Ossus Library Index Fantasy Index

WITCHES ABROAD

A novel by Terry Pratchett (1991, Victor Gollancaz Ltd)
Book 3 of the Discworld Witches

The witches travel the lands to save a maiden from marrying a prince, as decreed by her fairy godmother.

 

 

3+ stars+

Read February 25th to March 2nd, 2003  
    Laugh-out-loud funny, this book was best when the witches were travelling, leaving chaos in their wake. The beginning and end couldn't keep up.

Most of the humour in this book comes from the author's unique way of writing. It's a lot of fun to dive into this world, because the author takes the long way to get anywhere -by telling us how a rock would feel about being stepped on, or how the witches feel about pumpkins after a week of eating the same.

Because of this, however, the witches don't get the development that they need until they are taken out of the kingdom of Lancre.

Granny Weatherwax returns as the stout and practical witch. She uses "headology" to work people, but won't pass up using magic if it can help. She won't use magic simply for the sake of using magic. I agree with her attitude in this regard, because if she was constantly helping people with magic, they would expect it, and not learn for themselves how to do things. Though she likely doesn't know about the parable of the fish, she would probably agree that teaching somebody how to fish is better than simply giving one to them. Instead, she uses what we would call psychology (but what is a "psyche", anyway, when what you are really talking about is inside the head, thus headology!).

Nanny Ogg is the cuddly, lovable witch. I just love her and the way she thinks. She has no problem being untraditional, raising a family (a very very large one), drinking until she's dopey, gambling, and so on. She has so many vices, that it's amazing Granny associates with her! She is the one with unusual ideas, but her magic is not as powerful as Granny's. She has a cat named Greebo, who is a deadly menace to everybody who crosses him, especially wolves and vampire bats!

Magrat Garlick is hilarious in she has no confidence, so she ends up doing things halfway, or she worries too much, and I don't know if we've ever seen her do magic at all, except with the wand. She's one of the nicest people around, however, and Nanny Ogg very often covers for her.

The story is Terry Pratchett's version of Cinderella, though we don't get to that tale for a long time. A fairy godmother dies, and as she doesn't want the other fairy godmother to win (they come in pairs), she asks Magrat to stop the maiden from marrying the prince. Of course, Granny and Nanny invite themselves along, and off we go.

From the moment they leave Lancre, they go from story to story. As soon as they enter the dwarf mine, things get hilarious. I could see some of the gags coming, but that didn't make them any less funny. Magrat could never get the wand to make anything but pumpkins, which was just fine for getting the trapped dwarves out of the avalanche. Leaving the mines, I think we got a tribute to The Hobbit, as a Gollum-like creature tells them it's his birthday, but gets whacked back into the river by Granny!

The first stop comes to a village haunted by a vampire. It was hilarious how none of the witches figured this out, with all the garlic, and the shuttered windows. The whole sequence staying at the inn was so funny, from the mixed drinks to the argument before bed, and finally the best part, the way Greebo played with and then devoured the vampire bat. The villagers, of course, were ecstatic in the morning.

It seems that Granny Weatherwax really is the opposite of a fairy godmother -she can unravel stories! Going from story to story, I found myself anticipating where we would go next. Granny was able to unravel Sleeping Beauty and Little Red Riding Hood, and we saw at least mention of Three Little Pigs, Goldilocks, and more that I'm sure I missed.

Their travels around what was obviously Europe were great, as well. I suppose there will be no more running with the bulls since Magrat and Greebo finished them off. Nanny was fun with the Absinthe, and the Europeans they met were appalled with the witches! I don't know if we went down the French Riviera, but I think we ended up in New Orleans. After Nanny lost all their money on the riverboat, Granny was a joy to watch beating the card sharks at their own game.

One of the best references comes from The Wizard of Oz, as Nanny Ogg wonders why anybody would make a road out of yellow bricks. She is accompanied by somebody who is told she needs a heart (Granny) and somebody who is told she needs a brain (Magrat)! Finally, when the farm house drops onto her head (she was saved by her incredibly structurally sound hat), she and Greebo feel homesick! Nanny was also wearing red boots (close enough to ruby slippers).

Ruining story after story didn't stop them from wondering how to end Cinderella (or Ember-ella), the story that the mysterious fairy godmother Lilith had set into motion, and couldn't be stopped. The witches were still funny in Genua, as they nattered at each other like the old crones that they were. The story, however, took a slightly more serious tone, even though funny things happened.

I was wondering why it was so easy for them to destroy the story after turning the coach into a pumpkin and ripping up the dress. Lilith had a wand also, however, and was able to make mice into horses and driver, and send Ella to the ball anyway. Even replacing Ella with Magrat (hilarious in her hypnotized self-assurance) and breaking the glass slipper didn't seem to deter the story.

I wondered why we needed to have Lilith be Granny Weatherwax's sister, but in the end, it made sense. We got to peer through Granny's eyes because of her reflection in her sibling. So Granny wanted to be the evil witch, but had to be the good one because Lily left. Interesting, how she keeps herself in check. She is so incredibly powerful with magic that she would have been terribly evil, and maybe would have ruled the world.

She again uses her headology with the voodoo doll, in an amazing twist of the story, turning the voodoo woman's magic against her. Their dances at the ball were hilarious, with Granny's steel-toed boots and the crush Casanunda (a true Diskworld Casanova!) had on Nanny Ogg, and not to mention Colonel Mustard in the ballroom, a nod to the game Clue. It turns out that the Prince was actually a frog (but he was also a French Duc, which they all confused with duck in several funny scenes!), and Granny was able to break the spell. She defeats Lilith by breaking one of her mirrors and sending her into oblivion. Although we are led to believe that Death came for her in the mirror, it's always possible to bring her back for a future story, since we don't know for sure.

I don't think Nanny's explanation about Granny's attitudes concerning magic is right. Sure, she might mean that the "nobody" in "nobody should use it" doesn't include her. I think it lies more with what Granny told Mrs. Gogol at the end of the ball, that magic should be used to set things straight, then be withheld so that people can find their own way.

Granny sure has come a long way, from when she used to call anything outside her neighborhood "forn parts". Now she travels to foreign parts, and ends up looking for more! I love that kind of character development. The others get a little, too, of course, but this was primarily a story about Granny.

During their travels, wandering from story to story, it was hilarious -so funny that I laughed out loud. The ending couldn't compare with that, but I still laughed at so many little things, from the way the author describes an event or a thought, especially descriptions of Nanny Ogg -how I love her character.

 
   

Back to Top

All reviews and page designs at this site Copyright (c)  by Warren Dunn, all rights reserved.