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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

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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

Sourcery @ Terry Prachett (1989)

Artist: Ayato (Brandon Zuckerman) | Source: deviantart.com

Artist: Ayato (Brandon Zuckerman) | Source: deviantart.com

One would think it was possible to learn from history, or at least from other people’s experiences. I suppose we could say that people have, because we follow in the footsteps of past generations who did not learn from history themselves. Once the lure of power comes into play, power-hunger begins to grow.

Once upon a time …

The hierarchy in the Unseen University (UU) is a dangerous one. There are eight orders with eight levels in each. An eighth-level wizard is leader of the order/house) and at level one are the recently graduated students. Except for Rincewind. Rincewind never passed his exams, poor fellow, but knows with all his heart that he is a wizard. As leader of these eight orders is the Archchancellor. Within the orders, competition is fierce. Murder is a well-known tool of advancement. The idea is that if the dead wizard was not able to defend himself, he did not deserve to be there. All wizards are men. At least they were until Eskarina in Equal Rites came along. As far as I know, she is the only female wizard.

Artist: Mbrainspaz (M. Parrott) | Source: deviantart.com

Artist: Mbrainspaz (M. Parrott) | Source: deviantart.com

The first person we meet in Sourcery is Ipsilore the Red. Even by wizard standards, Ipsilore is a bit batty. He was kicked out of UU because of a woman. Perhaps it could be said that Ipsilore had discovered the joys of sex, making him a dangerous sort of wizard. History had taught wizards that sex led to children. Once a wizard reached the magical number of eight sons, the Discworld was in trouble. Sourcerers were the result of such matings.

“SOURCERERS MAKE THEIR OWN DESTINY. THEY TOUCH THE EARTH LIGHTLY.

Ipsilore leaned on the staff, drumming on it with his fingers, apparently lost in the maze of his own thoughts. His left eyebrow twitched.

‘No,’ he said, softly, ‘no. I will make his destiny for him.'”

Ipsilore is the kind of annoying parent who tries to force his son to fulfill his own dreams by making every decision for his child. The kind of parent who attaches himself to his son’s wizard’s staff, ensuring he will never leave the side of his child (given how attached a wizard is to his staff). The kind of parent who possesses his child and forces him to do things in the name of power. You know, that kind of parent. Ipsilore’s only problem is that he is about to die. At the last possible moment, Ipsilore places a prophecy on his son, Coin, a prophecy that reeks of destruction and mayhem. But like all prophecies, this one has a loophole. Then, just as DEATH is about to scythe his soul out of his body, Ipsilore the Red places as much of himself inside the wizard’s staff, thereby giving himself a sort of after-life.

Artist: Vipergirl (Amanda) | Source: deviantart.com

Artist: Vipergirl (Amanda) | Source: deviantart.com

Lord Vetinary of Ankh-Morpork is a brilliant ruler. He understands power-hunger to such a degree that Ankh-Morpork is stable. Corrupt and insane, but stable. Some time in the past, Vetinary made an agreement with the Wizards at UU, containing their power-plays within UU’s grounds. Until Coin arrives with his staff, the wizards seem content with this life.

The wizards stared at one another, mouths open, and what they saw was not what they had always thought they’d seen. The unforgiving rays transmuted rich gold embroidery into dusty gilt, exposed opulent fabric as rather stained and threadbare velvet, turned fine flowing beards into nicotine-stained tangles, betrayed splendid diamonds as rather inferior Ankhstones. The fresh light probed and prodded, stripping away the comfortable shadows.

And, Spelter had to admit, what was left didn’t inspire confidence. He was suddenly acutely aware that under his robes – his tattered, badly-faded robes, he realised with an added spasm of guilt, the robes with the perforated area where the mice had got at them – he was still wearing his bedroom slippers.

Artist: Paul Kidby | Source: facebook.com/paulkidby

Artist: Paul Kidby | Source: facebook.com/paulkidby

Like many who have the truth about themselves revealed, the wizards want another person to blame. Lord Vetinary is the obvious one. Time for revenge. The wizards and Coin go after Vetinary and world-dominion.

In the meantime, the Archchancellor’s hat has gotten itself stolen by Conina the Hairdresser (she wishes). Conina is daughter to Cohen the Barbarian and her mother the “temple dancer for some mad god or other”. Conina has inherited her fighting compulsion from her father and her looks and voice from her mother. I mention Conina’s voice because

… It sounded like wild silk looks. … that voice would have made even a statue get down off its pedestal for a few brisk laps of the playing field and fifty press-ups. It was a voice that could make ‘Good Morning’ sound like an invitation to bed…

which might sound something like this. As quite a few characters in Sourcerer discover, judging Conina by her looks and voice rather than her talents tends to be a dangerously deadly choice. Rincewind knows better. His knowledge has been dearly bought as any who have read The Colour of Magic or Light Fantastic know. Unfortunately for him, he is the only available wizard in Ankh Morpork seeing the others are conspiring at UU. That makes Conina’s choice obvious. In the end there is no doubt as to who is boss. The Archancellor’s Hat makes it very clear to Conina and Rincewind that

Something terrible is happening at the University. It is vital that we are not taken back, do you understand! You must take us to Klatch, where there is someone fit to wear me.

Off the trio sails. What could possibly go wrong?

Artist: TithOuktarine | Source: deviantart.com

Artist: TithOuktarine | Source: deviantart.com

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Reviews:

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Translations:

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Trivia:

Pratchett, Terry: Equal Rites (Witches I) (1987)

Source: Pinterest, David Crambe

Simplified Chinese

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.


Reviews:

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Adaptations

BBC4 dramatisation of Equal Rites as serial on Woman’s Hour

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1985: Why Gandalf Never Married

TV-tropes

Wikipedia (spoilers)

 

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

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