As an expression or idiom, feet of clay implies an underlying weakness or fault, or a character flaw that is not readily apparent : “They discovered to their vast discomfiture that their idol had feet of clay, after placing him upon a pedestal” (James Joyce, Ulysses) 1

And from Theoretikos, by Oscar Wilde:

THIS mighty empire hath but feet of clay: Of all its ancient chivalry and might Our little island is forsaken quite: 2

The origin of the feet of clay metaphor* is from Nebuchadnezzar's dream in The Book of Daniel, in reference to the statue of an idol : “His legs of iron, his feet part of iron and part of clay.” 3

The ever popular Dictionary of Cultural Literacy adds:

People are said to have feet of clay if they are revealed to have a weakness or flaw that most people were unaware of: “When the coach was arrested for drunken driving, the students realized that their hero had feet of clay.” 4


1 ; see also 2 3 John Bartlett, Familiar Quotations, Little, Brown, and Company, 1980, 32:32 4 E.D. Hirsch, Jr., et al; The Dictionary of Cultural Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know, Houghton Mifflin Company, 1993, p. 67.

I remember hearing Hawkeye Pierce using this expression on M*A*S*H when I was a kid, and being confused by it. Node what you don't know.

*Thanks to Tiefling for helping clear up the Bible reference.

First published in 1996 by Gollancz, this is the nineteenth book in Terry Pratchett's Discworld series, and the third (after Guards! Guards! and Men at Arms) in the Watch subset of the series, which follows the escapades of the Ankh-Morpork City Watch, led by commander Samuel Vimes.

The book is one of the series' more complex, with several threads relating to the central one: a plot by some of the city's nobility to disable Lord Vetinari by poisoning him and, while he is out of the way, to replace him with an easily controlled king. For the role of king they have chosen none other than Nobby Nobbs, also of the city watch and possibly the most unlikely person (bar Foul Ole Ron, perhaps) conceivable for the role.

Alongside the political storyline is the more personal one of Cheery Littlebottom, the watch's first forensic officer and a dwarf who, through the book's course, increasingly rejects the principle that all dwarfs, of either gender, should appear male. Aiding her in the process is werewolf Angua von Uberwald, putting up with Cheery's continual affirmation of how much she hates, yes, werewolves. And, of course, there's a whodunit: two unimportant old men with no known enemies, murdered for no apparent reason.

As always with the Discworld books, and certainly the watch group, Feet of Clay's most interesting aspect is, rather than the story itself, the development of the characters and issues addressed. Vimes is, by all accounts, Pratchett's favourite character, and it shows - it's doubtful that any other character has been given the same degree of depth and development. This book sees him finally completely overcoming his alcoholism, although constantly dogged by the want of a drink, and continuing in his relentless fury at the world in general and, specifically, those parts of it with a lot of money and a place in Twurp's Peerage. It also continues to address his changing relationship with Lord Vetinari, which I think is one of the series as a whole's most interesting aspects. The power balance, despite Vetinari's being incapacitated, is still firmly in his favour, and Vimes is still frustrated by it - but he is equally frustrated by his inability to help a man who he has so often claimed to hate.

The book's title, aside from its proverbial meaning, refers to the involvement in the plot of the city's golems. To explain exactly how would be to give away the conclusion of the various threads of the story, so I won't.

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