Category Archives: Articles

Which witch is which? A feminist analysis of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld witches

Adapted for the stage by Stephen Briggs

Adapted for the stage by Stephen Briggs

Andersson posits the idea that Pratchett’s stories about the Witches of the Diskworld upholds patriarchy rather than fights misogyny. Is she correct about this? Yes and no. Her paper also has this dual quality of feminism and misogynism in the same work. Why do I make this claim?

We are all, everywhere in the world (although there may be exceptions), products of societies that have patriarchy at its lowest and most readily available levels. Our languages are littered with words that promote patriarchy and demote matriarchy. In English I have not even been able to find a word for women that is not a derivative of words for males. Our rituals and cultures are built on men and women who both keep status quo running. Take the colors pink and blue for children. Due to this, and due to Pratchett belonging to the group holding White Male Privilege, it would be odd if his Witches and Wizards were not colored by Pratchett’s own privilege.

Andersson’s article shows this same tendency. I am very much like Granny Weatherwax, and I am a woman, white and in my 50’s. Yet Andersson claims that Pratchett’s portrayal of her builds on a male view of the world. Pratchett certainly points out how our society supports patriarchy. What might be an interesting experiment could be to change genders on all of the characters in one of the Witches’ stories. Perhaps Wyrd Sisters would be a good story for that. Then we could see what happened to us as readers and to the characters of the story and if, in fact, Pratchett had fallen into his own “trap”.

Andersson, Lorraine; Which witch is which? A feminist analysis of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld witches; University of Halmstad, Faculty of Humanities, 2006-06-03 (Thesis for a Masters of Arts in English)

“Terry Pratchett, writer of humorous, satirical fantasy, is very popular in Britain. His Discworld series, which encompasses over 30 novels, has witches as protagonists in one of the major sub-series, currently covering eight novels. His first “witch” novel, Equal Rites, in which he pits organised, misogynist wizards against disorganised witches, led him to being accused of feminist writing. This work investigates this claim by first outlining the development of the historical witch stereotype or discourse and how that relates to the modern, feminist views of witches. Then Pratchett’s treatment of his major witch characters is examined and analysed in terms of feminist and poststructuralist literary theory. It appears that, while giving the impression of supporting feminism and the feminist views of witches, Pratchett’s witches actually reinforce the patriarchal view of women.”

The rest of the article may be found at L-Space

Terry Pratchett’s Literary Tryst with Shakespeare’s Macbeth: A Postmodernist Reading with a Humanist Guide, 2011

Coverart by Guter Punkt/Katarzyna Oleska | Translation by Andreas Brandhorst

Coverart by Guter Punkt/Katarzyna Oleska | Translation by Andreas Brandhorst

Once again, I am viewing literature through the eyes of my ASD. My personal autism has latched on to Terry Pratchett as a great vehicle for learning. Most fantasy and science fiction stories will do, but if Pratchett is added to theory, my brain tries harder to understand information. In school, I got excellent grades when it came to analyzing certain texts through rote. But rote only goes a certain distance in understanding a subject.

These articles, that I am linking to, have both confirmed and changed my views of Wyrd Sisters. People are such odd creatures, and we seem to need to put meaning into stories that may, or may not, have been intended by the author. Asperger certainly gives me a starting point for interpreting stories that many seem to lack.

What Jenna Miller has done for me, is help me understand the theory behind postmodernism a little more. By using Terry Pratchett and Shakespeare as her keys, she open locks that would be a much more sluggish without.

Miller, Jenna; Terry Pratchett’s Literary Tryst with Shakespeare’s Macbeth: A Postmodernist Reading with a Humanist Guide; University of South Florida, Outstanding Honors Theses, Paper 19, 2011

Humanism and postmodernism reach a common ground in Terry Pratchett’s Wyrd Sisters, and from this common ground, Pratchett launches an expedition to further chart the intricacies of the postmodern and humanist tendencies in Shakespeare’s Macbeth. In fact, during the 1980s, “approaches to Shakespeare’s histories were strongly influenced by…deconstruction, Althusserian Marxism, and the various theories of postmodernism,” which serve to “facilitate new perspectives on those earlier paradigm shifts…of early modern historical thinking” (Holderness 2). Kenneth Bartlett, however, cautions that “the critical [postmodern] readings do not really address what the European Renaissance mind was intending to say” (Bartlett). Instead, the postmodern readings are meant to address “what first European and later American readers were searching for in their ideological quest for a new culture order and relevance” (Bartlett). Maurice Hunt clarifies that sense that postmodernism describes the intensification of modern disorder and fragmentation, it echoes the sentiments of Jacobeans” (Hunt 4). Hunt’s clarification exposes that while the postmodernists and the Jacobeans arrived at their disorder from distinctly unique cultural perspectives, and therefore cannot be directly correlated, they should be compared and appreciated for similar experience. Terry Pratchett, as a postmodernist, parodies the disorder found Jacobean England as exposed through Shakespeare’s own cultural experience, as well as exposes his experience with the cultural disorder of his own time period in Wyrd Sisters to display how two different time periods can arrive at the same cultural issues. Such issues arise in both cultures from the concepts of religion, magic and the supernatural, the nature of the individual and guilt, as well as cultural truths and expectations.

Pratchett’s postmodern vision both critiques and echoes Shakespeare’s early postmodernity and highlights the individual as the focal point where postmodernism and humanism intersect. William Holman and Hugh Harmon explain postmodernism as indicative of existentialism, alienation, solipsism, historical discontinuity and asocial individualism, while Jonathan Dollimore explains how “Marxist humanism has affirmed a faith in Man, the individual” (Holman & Harmon 370; Dollimore 480). Humanists maintain an “attitude that tends to exalt the human element, as opposed to the supernatural, divine elements,” and this promotion of the human individual over the supernatural or divine is focal to the study of Pratchett’s Wyrd Sisters: Pratchett, as a humanist and an atheist, denies divine order in reverence to the individual (Holman, Harmon 233). This humanist perspective even arises in Shakespeare’s Macbeth. Graham Holderness notes that “historiographers long ago began to identify…a transitional space between two great epistemological ‘breaks’ in historical theory- that of the Reformation” and of “Italian humanism” (Holderness 2). This schism exposes not only where Shakespeare draws his historical reference from, but also where he is heading culturally when he writes Macbeth in the early seventeenth century. This fraction that Shakespeare straddles explains, in part, the cultural disorder between religion and humanism found in Macbeth. While Pratchett straddles no cultural schism, he incorporates much of the humanism in Macbeth into Wyrd Sisters, as well as tackling the cultural disorder expressed through postmodernism.

Pratchett’s postmodern viewpoint, as well as his humanist opinions, denies the legitimacy of Shakespeare’s Christian worldview found in Macbeth, thus complicating the dictation on the soul, which is integral to the support structure of Macbeth (Smith 1). Macbeth’s Christian framework is manipulated into ambiguity in Pratchett’s parody. Michael Martin explains that this manipulation of religious uncertainty found in Wyrd Sisters is indicative not only of the postmodernists, but also the existentialists as well (Martin 7). While Pratchett shows personal certainty in regards to his humanist views on the soul, his actual textual discussion of the soul in Wyrd Sisters, unlike in Macbeth, remains ambivalent. Pratchett conducts this subtle discussion of the soul by utilizing the personification of Death itself who comes to all those who die, regardless of religious affiliation. Pratchett’s discussion of the soul, which contains not only postmodern ambivalence but humanist optimism, is exemplified and explained when Pratchett introduces King Verence immediately following his murder by Duke Felmet. King Verence discovers that “while someone he was certainly inclined to think of as himself was sitting up, something very much like his body remained on the floor” (Pratchett 5). This passage indicates two significant things. One is that King Verence is a ghost from the moment he enters the text. The second is the distinction Verence makes between his “self” and his “body”. King Verence’s “self” is his soul, which he makes a distinction as being separate from his body. Death comes to King Verence to provide inadvertent textual explanations of the soul when he rather hesitantly explains to King Verence, “I’m afraid, you’re due to become a ghost” (Pratchett 7). Since Death explicitly states that King Verence is specifically due to become a ghost, the text is implying that not everyone shares this fate. Death continues to explain that “ghosts inhabit a world between the living and the dead,” but Death fails to ever delineate what actually occurs when one reaches the land of the dead (Pratchett 8). Considering that Wyrd Sisters is a parody of Macbeth, and that Macbeth is so laced with concern on what happens to the soul after death, it is significant that Wyrd Sisters remains ambivalent on what occurs after death as it further distances the novel from Christian theory. Pratchett’s omission also further drives the novel towards the religious ambivalence of the postmodernists, using the absolute certainty of the afterlife in Macbeth as a foil to further illuminate his postmodern uncertainty, while simultaneously recalling his humanist perspective.

The rest of the article may be read at University of South Florida Scholar Commons

Change the Story, Change the World: Gendered Magic and Educational Ideology in Terry Pratchett’s Discworld

30. und 31. März 2001, 19.30 Uhr, Untere Turnhalle

30. und 31. März 2001, 19.30 Uhr, Untere Turnhalle

While delving into the world of Wyrd Sisters, I have come upon several articles and theses dissecting Pratchett, his witches and the Discworld in general. I have a couple of articles on this blogs from before. As seen from the intro of Katlin L. Williams’ thesis, and ideed its title, Williams takes a look at gender and ideology on our favorite world.

About some of my favorite literary women, Williams says (among other things):

The decidedly ditzy Magrat embodies the extent to which readers’ familiarity with the Shakespearean archetype of witches dictates their identities, yet her superior Granny quickly dismisses such nonsense as a fanciful notion of a young and naïve girl. As a result, readers are directly made aware of the narratives that influence their own perceptions and assumptions, then forced to abandon them entirely. Furthermore, many scholars have remarked on how these three witches conform to the traditional maiden / mother / crone paradigm. After all, in Witches Abroad they are at one point explicitly labeled as such by a rival witch (295). However, while Pratchett plays with the reader’s familiarity with various archetypes, his witches in many ways defy such simple associations just as they challenge the gender roles imposed upon them. In Discworld cackling and building gingerbread houses constitutes madness, Granny Weatherwax owns a broomstick yet finds riding one highly unrespectable and slightly drafty, and despite popular belief, under no circumstances do witches take off their clothes and dance in the moonlight — except perhaps the saucy Nanny Ogg who likes to do all manner of things with her clothes off.”

This thesis is 97 pages long. Enjoy.

Williams, L. Kaitlin; Change the Story, Change the World: Gendered Magic and Educational Ideology in Terry Pratchett’s Discworld; Appalachian State University, 2015;

This thesis explores educational ideology in Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series with a continued focus on the ways gendered magic results in gendered knowledge and education. Pratchett’s witches and wizards demonstrate and even consciously uphold distinct gender separation regarding magical practice, methodology, knowledge, and responsibility. By fracturing the magical community into two distinct factions, Pratchett’s work positions the witches and wizards of Discworld as ideological oppositions. An in-depth analysis of the wizards and Unseen University traces their associations with the history of the British educational system, male privilege, academic elitism, and tradition, reading their order as indicative of the “norm” and a repressive dominant educational ideology. Contrastingly, the witches’ status as Other and insistence on writing their own stories filters their perspectives of reality through the lens of the individual, resulting in an underlying prioritization on social equality and an ethics of selfless social responsibility. Examining Tiffany Aching’s magical education and her interactions with the witches reveals an educational ideology contingent upon recognizing the constructedness of reality, challenging the repressive realities imposed v. by a hegemonic society, and instead purveying a reality that liberates and empowers the individual. Ultimately, the witches’ subversive educational ideology not only undermines the wizards’ repressive educational ideology, but also through Tiffany and the Nac Mac Feegle takes on a threateningly rebellious quality capable of toppling the hegemonic and hierarchal structures of Discworld. In light of recent scholarship on the fantasy genre, this thesis concludes suggesting Pratchett’s complex interplay between the “real” and “unreal” enables readers to recognize and question ideological superstructures, ultimately epitomizing Daniel Baker’s notion of fantasy’s “progressive potential”….

The rest of this thesis may be read at the University of North Carolina’s website

1985: Why Gandalf Never Married (Terry Pratchett)

Photographer: Alexander Turchanin

Photographer: Alexander Turchanin

I want to talk about magic, how magic is portrayed in fantasy, how fantasy literature has in fact contributed to a very distinct image of magic, and perhaps most importantly how the Western world in general has come to accept a very precise and extremely suspect image of magic users.

I’d better say at the start that I don’t actually believe in magic any more than I believe in astrology, because I’m a Taurean and we don’t go in for all that weirdo occult stuff.

But a couple of years ago I wrote a book called The Colour of Magic. It had some boffo laughs. It was an attempt to do for the classical fantasy universe what Blazing Saddles did for Westerns. It was also my tribute to twenty-five years of fantasy reading, which started when I was thirteen and read Lord of the Rings in 25 hours. That damn book was a halfbrick in the path of the bicycle of my life. I started reading fantasy books at the kind of speed you can only manage in your early teens. I panted for the stuff.

I had a deprived childhood, you see. I had lots of other kids to play with and my parents bought me outdoor toys and refused to ill-treat me, so it never occurred to me to seek solitary consolation with a good book.

Then Tolkien changed all that. I went mad for fantasy. Comics, boring Norse sagas, even more boring Victorian fantasy … I’d better explain to younger listeners that in those days fantasy was not available in every toyshop and bookstall, it was really a bit like sex: you didn’t know where to get the really dirty books, so all you could do was paw hopefully through Amateur Photography magazines looking for artistic nudes.

When I couldn’t get it — heroic fantasy, I mean, not sex — I hung around the children’s section in the public libraries, trying to lure books about dragons and elves to come home with me. I even bought and read all the Narnia books in one go, which was bit like a surfeit of Communion wafers. I didn’t care any more.

Eventually the authorities caught up with me and kept me in a dark room with small doses of science fiction until I broke the habit and now I can walk past a book with a dragon on the cover and my hands hardly sweat at all.

But a part of my mind remained plugged into what I might call the consensus fantasy universe. It does exist, and you all know it. It has been formed by folklore and Victorian romantics and Walt Disney, and E R Eddison and Jack Vance and Ursula Le Guin and Fritz Leiber — hasn’t it? In fact those writers and a handful of others have very closely defined it. There are now, to the delight of parasitical writers like me, what I might almost call “public domain” plot items. There are dragons, and magic users, and far horizons, and quests, and items of power, and weird cities. There’s the kind of scenery that we would have had on Earth if only God had had the money.

To see the consensus fantasy universe in detail you need only look at the classical Dungeons and Dragon role-playing games. They are mosaics of every fantasy story you’ve ever read.

Of course, the consensus fantasy universe is full of cliches, almost by definition. Elves are tall and fair and use bows, dwarves are small and dark and vote Labour. And magic works. That’s the difference between magic in the fantasy universe and magic here. In the fantasy universe a wizard points his fingers and all these sort of blue glittery lights come out and there’s a sort of explosion and some poor soul is turned into something horrible.

Anyway, if you are in the market for easy laughs you learn that two well-tried ways are either to trip up a cliche or take things absolutely literally. So in the sequel to The Colour of Magic, which is being rushed into print with all the speed of continental drift, you’ll learn what happens, for example, if someone like me gets hold of the idea that megalithic stone circles are really complex computers. What you get is, you get druids walking around talking a sort of computer jargon and referring to Stonehenge as the miracle of the silicon chunk.

While I was plundering the fantasy world for the next cliche to pulls a few laughs from, I found one which was so deeply ingrained that you hardly notice it is there at all. In fact it struck me so vividly that I actually began to look at it seriously.

That’s the generally very clear division between magic done by women and magic done by men…………….

The rest of the article can be found at Ansible

Donovan, Frances: Was Terry Pratchett a Feminist?


by | March 13, 2015


Terry Pratchett at book signingTerry Pratchett is one of the most prolific authors of our age. When he died yesterday (March 12, 2015) he left behind a massive oeuvre: more than 70 books, most of them about the Discworld, a flat planet carried on the back of four elephants who themselves stand back of the great turtle A’Tuin as it swims through space.

About a month ago I began re-reading Pratchett’s Discworld books. As I did so, this question kept roiling around in the back of my mind: Is Terry Pratchett a feminist? He most likely fielded that question during one of his many press appearances, but I’m more interested in exploring the question based solely on the basis of his books.

His earliest Discworld novels – The Colour of Magic and The Light Fantastic – don’t even pass the Bechdel Test. The few female characters consist mainly of damsels in distress and femmes fatales.  But beginning with Equal Rites, Pratchett applies one of his great comedic tools – reversal – to the issue of gender.

The premise of the book itself rests on just such a reversal. A dying wizard seeks out the eighth son of an eighth son to inherit his magical powers. But he bequeaths his staff to the baby without realizing that she is a daughter, not a son. And thus begins the story of Eskarina, a girl who challenges the gendered nature of magic on the Discworld.

The midwife who delivers Eskarina is none other than Granny Weatherwax, a powerful and experienced witch and one of the most popular characters of the Discworld series. She’s dead set against Eskarina becoming a wizard.

 “It’s the wrong kind of magic for women, is wizard magic, it’s all books and stars and jommetry. She’d never grasp it. Whoever heard of a female wizard?… “Witches is a different thing altogether… It’s magic out of the ground, not the sky, and men never could get the hang of it.”(1) ……………………………..

The rest of the article can be read at Gender Focus

Roberts, Tansy Rainer: Pratchett’s Women: The Boobs, the Bad and the Broomsticks

July 11th, 2011 at 22:25

[SPOILER ALERT for several older Discworld novels and one key scene in recent release I Shall Wear Midnight]

Some time ago, I talked on Galactic Suburbia about how I felt Pratchett was one of those writers who you can see noticeably improving and honing his craft as he goes, and that one of the elements he hugely improved in over the years was his treatment of female characters. Someone commented that they hoped we would elaborate on that at some point, and I have always intended to, though I don’t know that Galactic Suburbia is the best place for that discussion – largely because I think I’m the only one of the three who is a huge reader of Pratchett.

I started reading the Discworld books in the early 90′s, when Small Gods was the latest release. This meant that I read all the books before that in (mostly) the wrong order, and all of the books after that in (mostly) the right order. So it took me some time to figure out what was going on with Pratchett’s women, and the chronology of those early books is still a little muddled in my head.

The first ten books of the Discworld series are quite problematic in their portrayal of female characters, particularly the younger women. I certainly don’t think this was intentional on Pratchett’s part, but an unfortunate result of the fact that in these early books he was largely writing parody of various fantasy worlds and tropes, just beginning to develop the Discworld into something more substantial and complex. I also feel that Pratchett was very much aware of some of the dreadful sexism in his source material, and the female characters he wrote were often in direct response to what he saw in the fantasy genre.

His intentions to point out the silliness of the portrayal of women in fantasy, sadly, backfired somewhat.

So in these early Discworld books, we find Pratchett parodying the half-clad, bosomy fantasy females who reward the handsome hero with their sexy selves by creating half-clad, bosomy fantasy females who a) say bitchy things to the (not handsome) hero in the hopes that no one would notice they still look like a complete cliche of the genre and/or b) amusingly fail to fall in love with the protagonist and instead choose to reward a less obvious male character with their sexy selves. We get Bethan, the glamorous priestess who is cross about being rescued from a temple but chooses to hook up with the aged Cohen the Barbarian instead of giving Rincewind a second look; we have Conina, the glamorous warrior woman who chooses to hook up with the nerdy whatsisname instead of giving Rincewind a second look; we have Ptraci, who is totally hot for Pteppic and vice versa, but when they discover they are siblings he literally hands her over to his mate; we have Princess Keli who goes for the dweeby wizard (finally a hot girl with a taste for wizards!) over the equally dweeby protagonist Mort; and of course we have Ginger and Ysabell, who are utterly bitchy to their respective guys, but ultimately sink into their arms.

[I should admit at this point that when I was fourteen and reading Pratchett for the first time, I adored Conina and Ptraci and Ginger and totally wanted to be just like them when I grow up. I look back on that now and shudder, just a bit. Among the many other things I would like to tell my teenage self, ‘how about we aspire to be something other than a Josh Kirby cartoon character’ would be pretty bloody high on the list.] ……………

The rest of the article can be found at stitching words, one thread at a time

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