Pratchett, Terry: Equal Rites (Witches I) (1987)
Lately, each time I have sat down and worked with Terry Pratchett stuff I have been reminded of his death. So, too, with this review on Equal Rites.
“Despite rumor, Death isn’t cruel, merely terribly, terribly good at his job”
The Death of Discworld first showed up in The Colour of Magic and The Light Fantastic. There it was becoming frustrated with Rincewind’s inability to die. In Equal Rites, Death gathers to itself Drum Billet just as Wizard Billet realized his mistake in passing his wizard’s staff to a girl. A GIRL!
THERE IS NO GOING BACK. THERE IS NO GOING BACK, said the deep, heavy voice like the closing of crypt doors.
And so Eskarina Smith’s parents and Granny Weatherwax are left wondering what will happen to a wizard girl and her seemingly indestructible wizard’s staff. Obviously, Esk is going to show magical talent and Granny Weatherwax will be forced to teach her what Granny may (being a witch, and all).
Witches, at least Granny Weatherwax’s (I love the names Pratchett gives to people and places) kind, are practical women. They know that before anything esoteric can be taught, a person needs to understand all sorts of useful things. Practical knowledge is usually what keeps you alive in this world and on the Discworld. By the time Granny and Esk set off for the Unseen University in Ankh Morpork Esk is able to do an astounding amount of things.
“What sort of helpful things?” he asked. “Washing and sweeping, yesno?”
“If you like,” said Esk, “or distillation using the bifold or triple alembic, the making of varnishes, glazes, creams, zuum-chats and punes, the rendering of waxes, the manufacture of candles, the proper selection of seeds, roots and cuttings, and most preparations from the Eighty Marvellous Herbs; I can spin, card, rett, flallow and weave on the hand, frame, harp and Noble looms and I can knit if people start the wool on for me, I can read soil and rock, do carpentry up to the three-way mortise and tenon, predict weather by means of beastsign and skyreck, make increase in bees, brew five types of mead, make dyes and mordants and pigments, including a fast blue, I can do most types of whitesmithing, mend boots, cure and fashion most leathers, and if you have any goats I can look after them. I like goats.”
Granny does not like to see people sitting around doing nothing. She makes certain that any person in her vicinity has something to do. But the most important thing she teaches Esk with all of this is the art of self-confidence and self-reliance. And not to use magic. To Granny that is the most important thing about having power, knowing when not to use it. Except Esk is leaking magic all over the place.
The Things from the Dungeon Dimensions love people who leak magic. Sometimes that link will give them a way into the world, and thereby a way to wreak havoc. As if people need others to wreak havoc upon them. But the Things really want in on the fun. By being pig-headed about letting young Esk into the UU, the wizards are helping the Things out. So is young Simon, another extremely powerful and knowledgeable young person (who is let in as a student due to his being a boy).
Like all of Pratchett’s Discworld books, Equal Rites leaves me thinking about every-day issues. Some of them I read about in the news or hear about from others. Some I experience myself. Sharing privilege and power with others is perhaps the one lesson we humans struggle most with. Because I am a woman, I have thought about the many privileges I will never have. Because I am white, I am aware of the many privileges that have come to me by stint of birth. Like Granny, I am less worried about what rooms I have a right to step into. But like Granny, I am bound by traditions of which I am not aware. Esk is the kind of child I wanted to be like.
BBC4 dramatisation of Equal Rites as serial on Woman’s Hour
- Bulgarian: Еманципирана магия
- Chinese (simplified): 平等仪式
- Croatian: Jednakost Rituala
- Czech: Čaroprávnost
- Danish: Den ottende datter
- Dutch: Meidezeggenschap
- Estonian: Võluv võrdsus
- Finnish: Johan riitti!
- French: La huitième fille
- German: Das Erbe des Zauberers
- Greek: Νευρικές μάγισσες
- Hungarian: Egyenjogú rítusok
- Italian: L’arte della magia
- Norwegian: Trollmannens stav
- Polish: Równoumagicznienie
- Portugese: Ritos Iguais
- Romanian: Magie de ambe sexe
- Russian: Творцы заклинаний / Tvortsy Zaklinanii
- Serbian: Jednakost rituala
- Spanish: Ritos Iguales
- Slovenian: Čar enakih pravic / Čarovné práva
- Swedish: Trollkarlens stav
- Turkish: Eşit Haklar / Eşit Ayinler