The Discworld Reread: Book VI
All Magrat Garlick ever wanted was to be part of a proper coven. She’s new to witchcraft and takes it all very seriously, from the garlands of flowers to the moon-worship and the amulets, and it would have been nice to have fellow witches who appreciated the value of a proper sabbat. But instead she has steely Granny Weatherwax, who can’t be having with all this modern nonsense, and riotous Nanny Ogg, who’s usually to be found singing that classic Discworld drinking song, The Hedgehog Can Never Be Buggered At All. And Magrat has to prove to them that she’s a proper witch! And that isn’t all, because there is something dark afoot, something that the three of them must tackle. Something is rotten in the state of Lancre, and the witches may be the only ones who can save the day…
King Verence of Lancre is having a bad day, and he doesn’t expect it to get much better – that’s hard, when you’ve just been murdered by an ambitious duke. To make matters worse, he ends up having to haunt his castle until his destiny has been realised. Verence can only hope that said destiny involves getting revenge on the perfidious Lord Felmet and his dangerous wife. Fortunately, the royal line is not completely lost. A loyal retainer escapes from the castle with the king’s infant son and, with his last breath, gives the child into the keeping of the local witches. Granny Weatherwax doesn’t have the first idea what to do with a baby, but when she hears that a troupe of strolling players have arrived in Lancre, she conceives a cunning plan to keep the child safe until his glorious destiny will, surely, bring him home to challenge the evil usurper and claim the throne.
But this is the Discworld and nothing is ever quite as easy as it sounds. Fortunately there’s a lot of fun to be had along the way and Pratchett has an absolute ball with this mashup of Macbeth and Hamlet. We’ve already been introduced to the Ramtops in Equal Rites, but this is our first real glimpse of Lancre, which becomes a recurring location and which I’ve always imagined as the drab love child of the Swiss Alps and Wales. Should you wish, you can buy a map of it. Moreover, it’s in Wyrd Sisters that we meet some of Pratchett’s most engaging characters, of whom we’ll see much more down the line: Nanny Ogg, the stout, half-sozzled matriarch, and dreamy Magrat. Nanny Ogg’s vicious cat Greebo, will also have a significant part to play in future books. Shakespearean gags abound (for example, construction work begins on Ankh-Morpork’s first theatre, the Dysk), and Pratchett’s touch is light and sure. He even comes up with a cheeky and rather brilliant way to skip fifteen years of the story. To be frank, I’d forgotten how good this particular volume is.
You wouldn’t really miss anything if you skipped the lacklustre Sourcery altogether and came to Wyrd Sisters straight from Mort. It’s a gleeful romp, stuffed to the brim with ambitious duchesses, ghosts, bloody daggers and a Fool who’s more intelligent than he lets on, all underpinned by that immediately recognisable and very British humour. In fact, this novel is so popular that it’s one of the few Discworld stories to have been adapted into a play.
Certainly a high point in the reread and, if you just want to cherry-pick from the series, it’s one that should be on your list – and you’ll get most out of it if you know your Shakespeare.
Last in this series – Sourcery
Next in this series – Pyramids
Paul Kidby has, as ever, produced some wonderful pictures of these characters. Here are just a couple: the highly-strung Fool (at lower left) and the three witches at right.