In the first section of Equal Rites, I HAVE ALREADY REALIZED THAT THE TITLE IS A PUN. GODDAMN IT. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to start Equal Rites.
Trigger Warning: Just as a heads up for this entire novel, I imagine every post will have to deal with sexism and misogyny since it’s the fabric of the book. Additionally, there will be a brief point about gender essentialism, too.
I’ve barely started Equal Rites, and I realize now what a different experience this is going to be.
The whole Mark Reads project is about reading series from beginning to end, and some one-off books here and there. But Discworld is going to be the first chance for me to read an entire UNIVERSE of fiction instead of a traditional series. And that’s a little strange! It’s not like my read through of the Tortall books or the upcoming Circle of Magic universe; those generally have complete series, each that follow others in some loose chronological order. Discworld is nothing like that, and now that I’m leaving Rincewind for the first time (and hopefully not the last, as I’ve kind of grown to enjoy that man), I don’t know what to expect. I don’t know what characters make up what series. Hell, I DON’T EVEN KNOW WHAT SERIES THERE ARE. It’s intimidating in one sense, sure. Any time I’m starting a new series or entering a new fictional world, I feel anxious. I can’t help it. THERE ARE A LOT OF YOU LOOKING AT ME. Which is actually why I stopped looking at Google Analytics back in 2011. I distinctly remember seeing a report that said that 550,000 unique visitors had came to Mark Watches when I got to “The Christmas Invasion” for Doctor Who, and I was nearly sick with anxiety at thinking that OVER HALF A MILLION PEOPLE WERE BASICALLY LOOKING AT ME. It’s terrifying, so I never do it anymore!
I suppose I’m aware of that sort of pressure all the time. People are anxious to see if I’ll enjoy their favorite character or pick up on the best jokes or recognize the best puns. I try to do my best, but it’s impossible to get everything on a first read-through, you know? And this is all in the intro of this review on purpose. I’m going into my third Discworld book – HOW? HOW IS THIS POSSIBLE? I FEEL LIKE I STARTED THIS YESTERDAY – with no real sense for what I’m about to read. Granted, there are clear directions taken with the text in these first fifteen pages, but this is UNCHARTED TERRITORY FOR ME.
And yet, it’s not. It’s the Discworld. Pratchett opens Equal Rites with a bit of flair for the cinematic, appealing to our visual side by describing the Disc zooming into view, and cracking a few jokes in the process. It’s almost like we zoom in on Drum Billet as he approaches the smithy where he’s destined to find the eighth son of an eight son. In Bad Ass. LITERAL NAME OF THE TOWN. So, yeah, I was already going to like this based on that alone. All of this – from the opening to Billet meeting with the smith to all the talk of a holy destiny – is Pratchett’s chance to rip on some pretty common fantasy tropes. I know I’ve mentioned this before, but even though I don’t always consider myself the savviest fantasy reader, I can recognize tropes like this every so often. And it really does feel like a deliberate criticism of the Chosen One trope, specifically since it tackles how often the Chosen One is a guy.
And yes, it should be pointed out that this will most likely follow essentialist gender lines, in the sense that I don’t think Pratchett (in 1987, I should say, since I don’t want to pretend like this novel was written yesterday) will ever deviate from what is popularly considered a man and what is considered a woman. I’m sure there are folks who will read this and sigh or shuffle off and never want to finish the book, and I don’t blame them. Still, I have to read it from beginning to end, and I just wanted to state this upfront.
That’s not to say that there’s anything wrong with what Pratchett does in these 15 pages, and it got me thinking about why it is that fantasy has always had such rigid gender lines when it comes to witches and wizards. I mean, once Billet discovers that he’s passed on “his sort of wizardness to a sort of successor” to a woman, Pratchett lays bare the pure absurdity of the dichotomy. Why are witches always women? Why can’t you have a woman as a wizard? Where does an enchantress fit into all of this? And what does this say of how witches and enchantresses have traditionally been portrayed as antagonists, both in fiction and in history? (There never was a Salem Wizard Trial, you know.)
So, this is all not only a response to sexist tropes, but it’s a way for Pratchett to engage with his own fictional world. He established in the last two novels that there were no women at Unseen University. What happens now that Eskarina, the young girl given magic by a dying Drum Billet, is a wizard? Undeniably so, I should state. It’s not like they can take that away from her. Granny Weatherwax (IS SHE RELATED TO GALDER???) eventually gives up after trying to convince the smith that his daughter simply could not be a wizard. I mean, CLEARLY the wizard’s staff that Billet left behind wasn’t having it. And as the years passed, she gradually saw that there was no reason to fear that Eskarina would face problems. Which is fascinating to me, since Granny is a witch herself! It’s just that her system of magic doesn’t overlap with that of wizards, and she accepts this division as fact. I get why she would worry about Eskarina.
BUT SOMETHING IS GONNA HAPPEN, ISN’T IT? I’m intrigued, I admit. The world feels more familiar than I expected (though the new setting of the Ramtops is SUPER EXCITING), so I’m thankful I read The Color of Magic and The Light Fantastic first. And now I’ve got a whole new adventure ahead of me! THIS IS WONDERFUL. PS: Where is my Death book? Oh god, I have loved every appearance of his in this series so far.
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