Terry Pratchett was interviewed* by Sue Lawley on the BBC radio show, “Desert Island” in 1997. One of the reasons I adore Pratchett’s writing is that it seems to be much like the man appears, down-to-earth and philosophical. Listening to him speak is fun. The entirety of his voice draws me in.
Topics covered by Sue and Terry were “Is the Discworld series literature?” Stephen Fry and I disagree on that. Perhaps you can guess what opinion is held by whom. Pratchett explains what The Discworld encompasses and the two talk about his fans and critics. We get to know everything from childhood experiences, work experiences and how long it took for Pratchett to make enough money for him to work full-time as an author. His interactions with his fans have been frequent and also quite personal. Terry never seemed to become arrogant.
Interspersed in the interview, are clips of Pratchett’s music choices and explanations of why these scores appeal to him. While writing this post I took the opportunity to listen to some of them:
- Hector Berlioz: Symphonie fantastique: Épisode de la vie d’un artiste … en cinq parties
- Steeleye Span: Thomas The Rhymer
- Bernard Miles: The Ride of the Rhinegold Stakes (Based on Richard Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries)
- Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Le Nozze de Figaro: Voi che sapete
- Jim Steinman (performed by Meatloaf): Bat Out of Hell
- Kitarō – The Silk Road: The Rise And Fall Of Civilizations: Theme
- Icehouse: Primitive Man: Great Southern Land
- Antonio Vivaldi: Four Seasons (Le quattro stagioni)
- Emile Massal: Food Plants of the South Seas
Vulnerability is not a trait I see mentioned in connection with Esmerelda Weatherwax (“Granny”, “Mistress” or “Esme). The Weatherwax sisters were born with strong magical powers. Because of her older sister’s tendency to make lives about fairy-tales, Esme had learned to be wary of the effects of power on herself and others. That has made her defensive and preachy about how to use magic, and she is often incapable of acknowledging the depth of other Witches’ abilities or admitting that she might be wrong or not know the answer. Yet Granny loves magic and being a Witch and goes out of her way to help people with what they need (not necessarily what they want). To her being a Witch is all about hard work, abstinence and treating magic like a friend you need to be wary of.
When King Verence is assassinated by Duke Felmet, and his baby heir comes to the three Witches, he is accompanied by a crown. A crown that has been worn by many kings and calls out to be worn again. Granny’s wariness comes in handy when she tries it on.
It seemed to fit. Granny drew herself up proudly, and waved a hand imperiously in the general direction of the hearth.
“Jolly well do this,” she said. She beckoned arrogantly at the grandfather clock. “Chop his head off, what ho,” she commanded. She smiled grimly.
And froze as she heard the screams, and the thunder of horses, and the deadly whisper of arrows and the damp, solid sound of spears in flesh. … There were times when she lay among the dead, or hanging from the branch of a tree; but always there were hands that would pick her up again, and place her on a velvet cushion.
Granny very carefully lifted the crown off her head – it was an effort, it didn’t like it much – and laid it on the table.
Granny’s best, and possibly only, friend is Gytha Ogg (“Nanny”). Nanny and Esme are about the same age, probably in their 50’s. Where Granny has remained unmarried, Nanny has had 15 children, many grand-children, has been married three times and had several lovers. She is the Matron of her large family and possibly even the village of Lancre. Due to the entire village being invited to her house, Nanny misses Lancre protesting the lack of a king that cares for it.
Nanny Ogg got around the Hogswatchnight tradition by inviting the whole village in, and the air in the room was already beyond the reach of pollution controls. Granny navigated through the press of bodies by the sound of a cracked voice explaining to the world at large that, compared to an unbelievable variety of other animals, the hedgehog was quite fortunate.
Gytha is adored by her children, feared by her daughters-in-law and accorded wary respect by Granny. Part of that respect comes from the power Nanny can wield when she feels like it, and because she leashes Esme in whenever cackling and condiments threaten. She also supports Granny when she decides to do something incredibly dangerous and magical.
“I reckon fifteen’d be a nice round number,” said Granny. “That means the lad will be eighteen at the finish. We just do the spell, go and fetch him, he can manifest his destiny, and everything will be nice and neat.”
You have to remember that Granny did not believe in destiny but she did believe in retaining the image of Witches as untouchable by King, Queen and everyperson. Duke Felmet had just humiliated her and she was not having anything to do with that.
Magrat Garlick, the youngest witch in Lancre, and a protege of both Nanny and Granny was a bit worried about Granny’s simplistic explanation. After all, the two had previously lectured her about the futility of a concept like destiny. However, her confidence in her abilities and looks and likability was extremely low. Her fairy godmother wish for TomJohn is that “He will make friends easily,“. If nothing else, Magrat becomes more confident in her magic abilities during the course of Wyrd Sisters. One turning point came soon after an argument the three Witches had. Nanny Ogg is captured by Duke Felmet’s guards. Her son, Shawn, a guard, approaches Magrat.
Magrat stood absolutely still. She had thought she was angry before, but now she was furious. She was wet and cold and hungry and this person – once upon a time, she heard herself thinking – she would have burst into tears at this point.
One person who is very interested in Magrat is the much abused Fool, Verence Beldame. The Fool comes with Castle Lancre and according to the Fool’s oath he owes his loyalty to his employer, even when those employers are Duke and Duchess Felmet. As far as unhappy careers go, the Fool has one of the sadder ones. His male relatives all seem to have been Fools. Grandfather Fool certainly was. Talk about abusive upbringing.
The Fool recalled with a shudder how, at the age of six, he’d timidly approached the old man after supper with a joke he’d made up. It was about a duck.
It had earned him the biggest thrashing of his life, which even then must have presented the old joker with a bit of a challenge.
His stint at the Fools’ Academy was not much better. Forced to hide his intelligence, terrified of the Duke’s obvious madness and the Duchess’ insatiable power hunger, and his own loneliness, he and Magrat seem destined to become a couple. When the Duke’s demands and Magrat’s Witch status come into conflict, the Fool’s low self-esteem and terror get in his way. And no wonder.
Duke and Duchess Felmet had killed King Verence. Duke Felmet did not object to ordering people killed and/or watching the killing. But doing the cousin-killing tipped him over the edge of madness.
He’d scrubbed and scrubbed, but it seemed to have no effect. Eventually, he’d gone down to the dungeons and borrowed one of the torturer’s wire brushes, and scrubbed and scrubbed with that, too. That had no effect, either. It made it worse. The harder he scrubbed, the more blood there was. He was afraid he might go mad …
Duchess Felmet did not mind ordering or doing murder herself. If she became aware of mistakes, she tended to over-react. Torture, killing and mayhem were her favorite tools and she liked that part of herself. So, it is easy to understand why the Fool would hesitate to fight them. His grandfather had taught him at a young age to obey orders.
The missing heir, TomJohn, is adopted by the Vitolliers, owners of a travelling theatre troupe. Considering the forces of nature that Granny and Nanny are and their own earlier loss of a girl child, the Vitolliers had no chance to refuse to take him in. When we meet them fifteen years later, we see that the choice in parents was a good one. TomJohn’s other Godmother gifts have come in handy for the troupe. Nanny wished him a good memory and Granny wished him “Let him be whoever he thinks he is”.
I have read Wyrd Sisters many times. Each reading helps me love it a little more and teaches me more about myself and the world.
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)
Apostolova, Gergana; Existence and Demiurgy in Terry Pratchett’s Works; E-magazine LiterNet, 12.02.2005, № 2 (63)
Bjarkadóttir, Valgerður Guðrún; Teaching Literature in the Tenth Grade. Terry Pratchett’s Discworld Novels as an Introduction to Classic English Literature; Thesis for an MA degree in English; University of Iceland, Humanities, English department 2009-02-01
Boulding, Lucas; “I can’t be having with that”: The Ethical Implications of Professional Witchcraft in Pratchett’s Fiction; Gender Forum Issue 52 (2015)
Homolková, Eva; An Analysis of Terry Pratchett’s Wyrd Sisters; Masaryk University in Brno, Faculty of Arts, Department of English and American Studies, 2009
Lawless, Daphne Antonia; Weird Sisters and Wild Women: The Changing Depiction of Witches in Literature, from Shakespeare to Science Fiction; Victoria University of Wellington, Master of Arts in English Literature, 1999
Miller, Jenna; Terry Pratchett’s Literary Tryst with Shakespeare’s Macbeth: A Postmodernist Reading with a Humanist Guide; Honors College, University of South Florida, 2011
Roberts, Tansy Rainer: Pratchett’s Women: The Boobs, the Bad and the Broomsticks; tansyrr.com, 2011
Williams, L. Kaitlin; Change the Story, Change the World: Gendered Magic and Educational Ideology in Terry Pratchett’s Discworld; Appalachian State University, 2015;
- Bulgarian: Тери Пратчет; Посестрими в занаята; Translator: Елена Паскалева; София: Издателска къща Вузев, 2001 (Cover artist: Josh Kirby)
- Posestrimi v zanaiata; Translator: Elena Paskaleva; Sofia, Vuzev, 2001
- Czech: Soudné sestry; Translator: Jan Kantůrek; Praha: Talpress, 1995 (Cover artist: Josh Kirby)
- Croatian: Vile suđenice; Translator: Drago Štajduhar; Split: Marjan Tisak, 2004 (Cover artist: Josh Kirby)
- Dutch: De plaagzusters; Translator: Venugopalan Ittekot; Amsterdam, MYNX, 1993 (Cover artist: Josh Kirby)
- Finnish: Noitasiskokset; Translator: Margit Salmenoja; Hämeenlinna: Karisto Oy, 1993 (Cover artist: Josh Kirby)
- French: Trois soeurcières; Translator: Patrick Couton; Nantes, L’Atalante, 1993
- Paris, Pocket, 2011 (Cover artist: Marc Simonetti)
- German: MacBest; Andreas Brandhorst Thomas Krüger; München : Wilhelm Heyne, 1990 (Dt. Erstausg)
- Greek: Τέρι Πράτσετ; Οι στρίγγλες; Translated by: Άννα Παπασταύρου; Αθήνα: Ψυχογιός, 2005
- Hungarian: Vészbanyák; Translator: Anikó Sohár; Debrecen, Cherubion, 2000 (cover artist: Josh Kirby)
- Italian: Sorellanza stregonesca; Translator: Antonella Pieretti; Milano, TEA, 1992
- Japanese: Sannin no Majo; Translator: Norito Kuga; Tokyo: H. Kawaguchi/Sanyusha, 1997
- Norwegian: Sære søstre; Translator: Per Malde; Oslo, Tiden, 2001 (Cover artist: Josh Kirby)
- Polish: Trzy wiedźmy; Translator: Piotr W Cholewa; Prószyński Media.; Edipresse Polska, 1998 (Cover artist: Josh Kirby)
- Portugese: Estranhas irmãs; Translator: Roberto DeNice; São Paulo/Brasil, Conrad Livros, 2003 (Cover artist: Josh Kirby)
- As três bruxas; Translator: Paula Reis; Lisboa, Editorial Caminho, 1991
- Translator: Mário Dias Correia/Francisca Rodrigues; Lisboa, Temas e Debates, 2005
- As três bruxas; Translator: Paula Reis; Lisboa, Editorial Caminho, 1991
- Russian: Терри Пратчетта; Вещие сестрички; Translator: В. Вольфсон; Moscow, ЭКСМО, 2001
- Veshchie sestrichki; Translator: V. Volʹfson; St. Petersburg, Domino, 2005
- Serbian: Teri Pračet; Sestre po metli; Translator: Dejan Papić; Beograd: Laguna, 2000 (coverartist: Josh Kirby)
- Slovenian: Tri vešče; Translator: Saša Požek; Tržič, Učila International, 2009
- Spanish: Brujerías; Translator: Cristina Macía Orío; Barcelona, Editorial Martínez Roca, 1992
- Swedish: Häxkonster; Translator: Olle Sahlin; Stockholm, B. Wahlströms, 1993
- Turkish: Ucube kocakarilar; Translator: Niran Elçi; Istanbul: İthaki Yayınları, 2002
WYRD SISTERS – THE MUSICAL
by Guy Turner
In 1993 I was living in Yeovil, Somerset. One evening there was ‘An Evening with Terry Practchett’ at one of the local secondary schools, and as I was already playing with the idea of adapting Wyrd Sisters as a musical, I went along.
Needless to say Terry was a most entertaining speaker, and at the end I asked him if he would consider allowing me to adapt the book. He clearly doubted that I would go through with it, but he agreed. His fee for this was one bottle of white wine and two tickets for one of the performances. The agreement was that there would be one production only, and after that any further development would have to be discussed with him and his agent.
Over the next eighteen months I worked on the adaptation. Firstly I pasted a copy of every page the book into a scrapbook and highlighted all the plot points and all the good jokes that should not be missed out. In some cases there were good jokes in scenes for which there was not room in a 150 minute show, so I had to move them to other scenes.
Once the script was done I set to writing the songs (sixteen) and incidental music, completing this by Christmas 1994.
I was working at Yeovil College, which had lots of talented 16-18 year old students and a terrific performing arts department, and, having persuaded a colleague who was an inspiration director to come on board, we managed to cast a superb team of forty or so students to take part – quite the best cast I could have hoped for. Members of the cast also took on production roles – Tomjon designed the set, and Granny Weatherwax designed the costumes. We all worked full time on the show for the first half of July 1995 and the show was staged in Yeovil College Hall from 12th to 15th July.
Terry and Lyn Pratchett came to the opening night. I met them in the carpark and as I was taking them through to the hall I mentioned that Wendy, the girl playing Granny Weatherwax, was really quite ill, but was determined not to miss performing that night. As we met the cast, Terry checked out the costumes, and, without being introduced, went straight to Wendy and said how sorry he was she was not feeling well (Wendy performed brilliantly, but went straight from that performance to hospital and an understudy played Granny for the subsequent performances.) Terry spent a lot of time chatting to all the cast, and putting up with photographs – he was very kind to all of us, and very interested in the process of adaptation and production.
As the show was done in a smallish space (with only piano, harpsichord and percussion as the band), the cast did not need to be miked up. However, we did use a microphone (with massive reverb naturally) for Death. At the end of the bows, Death crossed the stage, looked into the audience, pointed at Terry and said, ‘YOU!’ After a pause, he then introduced Terry to the audience, for his own round of applause.
This production was the only one – there was no prospect of publication, and I moved on to other projects. I still have the script and score, and the DVD is in the Practchett archive. But adapting and performing the show was one of the most enjoyable things I have done. Many of the songs have ‘escaped’ into other shows.
There is something about Wyrd Sisters – all the Discworld books are hilarious and wonderful, but as well as being the first book to become a musical, it was also the first to be adapted for radio, the first cartoon, and indeed the first of Stephen Briggs’s well known stage adaptations. Quite a record.
And meeting Terry was a real treat – fiercely intelligent, very funny, with no ego, and a genuine interest in everyone he met.
By chance (or perhaps geekiness) I discovered the little known fact that a musical had been made for Wyrd Sisters. Through a little digging, I discovered Mr. Turner’s email-address, and asked him if he was “the Guy Turner” who had written this musical. He was, and, lo and behold, Mr. Turner agreed to write about his experience. I am beyond thrilled to be able to share this with you.
A GIGANTIC thanks to Mr. Turner.
Terry Pratchett’s Literary Tryst with Shakespeare’s Macbeth: A Postmodernist Reading with a Humanist Guide, 2011
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.
Change the Story, Change the World: Gendered Magic and Educational Ideology in Terry Pratchett’s Discworld
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”….
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.
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.
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.
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?
- Bulgarian: Магизточник
- Chinese: 碟形世界:大法
- Croatian: Kiselo Čaranje
- Czech: Magický Prazdroj
- Danish: Megamagikeren
- Dutch: Betoverkind
- Estonian: Ürgsorts
- Finnish: Velhous verissä
- French: Sourcellerie
- German: Der Zauberhut
- Italian: Stregoneria
- Norwegian: Magiens kilde
- Polish: Czarodzicielstwo
- Portugese: O Oitavo Mago / Fontiçaria
- Russian: Посох и шляпа
- Serbian: Čudotvorac
- Slovenian: Izvor magije
- Spanish: Rechicero
- Swedish: Svartkonster
- Turkish: Şifacı
Death, Mort, Ysabell and Albert are the four main players of this story. Of the four of them, Death is the one that reappears in most of the Discworld stories. Death is probably the most famous, revered and confused character of all the Discworld characters and is also one of my favorites.
DEATH is like an Asperger/Autist in the sense that most things are taken literally. Quite often the activities that humans engage in seem pointless. But that does not stop Death from trying to understand. At one point in Mort, Death visits a party at the Patrician’s palace and joins in the Serpent Dance (holding the waist of the person in front, kicking legs in time to beat and going from room to room).
… TELL ME, PLEASE, WHAT IS THE MEANING OF THIS ACTIVITY?
… “Haven’t you been to a party before? Mind the glass, by the way.”
I AM AFRAID I DO NOT GET OUT AS MUCH AS I WOULD LIKE TO. PLEASE EXPLAIN THIS. DOES IT HAVE TO DO WITH SEX?
“Not unless we pull up sharp, old boy, if you know what I mean?” said his lordship, and nudged his unseen fellow guest with his elbow.
“Ouch,” he said. A crash up ahead marked the demise of the cold buffet.
I DO NOT KNOW WHAT YOU MEAN.
“Mind the cream there, it’s slippery – look, it’s just a dance, all right? You do it for fun.”
This mood, and possibly Ysabell (adopted daughter), is most likely why Death suddenly felt the need for an apprentice (obviously Mort(imer)). Mort’s family is in the farming business and to them it is acutely embarrassing that their youngest son has the “same talent for horticulture that you would find in a dead starfish.”
Poverty is an interesting phenomenon. Growing up, my family was certainly struggling to make ends meet. Not until we moved into an area where others could afford what we could not, did I feel poor.
“After five minutes Mort came out of the tailor’s wearing a loose fitting brown garment of imprecise function, which had been understandably unclaimed by a previous owner and had plenty of room for him to grow, on the assumption that he would grow into a nineteen-legged elephant.
His father regarded him critically.
“Very nice,” he said, “for the money.”
While Mort might not have liked that garment, he had no concept yet of poverty because the whole village lived a hard life.
Then DEATH comes and Mort’s apprenticeship begins. Death starts the apprenticeship by taking him to Ankh-Morpork to get a curry and some clothes.
“What are we going to do now?”
BUY YOU SOME NEW CLOTHES.
“These were new today – yesterday, I mean.”
“Father said the shop was famous for its budget clothing,” said Mort, running to keep up.
IT CERTAINLY ADDS A NEW TERROR TO POVERTY.
All through Mort the concept of class/stratification is approached with humour. However, Pratchett is not afraid to aid us in seeing exactly how we all seem to accept these divisions. He questions how valid this thinking is without making us feel like the idiots we are.
Mort’s first encounter with Death’s adopted daughter, Ysabell is interesting.
“Are you a servant?” she said.
Mort straightened up.
“No,” he said, “I’m an apprentice.”
“That’s silly. Albert said you can’t be an apprentice.”
“He says,” said Ysabell in a louder voice, “that apprentices become masters, and you can’t have more than one Death. So you’re just a servant and you have to do what I say.”
Clearly, a shaky beginning. Ysabell, of course, is 100% correct about Death being irreplaceable. Or is she? Hmmm. Mort has no idea what is possible. His mind is open to the possibilities. And, sadly for Death, Mort is extremely open to the idea of Princess Keli. Princess Keli’s impact on Mort is apparent in the song Beautiful from the musical Mort: The Musical. Mort struggles with what most of us struggle with: Death comes to us all. So, what happens, when the very person sent to collect her soul tries to change fate?
Albert is not happy about the changes in Mort and Death. For one thing, his privileged position is in danger. Loss of privilege and change aren’t things that are easy to face. Even when that privilege does not seem like much to an outsider. So Albert draws on his connections to stop it all from happening.
- Bulgarian: Морт (Истории от Света на Диска, #4)
- Chinese: 死神学徒 (“The Death God’s Apprentice”)
- Czech: Mort
- Croatian: Mort
- Danish: Dødens lærling
- Dutch: Dunne Hein
- Estonian: Mort
- Finnish: Mort
- French: Mortimer
- German: Gevatter Tod
- Greek: Θανατηφόρος βοηθός
- Hungarian: Mort, a halál kisinasa
- Italian: Morty l’apprendista
- Polish: Mort
- Portugese: Mort, O Aprendiz de Morte
- Russian: Мор, ученик Смерти
- Slovak: Mort
- Spanish: Mort
- Chinese: 死神学徒
- German: Mort : der Scheibenwelt-Comic
- Hungarian: Mort, a halál kisinasa
- Russian: Mор ученик смерти
Terry Pratchett’s Mort: The Play was adapted for the theatre stage by Stephen Briggs in 1996. As usual Griffin Youth Theatre at Rothetham Arts Centre were first out with Mr. Briggs’/Pratchett’s play. It has since been played as far away as Tasmania and Chicago and as close as Netherlands, Spain and Cumberland.
In 2005 an odd production was set up by MADSODS in New Zealand featuring nine synthetic actors. In October 2008 the audience were encouraged to get into the Halloween spirit and come in fancy dress when the York Rising Stars played Mort at the York Railway Institute, Queen Street, York. At the Toronto Fringe Festival, in 2012, the audience moved through different areas, with the players from Socratic Theatre Collective in an attempt to create “the sense that they are journeying with us through the Discworld”
Today, 2015 Aug 22, another production begins at Brisbane Arts Theatre in Australia.
There was also a stage adaptation by Messrs Richard John Artley and Syddall that was set up in Cambridge in November 1996.
A list over the various showings can be found on L-Space.
The students from Orange Cow Productions were fortunate when they made their unofficial animation of Mort during spring semester of 2001. Terry Pratchett’s comment was:
“Wow! So you made a kind of movie of my book without asking me and now some damn university thinks they own all the rights to it? Really? Sounds like a great day in court!
It sounds like fun, but even so, I don’t want to see it. You’ll probably look back on it in years to come and wish you hadn’t shown me. Let it remains to glitter unseen.
– Terry Pratchett”
‘s Robin Brook wrote a radio adaptation of “Mort” in four episodes in 2004. It was narrated by Anton Lesser, with Geoffrey Whitehead as Death, Carl Prekopp as Mort, Clare Corbett as Ysabell and Alice Hart as Princess Keli. The first episode aired June 15, 2004. Mort has reappeared on BBC at regular intervals: 2005, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013. The latest reading began April 20, 2015.
In 2007 Mort, The Musical came into being through the hands of librettist Jenifer Toksvig and composer Dominic Haslam. That same year one of the songs was featured in the Stephen Sondheim competition. Together with the Youth Music Theatre from Manchester, England their concept has been developed from its inception in August 2007. A trailer from the 2011 production can be seen on youtube.
Also in 2007, a German version of the musical, Mort: Das Musical, was adapted and directed by Sabine Schindler and its music composed Matthias Weiher. It was shown at the Markthalle (Klosterwall 11) in Hamburg.
In 2010 Ron Clements and John Musker started work on an animated adaptation of Mort. But their project fell through when Pratchett in 2011 took out a writ against Paul Bamborough and Camel Productions, who had an option on film rights for the fantasy, arguing that the rights ran out.