WYRD SISTERSA novel by Terry Pratchett
(1988, ROC Books)
Discworld Witches, book 2
A coven of witches helps a kingdom to get rid of an evil ruler.
-- First reading (hardcover)
An enjoyable, funny read, but the best part was the characters and the way they dealt with what they had to do.
The plot doesn't get in the way of the story here. The book is more about the three witches and their way of life. The plot centers around the disruption of their way of life, since they don't care if the local ruler is good or evil - as long as he doesn't bother them. But when things start to move against them, these three witches go out of their way to restore the public's healthy fear and respect for magic-users.Spoiler review:
Granny Weatherwax is the main character here, as she was in the last Discworld novel that featured her. She has Views, with a capital "V". And it is hilarious the way she expresses these views. She won't move out of the way of anybody, she takes revenge on anybody who crosses her, and she knows how a witch should look and act in order to keep up the reputation of witches everywhere. She doesn't have the patience to deal with all sorts of occult symbols and devices -witches' magic doesn't need it.
And things shouldn't go around pretending to be things they aren't! The best example of this is the funniest multiple-page sequence in the book, where the coven attends a theatre in town. Granny can't figure it out -and doesn't understand why an actor who was stabbed should be up and pretending to be some other person later in the play! She talks throughout the whole thing, wondering why the others don't know who killed the actor when she and the whole crowd saw it happen!
And it comes back into play when Granny and the other two switch places with three witches in the theatre near the end of the book, too! They don't behave as the actors think the witches should, and Nanny Ogg ends up trying to clean the cauldron prop!
Nanny Ogg is the oldest member of the coven, and happens to be the most liberal, as well. Granny Weatherwax disapproves of the way Nanny Ogg got married three times and now had a huge flock of a family. She drinks heavily, smokes, and when inebriated, sings loudly about a Hedgehog, which was always hilarious to read about. She always sighs wistfully when talking about a man's "amenities".
The third member of the coven is Magrat, who, being the youngest, is the most dedicated to the occult. Unfortunately, no matter how hard she tries, she can't get warts to grow on her skin, her hair stays perfect, and she has a sweet voice -completely un-witchlike. She studied under a witch who believed in all sorts of occult jewelry, the proper manner in which to cast a spell, with the proper components, the proper words and such, and discovers throughout the book that the magic works even without them. But demons and the like prefer it when it is done right!
Destiny is thrust in their hands when the heir to the throne is given into their care as a baby by a dying man. It turns out that King Verence was murdered (which is a good way for a king to go, but not if you cling to life, as he does) by Duke Felmet. Verence still exists in the spirit world, and haunts the castle, doing minute things like oversalting the Duke's supper!
The witches pass the young Prince, now named Tomjon because Granny wanted to name him Tom, and Nanny wanted John, to a troupe of theatrical players, who promptly leave town with the baby, nurturing him until he grows up. They place his crown in a pile of crown props. I wonder about the wisdom in that. Yes, it will be hidden. But any time somebody puts the crown on, wouldn't they feel the same power Granny felt? Unfortunately, when Tomjon puts the crown on at the end, in the play, he doesn't feel anything. I was surprised the crown wasn't thrown away because it was so plain.
The witches live fairly normal lives, and avoid being arrested using the same tactics they have used for years -inviting the soldiers in for tea, scolding them, healing them, and threatening them. All this is what makes the book very interesting and insanely funny -not from silly or inane bits like in the Hitch-hiker's Guide to the Galaxy, which bordered on stupid (the wrong side of it), but in the way the author tells the tale. Granny has Views. The Duke tries everything to get the blood off his hands, including sandpaper, a file, and various other devices that get more and more coarse -he spends years with bandages wrapped around his hands. The witches bicker in a way that reflects reality in the way they are ignorant but will never admit it, they take issue with the way each other lives their lives, and so on.
I started to get worried when the "great mind" of the kingdom was upset, that something big was going to appear, supernaturally. Thankfully, it only lasted a shot while, telling Granny that it was unhappy with the Duke as a ruler. I liked Granny's thoughts when she saw the unlikely gathering: that the small animals should bolt like lightning before the spell was broken!
I also was worried about the plot device used to get us fifteen years into the future, but it turned out perfectly fine, and was interspersed with so many humorous bits that it actually turned out better than fine. Granny takes it upon herself to displace the whole kingdom by fifteen years, and uses Nanny Ogg and Magrat to "refuel" her magic. It was rally a unique way to have time pass. It did start to grow too large for the story, but the author must have realized this as well, because just then Granny's broomstick started to ice up! Or she would lose the parsley on the top of her in-flight sandwich that Magrat had prepared. Not to mention Nanny Ogg flying drunk, which was really funny, especially since Granny Weatherwax cites modern reasons for not doing so!
I found the parts following the displacement to be a bit wearying, as there was less humor, and I was not very interested in Tomjon or the dwarf Hwel. The witches gave Tomjon three gifts when he was a baby, to make friends easily, to have a perfect memory, and to be whoever he thinks he is. I wonder if a lot of this is setup for future books, but they were displayed a little bit here. He could truly inspire a gang of people to give up violence for a short while! The description of the Thieves' Guild (perfectly legal) was hilarious, especially when Tomjon convinced the thieves to pay him legal fees!
The players go to Lancre castle at the request of the Duke, who learns that words can really stir people. He wants to rewrite history, and show that he didn't kill the King. But when Granny Weatherwax figures out what the play is up to, she and the other witches take their parts in it, and everything goes strange. The Duke confesses, in his strange way, and even thinks he's dead when he stabs himself with the gadget-dagger. He goes around haunting the castle, even though he is still alive -until he falls out a window and Death takes him away. It would have been nice to see what King Verence thought about sharing the castle with the ghost of his enemy.
Partway into the story, Magrat and the castle's Fool (who graduated from the Fool's Guild) fall in love. It is a strange love, mostly because Magrat doesn't even know what love is. Several people notice how much he looks like Tomjon, which made me think that the two might be related. It is confirmed when the King reveals that he could communicate with the Fool from the spirit world. Which makes it so strange that Nanny Ogg tells Magrat that he is actually not of royal lineage. Surely if the Queen gave birth to him (as is implied in the confusing dialog of the final page), everybody including the King would have known. So he might still be of royal birth if the line went through the Queen.
In any case, it was fun to see the relationship develop between the Fool and Magrat, who is always using the "washing my hair" excuse not to see him. So that when they are viewing the theatre together, he mentions that there is a stall in the room with water in case she decides to wash it! And she bursts into tears when Granny Weatherwax comments on her dirty hair at the end because the Fool/King has not contacted her and she didn't want to be busy in case he did. But afterwards it would turn out alright, I am sure, because the Fool falls asleep on Magrat's floor at the end while she is attending the coven meeting and getting drunk.
The humor in this book comes mostly in the way the author tells the tale. He talks about things tongue-in-cheek, and gives inanimate objects character. My favorite such instance involved the thunderstorm, which started the book as a minor storm trying to impress the boss and get invited into the higher ranks, practicing all the time, watching how the larger storms performed, and finally developing into a huge storm by the end.
I wonder why the author did not use chapter breaks in this book. It could have used them. Many times months or years go by in a single sentence, with only a small section break -or sometimes without even that- between them. Sometimes small break-lines were used when no time had gone by at all. Still, the book was not disjointed because of it, just a little untidy.
It is the humor that held this book together. I don't know how good it would have been without it. The parts featuring Granny Weatherwax, Nanny Ogg and Magrat were the funniest, especially when they go against all convention. Like when they all go as apple sellers to try and get into the castle, even though the trick has never worked in its entire history. Or my favorite, when Nanny Ogg was taken to the dungeons to be tortured, and is introduced to all the machines by the ghost King, and is fascinated but not scared by the Duchess and her ravings. I also liked Nanny Ogg's cat, who has sired most of the cats in the kingdom!
The book kept a good meandering pace, never trying to get too complex, which is good, I think. I rather enjoyed it, and look forward to reading the next book featuring these three (presumably) characters.
Back to Top
All reviews and page designs at this site Copyright © 1999 - by Warren Dunn, all rights reserved.