I really like it when every so often, when I read something, I come across a paragraph or a line that has wisdom behind it, wisdom that illuminates. Just take the scene from Guards! Guards! where the dragon king debates with Wonse on his non-confrontational approach of getting people to do the king’s bidding:
Wonse flung up his finger-spread hands in a conciliatory fashion. ‘Of course, of course,’ he said. ‘But there are ways and ways, you know. Ways and ways. All the roaring and flaming, you see, you don’t need it …’
Foolish Ape! How else can I make them do my bidding?
Wonse put his hands behind his back.
“They’ll do it of their own free will,’ he said. ‘And in time, they’ll come to believe it was their own idea. It’ll be a tradition. Take it from me. We humans are adaptable creatures.’
The dragon gave him a long, blank stare.
‘In fact,’ said Wonse, trying to keep the trembling out of his voice, ‘before too long, if someone comes along and tells them that a dragon king is a bad idea, they’ll kill him themselves.’
The dragon blinked.
For the first time Wonse could remember, it seemed uncertain.
‘I know people, you see,’ said Wonse, simply.
The dragon continued to pin him with its gaze.
If you are lying … it thought, eventually.
‘You know I can’t. Not to you.’
And they really act like this?
‘Oh, yes. All the time. It’s a basic human trait.’
Wonse knew the dragon could read at least the upper levels of his mind. They resonated in terrible harmony. And he could see the mighty thoughts behind the eyes in front of him.
The dragon was horrified.
‘I’m sorry,’ said Wonse weakly. ‘That’s just how we are. It’s all to do with survival, I think.’
There will be no mighty warriors sent to kill me? it thought, almost plaintively.
‘I don’t think so.’
‘Not any more. They cost too much.’
But I will be eating people!
He felt the sensation of the dragon rummaging around in his mind, trying to find a clue to understanding. He half-saw, half-sensed the flicker of random images, of dragons, of the mythical age of reptiles and – and here he felt the dragon’s genuine astonishment – of some of the less commendable areas of human history, which were most of it. And after the astonishment came the baffled anger. There was practically nothing the dragon could do to people that they had not, sooner or later, tried on one another, often with enthusiasm.
You have the effrontery to be squeamish, it thought at him. But we were dragons. We were supposed to be cruel, cunning, heartless, and terrible. But this much I can tell you, you ape – the great face pressed even closer, so that Wonse was staring into the pitiless depths of his eyes – we never burned and tortured and ripped one another apart and called it morality.