Monday, 28 January 2013

Terry Pratchett's Discworld 12- Witches Abroad

Witches Abroad

Corgi Press

Terry Pratchett
1991

“Most witches don’t believe in gods. They know that the gods exist, of course. They even deal with them occasionally. But they don’t believe in them. They know them too well. It would be like believing in the postman.”

 
I think it's pretty obvious that the routes of Terry Pratchett's success comes from the influence and adaptation of classical British comedy along the Monty Python to Douglas Adams' Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy route, but, to me, where he really stands out as a pioneer with the inevitable culmination of this sort of contradictory idiotic genius style is his wide eye for deconstruction; both of his own creations and of real-world culture and society in general. Since the Discworld is based entirely on magic, anything can happen, and somewhere along the line in the Discworld series Pratchett began to heavily develop (or maybe indulge) a kind of sardonic self-analysis that, in the ultimate circle of meta-fiction, used it to advance the plot.

It's apparent in earlier works such as Equal Rites (where Eskarina Smith has to inherit her wizardly powers) and Mort (who similarly has to play the part of hero and try to save the girl), and especially Moving Pictures, but it's with Witches Abroad that Pratchett delivered one of his most complicated and focused work of post-modern fantasy, and along the way wrote another classic in his seminal witches series, with the return of Granny Weatherwax, Nanny Ogg and Magrat Garlic.

After saving the kingdom of Lancre in a comic-fantasy Shakespeare tribute, Pratchett again uses the witches to explore the notion of what he calls narrative causality, though this time with an altogether different genre of fiction; the classic children's fairy tale. It begins when Magrat, the least experienced and most fretful of the coven, inherits from another witch a fairy godmother's wand, instantly giving her the power to turn a just about anything into a pumpkin (she hasn't got the instruction manual). Magrat also inherits the fairy godmother's singular client list, a young lady named Emberella (yes) who's set to marry the Duke of Genua, but doesn't want to. Genua is rather a long way away from Lancre, so the three witches set out on the road, and on the way get an inclining of what's really going on.

In a purely literal sense, Witches Abroad involves a lot of characters, some detective work, an arch-nemesis, and a clever duel at the end. It's another tour-de-force for the character of Granny Weatherwax as the most unlikely badass in the world, as she takes on the familiar (to her) magical source of all the trouble; her very own sister. Pratchett uses Lily Weatherwax as another powerful and personal nemesis for Granny to face in mortal combat, but I think the plot of this one does somewhat take a back seat to Pratchett's fairy tale fun.

It's for this that I love Witches Abroad; reading Pratchett's versions of Red Riding Hood et al is very funny, perhaps an easy target for his satirical tone but a rewarding one never the less. In the hierarchy of Witches books (of which there are only really five, when you ignore the offshoots) I think each Witches book gets better and better (with one exception in the only-decent Maskerade), as Pratchett finds his groove with these characters who seem to be unique in literature, particularly with Granny Weatherwax. Pratchett would return to write the Witches even better in Lords and Ladies, but it's the groundwork of character development here that establishes perhaps the finest corner of his fictional universe.