Witches Abroad by Terry Pratchett
People have been telling me to read Terry Pratchett’s DISCWORLD books for ages, but I was always a bit intimidated by the sheer number of books he has produced. Finally, I decided to just start reading them in publication order. I have advanced to Witches Abroad, the twelfth book in publication order and the third book featuring the witches. At this point Pratchett’s got me firmly hooked. The Witches are not my favourite set of characters — I consider Guards! Guards! the best DISCWORLD novel I have read so far — but I enjoyed this particular book a lot.
The book opens with the Granny Weatherwax, Nanny Ogg, Grammar Brevis and Old Mother Dismass discussing the recent death of their colleague and fairy godmother Desiderata Hollow. There don’t seem to be enough Witches around today, and it is uncertain who is going to replace her. They may not be able to provide a successor, but Granny and Nanny both intend to get their hands on Desiderata’s wand, an item that should not fall into the wrong hands. That is to say, any hands but their own.
As it turns out, Desiderata has already made arrangements. The wand is delivered to Magrat Garlick, with a note containing some rather cryptic instructions on what to do with it. It seems that in the distant city of Genua a young girl is in dire need of a fairy godmother. Ironically, Magrat’s instructions are to prevent the girl from marrying the prince. Magrat is to go alone, but of course she is unable to prevent Granny and Nanny from joining her. Magrat may not know why the girl is not to marry the prince, but Granny has a pretty good idea. Soon they are on their way to derail a fairy tale. Or several of them.
Where the witches faced a number of famous plays in their previous appearance, Pratchett’s theme for this novel is obviously fairy tales. He works a number of them into the novel, from “Little Red Riding Hood” to The Wizard of Oz. The witches, Granny in particular, have their own ideas about the value of fairy tales and the power of stories. As Granny explains to Magrat:
“Listen, happy endings is fine if they turn out happy,” said Granny, glaring at the sky. “But you can’t make ‘em for other people. Like the only way you could make a happy marriage is by cuttin’ their head off as soon as they say ‘I do’, yes? You can’t make happiness…”
Pratchett’s kind of humour is absolutely hilarious at times but over the series it’s become more subtle as well. There are number of memorable scenes in this book. The one that had me laughing hardest was Granny facing the card sharks on their trip downriver. Another is Granny telling the woodcutter exactly how they are going to take care of an old lady living alone in the woods from now on, and what happens if they don’t. Granny’s no nonsense Headology and Nanny’s permanent curiosity and optimism (and amazing tolerance for alcohol) work very well in this book.
I think Witches Abroad is a stronger book than the Witches’ previous adventure, Wyrd Sisters. Perhaps this is because I don’t share the English literary world’s obsession with the plays of Shakespeare. My expectations about this book were not that high after the last witches book, but I must say Pratchett delivered a fine entry into the DISCWORLD series. It’s a good thing I have book thirteen, Small Gods, already lying around somewhere near the top of the to-be-read pile.
FanLit thanks Rob Weber from Val’s Random Comments for contributing this guest review.
Discworld — (1983-2015) Discworld is a satirical fantasy world created by Terry Pratchett to poke fun at 1980s fantasy novels. Since then, they’ve evolved so that they now make fun of everything. Mr. Pratchett explains Discworld: “The world rides through space on the back of a turtle. This is one of the great ancient world myths, found wherever men and turtles are gathered together; the four elephants were an indo-European sophistication. The idea has been lying in the lumber room of legend for centuries. All I had to do was grab it and run away before the alarms went off… There are no maps. You can’t map a sense of humor. Anyway, what is a fantasy map but a space beyond which There Be Dragons? On the Discworld we know There Be Dragons Everywhere. They might not all have scales and forked tongues, but they Be Here all right, grinning and jostling and trying to sell you souvenirs.” The Discworld novels are presented here in publication order. To read more about the Discworld “arcs” and reading order, see this Wikipedia article.
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