It appears that, despite my reading resolutions, half a dozen ongoing challenges, and recommendations from friends and fellow bloggers, I am making my way through the Discworld series without so much as a pit stop. So it will come as no surprise that, after jumping around in the series rather wildly, I picked up the next (chronological) Witches novel.
When Terry Pratchett says “Witches are abroad”, they literally go abroad. With Granny Weatherwax’s practicality and Nanny Ogg’s immesurable knowledge of how to say things in “foreign”, what could possibly go wrong…?
Published by: Corgi, 2013 (1991)
Paperback: 368 pages
Series: Discworld #12
My rating: 8/10
First sentence: This is the Discworld, which travels through space on the back of four elephants which themselves stand on the shell of Great A’Tuin, the sky turtle.
It seemed an easy job . . . After all, how difficult could it be to make sure that a servant girl doesn’t marry a prince?
But for the witches Granny Weatherwax, Nanny Ogg and Magrat Garlick, travelling to the distant city of Genua, things are never that simple. Servant girls have to marry the prince. That’s what life is all about. You can’t fight a Happy Ending. At least — up until now.
It’s fairy tale time. If you think that Witches are the only female magic-users on the Discworld, you forget a very important branch – fairy godmothers. Young Magrat inherits one late fairy godmother’s wand and the job that comes with it. There is a princess-turned-scullery-maid in Genua who must be kept from marrying the prince. Of course, this is Terry Pratchett, so expect every single fairy tale to be turned on its head, every cliché subverted, and every witch in Granny Weatherwax’s coven to be smart enough to see the bigger picture and realise that a Happy Ending isn’t necessarily what’s in the story book.
This is part travelogue, part mystery, and part crazy fairy tale. When the witches set off on their broomsticks and fly to Genua, there is much fun to be had. Little things like Nanny Ogg’s travel provisions, the fact that she brings Greebo, the cat, along, and Granny’s broomstick trouble make the journey all the more delightful. I was particularly enchanted and amused by Nanny’s ability to speak “foreign” and (more or less) translate words into English. On one of their stops, Granny Weatherwax once more shows her skill in playing cards, this time the famous Cripple Mr. Onion. Also, Nanny Ogg accidentally invents postcards and the little notes she sends home to her son Jason are hilarious. Misspelled words included.
Nanny Ogg sent a number of cards home to her family, not a single one of which got back before she did. This is traditional, and happens everywhere in the universe.
Terry Pratchett knows his fairy tales. While this Discworld book focuses mainly on Cinderella, influences of other well-known and not so well-known stories slip into the witches’ adventure. Take Mrs Gogol’s house, for example. You can see it in the (very green!) full cover illustration above. Anyone who’s ever heard of Baba Yaga will recognise that house on chicken’s legs immediately.
But even if you’re not a friend of fairy tales, classic or obscure, there are many more things to amuse and delight. If you’ve ever wondered, for example, if Discoworld had its own Casanova, search no longer. That is all I will say on the subject because he is best enjoyed without bias. I also loved Discworld’s take on racism. There is none. Because the inhabitants are too busy with speciism, nobody cares what color your skin is, just so long as you’re not a goblin. Of course, this is meant to be taken with a grain of salt, but I believe it shows Pratchett’s amazing gift when hiding real-world issues in Discworld without wielding the morality hammer. Sometimes when I read his books I feel that he just gets it.
Another pleasant surprise was that we find out a bit about Granny Weatherwax’s family and her upbringing. She is still a mysterious (and absolutely wonderful) character, but I believe she became much more human in this novel. Nobody needs worry, though. She is still a fond user of “headology” and her success rate remains incredible.
Sometimes Magrat really wondered about the others’ commitment to witchcraft. Half the time they didn’t seem to bother.
Take medicine, for example … Granny just gave people a bottle of coloured water and told them they felt a lot better.
And what was so annoying was that they often did.
Where was the witchcraft in that?
Having read Maskerade first, I had assumed certain things as facts without asking myself where they came from. Here was the genesis of one character’s transformation and it goes to show the author’s talent. I didn’t feel like anything was spoiled. Sure, I knew beforehand what would happen to the character but going back in time felt more like a privilege and a pleasure rather than catching up on a spoiled ending. Well done, Sir Terry!
I am getting to the point where I try (in my head) to rank the Discworld novels I have read so far. Tiffany Aching is still way ahead of anyone else, but Witches Abroad may just be my favorite Witches book yet. Let’s see if Lords and Ladies can kick it off its throne. Did I mention I’m already halfway through that one? What I’m saying is: Read the Discworld books.
RATING: 8 – Excellent