Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Terry Pratchett's Discworld 03- Equal Rites

I finished reading George R.R. Martin's A Clash of Kings, so I'd better write something about that pretty sharpish. I've also been reading through Garth Ennis' Preacher comic book, I picked up every volume second hand not too long ago and I've finished all but one. I wasn't planning on doing any comic book reviews on this blog, but I might have to make an exception for this one. In the meantime, some more comedy fantasy from everybody's (well, mine) favourite knight of the realm...

Equal Rites
Terry Pratchett

Other Terry Pratchett Reviews- The Colour of Magic - The Light Fantastic - Equal Rites - Mort - Sourcery - Wyrd Sisters - Pyramids - Guards! Guards! - Eric - Moving Pictures - Reaper Man - Witches Abroad - Small GodsLords and Ladies - Men At Arms - Soul Music - Interesting Times - Maskerade - Feet of Clay - Hogfather - Raising Steam - A Blink of the Screen - Sky1 Adaptations- Dodger - The Long Earth (w Stephen Baxter)

"Hmm. Granpone the White. He's going to be Granpone the Grey if he doesn't take better care of his laundry. Aye tell you, girl, a white magician is just a black magician with a good housekeeper."

After kicking off his Discworld series with a two-part adventure full of action and adventure, bearded wonder Terry Pratchett quickly looked to prove that his comedic universe could play host to a much wider range of themes than he had begun with, with Equal Rites, an interesting curio that isn't considered a classic of the series but defiantly remains relevant. Essentially Equal Rites is a fantasy story about feminism and equality, wrapped up in a fun, colourful coming of age tale regarding the merits of wizardry verses witchcraft. The story regards a young girl named Esk, who, according to magical tradition, really should be a witch but instead due to a technical mishap (involving misplaced assumptions of gender during childbirth), has been given the powers of a wizard. For Esk, her family, and the philosophical beliefs of witches and wizards everywhere, this is a bit of a problem.

On the Discworld, the differences between the powers of witches and wizards clearly represent the stereotypical differences between the mindsets of men and women and the use of power in general- the wizards are power hungry, hierarchical, trigger-happy and full of explosive power, while the witches possess with a far more psychological understanding of the powers they posses, so reverential of the repercussions of their magical actions that ideally they use them as little as possible. It's an easy metaphor to understand, and it works well in this story but not without a little patronizing bluntness, but remains important throughout the series in the future and these ideas are established under more solid ground. Anyway, as Esk has the powers of a wizard, she seeks an education at the only place a wizard should learn- the campus of Unseen University, located in Ankh Morpork, home and power center of wizards everywhere- at least the ones worth mentioning, anyway- hundreds of miles away from Esk's rural country village. Not surprisingly, her entrance doesn't go smoothly, and, as many of the early Discworld books do, culminate with the threat of horrific other-worldly Lovecraftian monsters trying to break through the dimensions to do presumably very nasty things.

While the message of the book is clear (and gives plenty of credit to the author for the fact he was willing to expand his universe beyond sheer comedy and adventure so early on) upon rereading this book I didn't find it to be particularly thrilling at all. Surely in hindsight this is because Pratchett's later uses of his witch characters is utterly brilliant, but here many of the character traits and ideas are still raw, and the characters just don't yet stand out as individual voices. Esk isn't an interesting or memorable character at all (and wasn't mentioned again for twenty-three years of books after this), and even senior witch Granny Weatherwax (who later becomes, I'd argue, Pratchett's magnum opus in character creation) is unfortunately somewhat bland also, lacking in the authoritarian tone or deathly biting wit I expect now from her, as Pratchett seems to struggle to develop a formula to have his witches and wizards really stand out from the multitudes of other similar fantasy characters in literature. Meanwhile, while the themes of equality are interesting and clear, they're hardly innovative nor do they come to a great conclusion.

Maybe I'm being too harsh on this book from the perspective of someone who's too obsessed with the later, greater efforts of the author. It's certainly not a bad book and it contains some great ideas and writing, but its meandering plot and too many flat characters mean I'd have to classify it as one of the weaker entries in the series. But considering his standards, that's still not bad.