In the seventh part of Equal Rites, Esk discovers just how difficult the path ahead of her will be. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Discworld.
Trigger Warning: For discussion of misogyny.
There’s a lot that happens here, so LET’S GET TO IT.
Holy shit, dwarves! Unfortunately, we don’t get to spend all that much time with them. Granny comes across them in her search for Esk – wait. No. No, that’s not right. They come across her. She falls into a bear pit (and immediately intimidates the bear because she’s Granny Weatherwax, and Granny Weatherwax refuses to be frightened by anything) with a broken broomstick borrowed from Hilta. (That’s a lot of alliteration.) She strikes some sort of deal with the dwarves to not only get her out of the pit, but to repair the broomstick! Sort of. Unwilling to wait more time than absolutely necessary, she makes it very clear to the dwarves that she needs the solution that’ll get her flying the quickest:
“Just repair it,” she hissed. “Please?”
“What, make a bodge job?” said the dwarf, his pipe clattering to the floor.
“Patch it up, you mean? Betray my training by doing half a job?”
“Yes,” said Granny. Her pupils were two little black holes.
“Oh,” said the dwarf. “Right, then.”
I find Granny endlessly entertaining, y’all.
Esk and wizards
But this is followed by a neat moment of hope and then utter dejection. Esk’s magic, which is getting more and more stronger and chaotic, takes out a pack of gnolls so efficiently that Gander is left feeling disturbed by the occurrence. He, of course, has no idea that Esk was the one responsible for wiping them out. But this isn’t like Esk leaving Amschat in the last section, though. She doesn’t abandon these people because she’s afraid of them discovering what she is and what she can do.
No, she leaves Gander’s caravan because of wizards.
The sign of hope I’m referring to is Esk’s conversation with Simon. I saw a lot of potential here. You’ve got an endlessly awkward young boy with allergies and anxiety issues about to head to school for an overwhelming experience, and then there’s Esk, who is not just powerful, but to whom magic comes extremely naturally. And while they’d have a lot to learn, both from Unseen University and from one another, I thought the idea of them becoming friends and trying to survive school would be fascinating.
And then Treatle interrupts their conversation about a woman becoming a wizard:
“Of course they can’t. It is self-evident, child.”
What we get after this is a disheartening example of Eskarina learning what discrimination really is. It’s important to note that Treatle doesn’t think he’s being rude or inconsiderate, that he probably had the best of intentions when engaging with Eskarina’s inquisitiveness. He’s very proud to discuss the proper divisions between witch and wizard, between man and woman. And yet? He destroys Eskarina. He is directly responsible for how she feels about herself and her future. He is the one who makes her realize that there are doors shutting before she could even open them. And sometimes, it’s an outright thing, while other moments, it’s more subtle. Like:
“However, witches are not wizards. Witchcraft is Nature’s way of allowing women access to the magical fluxes, but you must remember it is not high magic.”
Which quietly confirms that there’s an hierarchy of magic, and women apparently can’t access the higher parts of it. But how about the whole section where he states that witchcraft is best for every day life, but wizard magic is for the greater pursuits in life? Or that women are “unsettling”? Or “too excitable”? Or that their brains “overheat”? (Need I remind Treatle of how ridiculously excitable and unsettling all the wizards were in the last two books? Ugh, he probably didn’t even read them.) It’s disturbing, it’s wrong, and he doesn’t think any of this is the case. I’m sure he went off and thought he did his duty that day and was proud of himself. But this is the conclusion Esk comes to:
“I thought I might seek my fortune,” muttered Esk, “but I think perhaps girls don’t have fortunes to seek.”
And she takes it a step further:
Esk sat down under a low-spreading juniper bush at the foot of a steep, sheer cliff, her mind seething with plans and anger. She could sense doors being slammed before she had barely begun to open them.
So her mind takes her to the worst place possible when she falls asleep outside after leaving the caravan behind. She’s taunted by the very thought that there are literal gatekeepers at Unseen University who will always refuse to let her attend, and she rightfully feels despair at this. Look, I can’t speak to the experience of misogyny, obviously, but there are parallels to what I and others have gone through as marginalized people. It is so disheartening to feel left out on a systemic level, to know that you can’t be a part of something because of something you were born into. And the worst part of Esk’s dream is the laughing. These men are amused at being able to shut her out of all of this.
I was so happy that Granny was able to find Esk and to comfort her after this experience. It’s clear that she’s not going to fight Esk’s destiny anymore. She wants her granddaughter to be a goddamn wizard, and she’s not going to let the world tell her no anymore. I loved this line:
“All you could tell was that he thought he was telling the truth. The world isn’t always as people see it.”
And Esk is evidence of that. Her magic is undeniable, given that she MELTED EVERYTHING AROUND HER DURING THE DREAM. It’s undeniable when she makes the broomstick obey her will while in midair. She is the physical embodiment of everything wrong with the absolutist style of thinking that most of the people on the Disc believe in. Women can be wizards, and Granny is going to help Esk make that a reality.
The original text contains multiple uses of the word “mad.”
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