Wyrd Sisters by Terry Pratchett
Wyrd Sisters (1988) is a fun, lively book. It’s definitely a bit on the light side compared to some of Terry Pratchett’s later works – more parody and less satire, if you like – but there’s nothing wrong with a jocular, easy-going read. Indeed, while it perhaps lacks something of the punch one might find in Mort or Small Gods, this installment is probably one of the better entry points for DISCWORLD, readable and endearing.
This is of course especially true if you’re a Shakespeare fan, in which case Wyrd Sisters easily eclipses Guards! Guards! as the definitive Square One for the series. As hinted by the title, Wyrd Sisters is basically Pratchett’s parody of Shakespearean theater (specifically MacBeth, but there are prominent references to Hamlet, King Lear, and As You Like It as well). In Pratchett’s retelling, we see the story from the points of view of the three witches, who are mostly just minding their own business when they’re embroiled in a struggle for the kingdom of Lancre. The king has been murdered by a treacherous duke and his overbearing duchess, and the land suffers under the new leadership. The fate of Lancre ends up, one way or another, in the hands of our witches: crotchety force-of-nature Granny Weatherwax, gregarious matriarch Nanny Ogg, and innocent hippie Magrat Garlick. Hilarity ensues.
While I feel positive overall, I should say that this is a novel that probably wouldn’t work as well as it does without such strong central characters. Pratchett doesn’t seem to have much of an axe to grind or point to make here, mostly just contenting himself with referential humor and honest goofiness, and though the plot mostly clips along in good order, it can occasionally get a bit clumsy. For instance, while comedy authors get a pass on a lot of overused tropes on the assumption that any cliché in evidence has to be a send-up, there’s a time skip in here that’s probably just a mechanical weak point. Fortunately, our protagonists conjure all of the potential from the text, turning what could have been a fairly prosaic comedy into something special by sheer force of personality. When our heroines are on the page, I find it difficult to criticize anything. They’re that fun. In fact, I’d have to say Granny Weatherwax joins Death as one of my favorite DISCWORLD characters, so much so that I’m thinking of moving on to Witches Abroad next. This is quite a big deal for me given my usual pattern of reading a comedy novel, exceeding my tolerance for hijinks, and lurching toward a stack of “serious” books to cleanse my palate.
Some of the secondary characters – the Fool, for instance – don’t come off quite as well, largely because Pratchett made them a little too ridiculous and pathetic for my tastes, but on the whole that’s a very nit-picky concern given the wealth of fun characters already jostling for attention. Most of the jokes land about where they’re supposed to, and although it’s been quite some time since the novel was published, it’s not noticeably dated. Also, I just have to say that everything involving Greebo the cat made me at least snort out loud, and occasionally even burst out into a real laugh. For all of our lols in cyberspace, in the real world I’ve found that happens fairly rarely, and it’s worth treasuring when it does. Thanks, Greebo.
There’s not much else to say about this one. It’s a good comedy, especially hilarious for a Shakespeare aficionado but thoroughly enjoyable for just about everyone. It’s disarming and witty and a little bit sweet. Recommended.
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