the Watch has left him with less and less time for actual policing. In some ways he found it a relief when, in Night Watch, he was transported back to the Ankh-Morpork of his youth, and became a sergeant-at-arms in the inefficient, paperwork-free and moderately corrupt Watch of that time.
Young Sam is Vimes' son and about fourteen months old by the time of Thud!. His birth was difficult, and Vimes paid Doctor "Mossy" Lawn a large sum of money in gratitude for saving Sybil's and the baby's lives. Lawn has since founded the Lady Sybil Free Hospital.
Since his son's birth, Vimes has discovered a new cause in life: arriving at home every day at six o'clock sharp to read Where's My Cow? to him, an obligation that supersedes crime, conspiracy or international negotiations — his thinking being that if he ever missed it for a good reason, he might miss it for a bad reason, and that this might apply to everything he does, such as employing less-than-ethical methods in the pursuit of crime. His drive to keep this promise is so strong in fact that he still manages to fulfil it despite the problem of both being ten miles apart from his son and being attacked by dwarfs.
Vimes is, much to his own horror, becoming a politician. However, he remains a copper in his soul. Being a significant figure on the world stage just means he finds bigger crimes.
Recently, Vimes has seen involvement with:
- William de Worde, Otto Chriek and The Ankh-Morpork Times in The truth
- The war between Borogravia and Zlobenia (and everyone else in the region) in Monstrous Regiment
- With Moist von Lipwig in his running of the Post Office and the Grand Trunk Company's monopoly on the "clacks" system in Going Postal, fraud involving the Royal Bank of Ankh-Morpork in Making Money and the creation of the Steam Locomotive in Raising Steam
- Ethnic tensions between dwarfs and trolls in Thud!
- On vacation at the Ramkin family country estate with young Sam and Sybil in Snuff and solving a vicious murder.
Terry Pratchett has commented that Vimes has made setting a story in Ankh-Morpork very difficult as it is almost impossible to create a story involving any sort of crime or politics without it rapidly becoming a Watch book.
Early in his career, while he is still a nearly-impoverished Watchman, Vimes reflects that he can only afford ten-dollar boots with thin soles which don't keep out the damp and wear out in a season or two. A pair of good boots, which cost fifty dollars, would last for years and years - which means that over the long run, the man with cheap boots has spent much more money and still has wet feet. This thought leads to the general realization that one of the reasons rich people remain rich is because they don't actually have to spend as much money as poor people; in many situations, they buy high-quality items (such as clothing, housing, and other necessities) which are made to last. In the long run, they actually use much less of their disposable income. He describes this as The Samuel Vimes 'Boots' Theory Of Socio-Economic Injustice.
This phrase has led to the use of the phrase "Vimes' Boots," or the description of a set of circumstances as a "Vimes' Boots situation." The phrase has widespread applicability. For instance, people who eat healthy food and get good regular medical care are generally healthier than people who do not. Although in the short run it costs more to provide medical check ups, wellness programs, and so forth, in the long run, those rich enough to afford them will not only spend less overall on medical care, they will have a higher quality of life. Thus those who cannot afford regular health care are said to be in a Vimes' Boots situation.
The irony of the situation, coupled with the character's own distaste for the wealthy and general cynicism, make the phrase a particularly effective and vivid evocation of the concept for those familiar with the Discworld novels, hence its becoming part of the vernacular in that subculture.
To economists and urban sociologists this phenomenon is known as the "ghetto tax".
Sam Vimes is the central character in Guards! Guards!, Men at Arms, Feet of Clay, Jingo, The Fifth Elephant, Night Watch, Thud! and Snuff . He is a secondary character in The Truth, Monstrous Regiment, and Raising Steam, and has cameos in The Last Hero, Going Postal, Making Money, He has also appeared in the City Watch Diary and the picture book Where's My Cow?.
- Guards! Guards! was adapted for BBC Radio 5 in 1992 and starred John Wood as Vimes. Night Watch was adapted for BBC Radio 4 in 2007, with actor Philip Jackson as Vimes.
- While there have been a number of amateur stage productions of the books, a professional adaptation of Guards! Guards! went on tour in 1998. Vimes was played by Paul Darrow, best known for his role in Blake's 7.
- Vimes also appeared in the game Discworld Noir.