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Wyrd Sisters by Terry Pratchett (Witches II) (1988)

Paul Kidby's 2013 illustration of Wyrd Sisters.

Paul Kidby’s 2013 illustration of Wyrd Sisters

Three official artists have managed to capture the likeness of the Witches of Lancre fairly well: Paul Kidby, Katarzyna Oleska and Marc Simonetti.

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.

Trois Sæurcières; Illustration by Marc Simonetti, 2011

Trois Sæurcières; Illustration by Marc Simonetti, 2011

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.

Wyrd Sisters' cover illustration by Katarzyna Oleska, 2004

Wyrd Sisters’ cover illustration by Katarzyna Oleska, 2004

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.

Duchess Felmet; Photography: Jiří Lebeda; Directed by Jan Brichcín & Hana Burešová

Duchess Felmet; Photography: Jiří Lebeda; Directed by Jan Brichcín & Hana Burešová

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.


Articles:

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;


Translations:

  • Bulgarian: Тери Пратчет; Посестрими в занаята; Translator: Елена Паскалева; София: Издателска къща Вузев, 2001 (Cover artist: Josh Kirby)
  • Czech: Soudné sestry; Translator: Jan KantůrekPraha: 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)
    • Seltsame Schwestern; Translator: Silke Jürgensen/Sönke Brodersen; Leipzig, I:D Verlag, 1997
      • MacBest; Translation; Andreas Brandhorst; München/Berlin, Piper Verlag, 2004 (Cover art: Katarzyna Oleska)
  • 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 KugaTokyo: 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
  • Russian: Терри Пратчетта; Вещие сестрички; Translator: В. Вольфсон; Moscow, ЭКСМО, 2001
  • 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

Sources

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

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

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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Translations:

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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

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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