Ossus Library Index
Fantasy Index


A novel by Terry Pratchett
(1987, Victor Gollancaz Ltd)

Discworld Witches, book 1

A witch sets out to help a young girl become the first female wizard.


-- First reading (hardcover)
August 23rd to 26th, 2001


Was this book aimed at children? The tone and simple story sure made it seem like it. It was pretty funny in many places, but couldn't sustain it throughout the book. But really, I just wasn't very interested in the story.

Spoiler review:

Aside from a couple of books by Pierce Anthony years ago, this is really my first foray into humorous fantasy. Did it come off well? Pretty well. I liked the way the whole story seemed to be told tongue-in-cheek. People question why they do things, others have very strong convictions based on little or no information, and the author goes on to little asides telling us how for example rocks feel about certain things. The humor came and went. When it was present, I often laughed out loud. When it was absent, it was noticeably absent.

As for the story, I was not very interested. Maybe it was the way the story was told. I don't know. I understand that this was only the third Discworld novel, and the first to star Granny Weatherwax, so it is understandable that the author was still trying to figure out what to do with this strange little world. 

The story revolves around Granny Weatherwax as she tries to figure out what to do with a persistent little girl who has inherited wizard's magic. For women don't use wizard's magic. They become witches (a very respectable profession, if one is lucky enough to be born with warts, a pointed nose, and premature grey hair). But Esk inherited her power from a dying wizard, who thought he was giving his power to a baby boy. Instead, the world now has to put up with a girl who wants to be a wizard.

After believing that the magic wouldn't manifest itself, it takes Granny nine years to figure out that she was wrong. The wolves that Esk's staff kills would not be too happy with that mistake. So she begins to teach Esk about herbs, "headology" (the science of making people think things are what you want them to believe), and other traditional witch stuff. She goes Borrowing the mind of an eagle, and almost completely loses her identity, while enjoying the splendor of flight. It takes all of Granny's experience, combined with the power of the wizard's staff, to bring Esk back to her own body.

And so Granny decides that she needs help. She needs a wizard to teach Esk. We are treated to Esk learning all about the big city, without getting into any real trouble. She turns beer into milk, because she wants milk, and then she turns it into cider for the tavern owners. But when they try to take the staff for themselves, it bites the man, and as she escapes their clutches, she turns the cider into something profane.

Esk manages to hitch a ride down the river on a barge, but leaves after she sees the twinkle in the barge-owners' eye when she spots several people trying to cheat him. Then she hooks up with a convoy heading to the city of Ankh-Morpork, where the Wizard University is located. A wizard named Treatle is among the convoy (to protect it from thieves), along with his apprentice Simon. Treatle belittles Esk's desire to become a wizard, so she runs off.

Meanwhile, Granny Weatherwax follows the trail of disaster and meddling and finds the girl despaired in the forest, all alone. Together they fly on a hilarious broom-stick ride (the broom needs to be kick-started!) all the way to the University. Esk is ridiculed again by the wizards there, but Granny gets her in as part of the cleaning staff. Esk's wizard's staff, plugged into a broom, does most of the work, so she can quietly observe the wizards. One day, she convinces the headmistress to let her clean the library, and there she finds Simon.

The library is described in a very funny manner. The librarian is a wizard who got changed into an orangutan (all he ever says is "ook")! The magical books all have a life of their own, sometimes fighting amongst themselves, often flying around, always chained to the bookshelves. As Simon performs some magic, the books begin to attack him. Creatures from Outside the world are drawn to him, but only Esk can see them. She uses her staff to knock Simon out, but his mind is gone. 

Granny and Esk try to revive him after the wizards have done their best, but they can't do it, either. Granny goes off to find the Chancellor, and duels with him, then goes out in search of Esk's staff, which she threw into the river because she feels so terrible about Simon. The staff is sulking (really!), causing the river to flood and a hurricane of proportions unseen before. Granny retrieves it, and lays it in Esk's arms, allowing her to defeat the creatures who are holding her and Simon. For while Granny was settling things with the Chancellor, Esk went to find Simon's mind. She entered the realm Outside the world, pretty much saved Simon, and when the staff appears in her hands, she and Simon escape, leaving the monsters frustrated that they cannot enter the world.

It looks as if Granny, a provincial girl (who considers going into the forest "back to civilization"), will be living out her life in the city from now on, and may even lecture at the Wizard's Unseen University. And Esk will become a permanent student there, earning the title of Wizard, after all.

The world of Discworld doesn't appear much in this story. I half expected it to be referenced more often, because it is such a bizarre assembly. The Great Turtle A'Tuin carries on his back four elephants which hold up a giant disc, which is the world. There were some jokes made about the situation, as everybody takes it for granted, and when Esk sees a spherical blue world in a crystal, she laughs, wondering who would be silly enough to try to live on a world that was not flat! 

There were also a whole slew of inconsistencies, but they didn't really distract from the book. It was more like "...but wasn't that-" instead of becoming annoying, as the book is not meant to be taken really seriously, anyway. One such is the way the original wizard was reincarnated as a tree, but is later an ant.  Unless the tree was cut down?

But I don't really have much to say about it, anyway. The book was short, for which I was grateful, because I was quickly getting bored with the story. I did enjoy the comedic parts, but I wish there were more. Mostly forgettable, I'm afraid. But I will not give up on this series, and plan to read more about Granny Weatherwax in future Discworld books. As an introduction to this strange world, it was fine. I'm hoping the author catches his stride in the future, however.


Back to Top

All reviews and page designs at this site Copyright © 1999 -  by Warren Dunn, all rights reserved.