In the second section of Equal Rites, Eskarina begins her awakening. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Equal Rites.
So, this might very well be my favorite bit that Pratchett’s ever written? There’s still humor here, and Granny Weatherwax’s purposeful tuning out of the “wizard” tree at the end of this is HILARIOUS. Bless her heart! But lord, the long and eerie scene at the center of this section of the book really doesn’t feel like anything in the previous two Discworld books. It’s frightening and unsettling, and IT’S SO SERIOUS. But it fits, and really, that’s what is important for me while reading this. Is the change in tone too jarring? I’d say it’s not in this case because we need this.
Eskarina is a new character, obviously, so that means I need to know what sort of person she is. Just from the first page of this section, I learn that she is inquisitive to the point of irritation, at least to the adults in her life. And it’s because of this that Smith strikes her, and even if he does regret it, it doesn’t change the immense effect it has on the young girl. Incidentally, the staff that Billet left behind proves to be a sort of protecting force for Esk, which reminded me of the way that the Octavo protected Rincewind. But in addition to the staff, which gave everyone a bad day after Smith struck his daughter, Eskarina is drawn to an apple tree that seems strangely defensive:
… and although it looked easy enough to climb it had a habit of breaking twigs and dislodging feet at inconvenient moments. Cern once swore that a branch had twisted just to spill him off.
We learn that Esk’s brothers frequently tease her, and I imagine if it wasn’t for that tree, Esk might not have had any respite from everyone treating her so differently. (I did adore that bit about “sibling logic,” though, because IT IS SO TRUE.) Anyway, during a brief truce of sorts, Esk accompanies Cern and Gulta to go to Granny Weatherwax’s house. Like children do, they pass ridiculous and absurd rumors between each other about Granny’s powers as a witch. It’s here that something incredibly significant happens: Esk realizes that she understands something a magic that she shouldn’t understand. She speaks openly about the natural balance that comes with doing magic, but it’s only something a wizard would truly get. It’s just there in her mind, so it’s unsettling to her to not be able to realize why this thought is there.
This is only exacerbated by the CREEPY experience she has at Granny Weatherwax’s cottage. Right from the start, Pratchett ramps up the tension by sticking fairly closely to a common trope in horror films and fairy tales. Granny’s cottage frightens everyone, and one character reluctantly enters the privy while the others wait behind. The idea of making the house seem like a living creature itself isn’t new, either, but goddamn, THIS IS STILL SO GOOD. I love how deliberately slow this is; the pacing contributes to the unnerving scenery. When we finally get to Granny’s bed, the witch appears to be dead.
WHICH IS THEN USED FOR UTTER TERROR. “Someone has got to stay with dead people,” Gulta says, and lord, Pratchett takes this idea and SPRINTS WITH IT INTO THE DISTANCE. Eskarina does stay behind with Granny’s body, and what takes place in that cottage is not okay??? At all? For any reason??? Again, it’s so impressive to me that this scene is as scary as it is. As Eskarina sits there, she begins to hear the sounds of something trying to break its way in. Was Gulta right? Was something trying to claim Granny’s body? It gets progressively worse, right up until Eskarina LEAVES THE COTTAGE. WHICH I KINDA LOVE? She’s clearly like, “GET ME THE FUCK OUT OF THIS HOUSE,” thereby upending all tropes of people remaining in creepy and haunted house. I LOVE HER, JUST STATING IT NOW.
It’s clear to me, though, that there wasn’t anything haunted here; it was Granny trying to get back into her own home after having “shared” the body of the crow. It’s a damn good twist, especially since it’s going to allow us to explore the differences between her kind of magic and the magic that Eskarina will be able to do.
For now, though, this is the method by which Granny proves her fears: whether or not Billet truly passed on his wizardry to Eskarina. How does she find this out? I LOVE THAT I GET TO TYPE THIS: SHE SHARES THE MIND WITH AN OWL AND GOES TO VISIT BILLET WHO REINCARNATED AS THE APPLE TREE ESKARINA FAVORS. It’s brilliant, it’s touching, and it’s definitely SUPER OVERWHELMING because Pratchett doesn’t ignore the ramifications of the magic. When wolves seek out Eskarina, the staff protects her by murdering all the wolves. And it confirms Granny’s suspicions in the process, and it’s important not to ignore that, either. But holy shit, when Granny stepped into the clearing to see all those wolves flung about… damn, y’all, SHIT IS ALREADY GETTING REAL. And I just started this book!!!! HOW IS THIS HAPPENING ALREADY? Though, I do have to say I loved this bit right in the middle of some of the more serious moments:
She was never quite certain about children, thinking of them – when she thought about them at all – as coming somewhere between animals and people. She understood babies. You put milk in one end and kept the other end as clean as possible. Adults were even easier, because they did the feeding and cleaning themselves. But in between was a world of experience that she had never really inquired about. As far as she was aware, you just tried to stop them catching anything fatal and hoped that it would turn out all right.
BLESS. So she resorts to talking to Esk like a baby in order to get her to listen, which is HILARIOUS. But I like this dynamic because of how it later manifests in Granny’s discussions with Eskarina about magic. Granny is such a certain character: she knows what she believes, she knows what she needs to do, and she knows who she is. Yeah, she knows her place in the world, I suppose, but I feel like that’s reductive of what this experience is like. It’s just that Granny has never, ever heard of or seen a woman who is a wizard, so she just assumes (with a great deal of historical support) that this is the way things were intended. Why should she think otherwise? It’s all she knows. And yet, Eskarina is forcing her to revisit these societal notions because she’s clearly contradicting them. How can she know that you can set fire with magic? Granny describes it as something “lurking” in Eskarina’s mind, so it’s here that we get the previously-mentioned owl scene. Granny sits inside the owl’s mind, ruminating on the benefits of being a witch versus a wizard. It’s a good example; witches are more subtle (and respectful) about their use of magic. As Granny says:
If it occurred to them to enter a creature’s mind they’d do it like a thief, not out of wickedness but because it simply wouldn’t occur to them to do it any other way, the daft buggers.
Of course, Granny hasn’t ever considered that it’s entirely possible for women to be wizards; perhaps it never happened before because wizards always bestowed their powers on other men. What if it all was just a matter of choice and not destiny or biology? Granny is certain that Eskarina won’t be a wizard, but I imagine she’s going to be proven wrong, and soon. OH LORD, if Eskarina really does get to go to Unseen University, that’s going to be RIDICULOUS. Those wizards are going to hate her, aren’t they?
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