The Discworld series by Terry Pratchett is by far and away my favorite series ever written in any genre, I have a borderline obsession with it due to its profound impact it had on my life. I’ve struggled with deep inner demons that can send me into months or year long depression cycles where barely anything feels right. Nothing tastes good, the world seems gray, and happiness is hard to find – anything during this time that can make me smile is something I hold onto with fervor.
On its surface, if you just glace at the overview of the series, you can away with the wrong impression – that this series is just a comedy, a parody on the fantasy genre full of puns with no depth. This series IS a comedy, and the puns are everywhere, but underneath that surface is a depth that few series I’ve read have managed to reach. Terry took the deepest, darkest fears we have, some of societies most entrenched flaws and made us re-evaluate how we view those topics with a smile. Comedy can be the vehicle for profound messages, and Terry knew how to drive home his messages while making us smile.
Discworld is a 40+ book series of stand alone novels that is split into multiple mini arcs set in the same world. You can think of it like The Simpsons, but instead of only seeing Springfeild through the eyes of The Simpson family, you would also follow around The Flanders, The Wiggums and the Van Houtens etc. Each of these different mini arcs have slightly different themes, tones and ‘flavors’ to them that will appeal to different people – everyone will have a different favorite character and mini arc. It’s exceedingly difficult for me to say what my favorite is – but if hard pressed I would answer with The Witches. The Witches are a gentle parody on The Mother, The Maiden and The Crone – Nanny, Granny and Magrat respectively, and that relationship is most obvious in Wyrd Sisters which is book 2 of The Witches mini arc.
Meet the Witches:
Esmerelda Weatherwax AKA Granny
“Many people could say things in a cutting way, Nanny knew. But Granny could listen in a cutting way. She could make something sound stupid just by hearing it”.
She’s my favorite character – she has an unrelenting sense of morality and justice. Her self confidence is one of her predominant personality traits, and she’s known throughout the Ramptop Mountains as the person to go to when everything is going wrong.
You first meet her in Equal Rites, a story about the first female Wizard. Her personality and character grows over the series and the more I learned about her the more I respected her. She’s the leader of the Ramptop Coven, comprising of two other witches, Nanny Ogg and Magrat Garlick. She’s one of the most powerful Witches in recent memory, and she’s known for her skill in “Borrowing” – which is when she enters the minds of animals and borrows them for a time exploring the woods and forests of the mountain. During this time she goes cold, completely rigid and can be mistaken for dead, which has lead to her leaving a sign on her body when she’s out for a Borrow to prevents mishaps.
Although she’s capable of what we traditionally see as ‘magic’, what she prefers to use is “Headology” which is her own version of psychology – it’s not uncommon for her to hand out placebos to the villagers who she knows won’t know the difference. She gets inside the heads of people almost instantly and knows what they’re about.
The power of Headology is not to be underestimated. The way a person sees themselves an views the world around them reshapes their perspective on reality. Tinkering with perspective can change that persons reality for the better if done properly. To Granny, Headology is the crux of Witching – a Witch needs to be focused and well trained to use Headology to her advantage, and she considers this a superior form of magic to the traditional magic of The Wizards.. The use of Headology left the Magpyr family of vampires incapacitated and craving a strong tea with biscuits. They were sufficiently Weatherwaxed.
Granny is known for her epic show downs with the villians that threaten her world, whether it be the Magpyrs (vampires) who come to conquer the kingdom of Lancre or the Elven lords of old who want to enslave humanity, there’s nothing Granny won’t face – and her wrath is something of legend.
“You call yourself some kind of goddess and you know nothing, madam, nothing. What don’t die can’t live. What don’t live can’t change. What can’t change can’t learn. The smallest creature that dies in the grass knows more than you”.
Later in the series we get to see Granny become a mentor to another up and coming witch Tiffany Aching, and that’s where she cemented her place in my heart as my overall favorite character on the Disc. Of all the challenges Granny has been up against through the series, I think her biggest challenge was knowing what to do with this girl who is so like her in so many ways and teach Tiffany how to become an asset to the world as well as herself.
Gytha Ogg aka Nanny
“Nanny’s philosophy of life was to do what seemed like a good idea at the time, and do it as hard as possible. It had never let her down”.
The pairing of Nanny Ogg and Granny Weatherwax was what first drew me to this story arc. One of Pratchetts strengths was the interactions between his characters and the banter between them. I’m always a fan of odd couple pairings, and I think maybe it’s because I’ve been searching for a pair like these two to fill the void now that there is no more Discworld to come in the future. Nanny is hilarious, carefree, and warm which counters Grannys all-business like nature perfectly.
Nanny Ogg has a much more subtle magic – and Pratchett said in an interview that he actually believes that it is Nanny, not Granny who is the most powerful witch on the Disc, and part of her charm is that she conceals that fact from the people of Lancre and his readers. Her magic is being one of the people, she’s able to get information from them by putting them instantly at ease by being a seamless member of their world. Try as she might, Granny never manages to master this ability. Nanny represents The Mother in their trio, and has an enormous family, an easy way with children, and her witches cottage is more like the standard Lancre home – colorful, bright and warm as opposed to the cold isolated cottage where Granny resides on the mountain top.
She has a cherished cat known as Greebo – and through the series he actually becomes a big part of the witches story line.
Nanny is never far from sexual innuendo jokes, and it’s her more than any other character that gets me to laugh out loud – even after dozens of re-reads.
Nanny has a fondness for cooking and once wrote a cook book which was turned into a real life book available for purchase. I bought this book and it was full of the wit and wisdom of Pratchett while with real recipes you can try out for yourself – although I advise against Banananana Soup.
Never far from a drink or a joke – Nanny is many peoples favorite characters on the Disc and for good reason.
The youngest of the Witches, and representing the Maiden – Magrat is a new-age witch dabbling in candles, seances, and crystals. She’s a bookish type witch full of dreams and high hopes – and is often under the foot of Granny who ‘isn’t having with that’ kind of thing. Unlike the standard witch who wears black, black, and more black – Magrat is drawn to bright colors, perfumes and makeup. She believes in the goodness of kind deeds and the magic of Nature. However, when tested she’s not to be underestimated – at one point in the story when her husband was being threatened she picks up a helmet and sword and becomes a warrior no one thought she was capable of being. She becomes the Queen of Lancre after King Verence falls in love with her despite her quirky ways and “retires” from witching, making room for Agnes Knitt to enter the story line
The Witches books
Equal Rites is where The Witches story begins, and it’s only book 3 of Discworld. Many people comment on “early Pratchett” books being weaker than the others, and honestly I tend to agree. However, even ‘weak’ Pratchett books are great books – it’s just a time period where he was still tinkering around with how serious he wanted to be with this series, and was still in the developmental stages of many of his characters. Equal Rites explores the story of Eskarina, the worlds first female Wizard when her father bequeaths her his staff, and she journeys to the wizarding school of Unseen University to prove her worth.
Wyrd Sisters is where The Witches really start to develop and where we are introduced to the future King of Lancre. It’s a parody of Shakespeare’s MacBeth so people who are a fan of Shakespeare and his plays would get more out of this book than others – however even if you’re unfamiliar with his works this book is funny, insightful and a ton of fun. Being further along in the series, #6 in the Discworld series, it’s a much stronger written book with better developed characters and plot line than Equal Rites in my opinion.
The witches go and visit a play and it’s one of the times where Magrat up-shows Esme in her wisdom of the world – Granny has a fundamental misunderstanding of what a play actually is, and continuously makes a scene at the dismay of Magrat who knows fully well what’s happening on stage isn’t real.
“Granny turned slowly in her seat to look at the audience. They were staring at the performance, their faces rapt. The words washed over them in the breathless air. This was real. This was more real even than reality. This was history. It might not be true, but that had nothing to do with it.
Granny had never had much time for words. They were so insubstantial. Now she wished that she had found the time. Words were indeed insubstantial. They were as soft as water, but they were also as powerful as water and now they were rushing over the audience, eroding the levees of veracity, and carrying away the past.”
Terry had a deep love of stories, and how they shape our lives and our culture – his daughter once said ” “Dad was someone who was committed to the narrative of a situation rather more than practicality. So he would wrap me up and take me out of bed in the middle of the night to show me glow worms or Halleys comet gliding across a star filled sky. For him, me seeing these wonders of nature was more important than sleeping, which I could do anytime”
This story reflected this belief and it’s all about fairy godmothers and fairy tales and story telling.
The Witches leave Lancre and head out to “foreign parts” and hilarity follows, Magrat becomes the fairy godmother in this anti-cinderella story and they have to go head to head with an evil fairy godmother trying to control the lives of others to shape the story she sees as a best fit for them.
Maskerade is the next in the series and it’s an introduction to Agnes Knitt, a newly made witch who has taken over the cottage of Magrat when she “retires” from witching to become the Queen of Lancre.
Agnes Knitt suffers from self confidence issues which has manifested itself into a split personality. She’s known to be “of two minds” and has named her inner voice “Perdita X” who embodies everything Agnes isn’t – overly confident, witty, and resilient where Agnes is full of self doubt. Agnes has an incredible singing voice, and has decided to go and join the opera – as it turns out the opera house is haunted and this story is a parody of The Phantom of the Opera. Nanny takes Granny to go and visit the opera and the three of them help stop the murders that are ruining the theater – but not without the help of the infamous Greebo the cat!
Lords and Ladies is often lauded as the peak of the Witches arc, where Granny makes one of her most epic show downs with one of the greatest threats facing the Discworld – the return of the Elven overlords. This is not the typical fantasy trope of elves where they are peaceful and wise working as one with nature – these elves want to enslave humanity.
“Elves are wonderful. They provoke wonder.
Elves are marvellous. They cause marvels.
Elves are fantastic. They create fantasies.
Elves are glamorous. They project glamour.
Elves are enchanting. They weave enchantment.
Elves are terrific. They beget terror.
Carpe Jugulum is one of the darkest stories within the Witches arc, and concludes the main arc of the witches up until this point – it picks up again with the Tiffany Aching series but that’s an arc in and of itself.
The Magpyrs have been invited by King Verence in an ill guided attempt to make allies with the kingdom of Uberwald – being vampires, and being invited they take this as an opportunity to take over the kingdom. This is probably my favorite because Granny has entered a new stage in her development, showing strain and self doubt – she goes into a cave and secludes herself after seeing herself as being too old and unwanted to be of any use to the kingdom. She’ struggling with her “darkness” that has plagued the women of the Weatherwax line for as long as they have existed. Seeing Granny go into a depression and be doubtful of herself for the first time since the series began was a change in pace and tone and it really appealed to me.
“A witch is one who makes her living on the edges, in that moment when boundaries apply – between life and death, light and dark, good and evil, and most dangerously of all, today and tomorrow”.
Mind How You Go.