June 19, 2024

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Discworld Read-Along #3: Equal Rites


Continuing my occasional series in which I work through Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series, one book at a time.

Up next:  the third book, Equal Rites.

First Appearances:  Granny Weatherwax, witchcraft on the Disc, “headology”, the Ramptop mountains

Introduced to Discworld:  feminsim

The plot:  An old wizard walks into the remote mountain town of Bad Ass.  He goes to a blacksmith who is the 8th son of his parents and appears to be about to have an 8th son of his own.  Since 8 is the number of magic on Discworld, the wizard is looking to pass his power along to the soon-to-be-born baby before he dies.  Attending as midwife is the local witch, Granny Weatherwax.  The newborn infant is sent for, the wizard puts his staff to the baby’s hand, passes his power along, and promptly dies, all while ignoring Granny’s objections.

See, the baby was a girl.  Girls don’t become wizards.

So, after several failed attempts to destroy the wizard’s staff, Granny sees the girl Eskarina, Esk for short, has magic in her, but the wrong kind.  Wizard magic is all about fire and book learnin’, and stuff men traditionally deal with.  Granny believes women should deal with witchcraft, which has to do with herbs and the earth and healing and stuff.  She tries to teach that to young Esk, but is only so-so successful, and instead figures she needs to get Esk enrolled in Unseen University, the wizard college.

Granny is used to getting her way, even though the University has never had a female student.

Along the way, there’re problems dealing with the creatures of the Dungeon Dimensions threatening the Disc….again.

Commentary:  Among my friends who were fans of this series, the witches were favorites.  Not me, personally, as I preferred the Watch and the sheer lunacy of the Rincewind books.  This is the novel that introduced Granny Weatherwax, a woman used to getting her way.  She should.  She’s a witch, but in most cases that means doing whatever she was going to do anyway and if anyone tries to stop her, just giving the person a hard stare and tough word or often just outright ignoring other people’s objections.

This Granny isn’t that Granny yet.  Besides the fact that the rest of her coven (Nanny Ogg and Magrat) haven’t been introduced yet, Esmerelda Weatherwax here shows signs of being the Granny the fans love, but she isn’t there yet.  This Granny is a little more befuddled and shows more characteristics of Nanny Ogg at times than she does of classic Granny.  She also gets involved in a magic duel with the Archchancelor of Unseen University, the one-off character of Cutangle.  Then they team up.  And she’s even nice to someone here and there.  That isn’t Granny.

What Granny-ism that is intact is Granny’s practice of what she calls headology.  Headology, she explains, is a witch’s real power.  It has more to do with psyching an opponent out than using magic.  Not using magic is something of Granny’s thing.  She certainly can use magic.  She simply opts not to and implies how dangerous she is to other people with her witch’s wardrobe, stern looks, and the occasional cross word.  So, the prototype of Granny seen here will evolve into the character most fans recognize, perhaps as soon as the next Witches book which I haven’t read in a while.

It’s probably worth noting that I said in the previous entry that the Librarian of Unseen University (who does appear in this book as well) may be the most or even only competent mortal being on the Disc.  I’m going to have to revisit that concept with Granny Weatherwax.  Granny isn’t incompetent, but she’s used to doing things her way and not other people’s.  There’s a difference.

Speaking of not having read stuff in a while, I don’t know if the Dungeon Dimension Things appear again after this book, but they aren’t really the sort of things that fit into this series, so I am hoping not.  Legitimate threats to the existence of the Disc don’t seem to belong here, unless they are also funny, and the Dungeon Dimension isn’t exactly a funny place.  These things would be more at home in another fantasy novel.

However, one of Pratchett’s continuing themes is, “Well, why can’t a person do this?”  He’ll apply it many, many times to different settings, but the theme is repeated quite a bit here as Esk keeps asking why a woman can’t be a wizard, or a man a witch for that matter.  First Granny has no satisfactory answer for that, and later the wizards don’t either.  This line of reasoning keeps suggesting it is talent and desire that allows people to be what they want to be, and not arbitrary things like tradition and the stupidity of others.  The City Watch will probably get more out of this than Granny and the witches will, but for now, there’s a girl enrolled in Unseen University.

This may have been the shortest book so far, so there may not be more to say about this novel at this point.  Next time we see Granny, I am sure we’ll have forgotten about her being a guest lecturer at the University from time to time, she’ll be more into broomstick flight, and her coven will be there.  That’s when the real Granny Weatherwax comes out to play.

Next book:  After mostly holding cameos and supporting roles, Death gets the spotlight as he decides to get an apprentice in Mort.  I still have a handful of paper copies of the various books, and this is the first one of the series where I won’t need to download a new copy to my Kindle.  Keep an eye out for the next update to tell when this book will be covered here at Gabbing Geek.

Previous entries:

The Color of Magic

The Light Fantastic