In the fifteenth part of Wyrd Sisters, Hwel is increasingly annoyed by wood gathering, and Tomjon returns home. Sort of. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Discworld.
Trigger Warning: For talk at the end about friendzoning/misogyny stuff.
THIS IS GOING TO BE A DISASTER, AND I JUST CAN’T WAIT.
You know, so much of Pratchett’s humor – which you can see demonstrated in this section specifically – relies on poking fun of tropes found in the fantasy genre. That sort of parody is all over the Discworld series, of course, but it’s not always the easiest thing to comment on besides pointing it out. As I mentioned in an earlier review of Wyrd Sisters, I always have to be conscious of the fact that analyzing why a joke is funny runs the risk of making that same joke completely unfunny. Sometimes, I do that to comment on social issues, like I did for the review of part 13, but other times, I don’t have much to say about long humorous passages because I don’t want to be too pedantic. (I realize I just typed that sentence into a review that’s going to go on a site where I review every single chapter all on its own. What I do here is pedantic just by existing.)
But I think that the ongoing joke in the opening scene of the fifteenth part of this book is a fantastic example of how Pratchett can poke fun at fantasy tropes and fairy tale devices, all while keeping characterization in the foreground. And that’s important to me: the witches serve the joke while still being themselves. All of them are normally mystical beings within a fantasy narrative, but Wyrd Sisters puts them front and center. There’s no mysticism. We know their obvious flaws, we know about Granny’s reliance on headology, we know just how powerful they are and how powerful they aren’t.
So it is absolutely hilarious that all three of them pretend to be poor old women gathering wood, stereotypically uttering, “Lawks!,” and eager to guide Tomjon to his destiny. And, of course, they are increasingly terrible at a convincing everyone but Tomjon of their purpose. I love that Hwel is furious by the end of this scene, while Tomjon, in all his naïveté, still thinks they need to help these old women across a river or share food with them. I know I’ve said before that he’s got the skills to be a king, but oh my god, no he does not. He’s too naïve and trusting! He’s too experienced! And this chapter absolutely shows us that he really has no interest in Lancre. There’s no pull of destiny here, and he doesn’t even feel like he’s returning home again. This place means nothing to him aside from being a job.
Unfortunately, Granny is still certain that Tomjon returned to Lancre to claim his birthright.
“Did you see anything in the carts?”
“Boxes and bundles and such.”
“They’ll be full of armor and weapons, depend upon it.”
Nanny Ogg looked doubtful.
“They didn’t look very much like soldiers to me. They were awfully young and spotty.”
“Clever. I expect in the middle of the play the king will manifest his destiny, right where everyone can see him. Good plan.”
Oh, Granny. Is she being naïve here, or is she merely in denial? She doesn’t strike me as the kind of character who could be naïve, you know? I think this is how she deals with doubt, honestly. She covers it up with more certainty than she needs to. In that sense, she reminds me of the Duke, who masks his own doubt and guilt in the same sort of posturing. (And before I get any further, I really think these two characters are polar opposites, so I’m not saying they’re similar characters in general, just in this specific behavior.) When we finally see Duke Felmet’s reaction to Hwel’s play, he immediately begins betraying his true intentions without any awareness to what he’s doing. His posturing is easily more extreme and exaggerated than Granny’s is, make no mistake. At least Granny isn’t having someone WRITE AN ENTIRE PLAY TO CONVINCE THE KINGDOM THAT HE DID NOT MURDER THE PREVIOUS KING. He’s totally wins here! But it was an unexpected, subtle, and probably unintended parallel that I picked up on, and it intrigued me.
Seriously, though, how the hell is this going to work? It’s obvious that the Duke has projected so much into this play (MORE THAN ANYONE IN HISTORY, REALLY) that his entire sense of self and stability is invested in it. Hwel knows something is horribly, horribly wrong, but he can’t place what it is. And then there’s the Fool and Magrat. The fool has also invested a lot in someone else, and I admit I’m worried where this is going to go. I think Pratchett has shown us certain flaws that both characters possess. There’s that earlier section where Magrat admits to believing that the Fool is pathetic and weak, and I don’t think it’s empathetic of his experiences. And in this section, the Fool, while understandably heartbroken that Magrat wants nothing to do with him romantically for the time being, seems to have misguided ideas of what he’s owed. This line in particular was a little too much for me:
It was true, the Fool thought. Witches did do unpleasant things to people, sometimes.
It does suck that the Fool feels used, since Magrat is only interested in getting information from him. I don’t think she’s leading him on, and all her body language and her behavior has made it pretty damn clear that she’s not interested in seeing him anymore. Trust me, I have been the Fool (HA!) in this situation. I once bought someone I thought I was seeing very expensive tickets to Coachella, and he brought his boyfriend to pick them up from me. TRUE STORIES INVOLVING YOURS TRULY. While hindsight tells me that my situation really was more about deception than the Fools, I still think that I imagined more than was real, and I did it because I wanted it. I interpreted actions as desire when they most likely weren’t. So yes, it is sad that the Fool got Magrat a gift that she’d probably adore, but I don’t know that her behavior is worthy of a line like that. I get the joke he makes about the cistern in the gate tower, since he’s trying to call her bluff about always having to wash her hair.
But what I know from the women in my life and online who have spoken of this shit, they come up with excuses like that not because they don’t respect people. They’re too scared to just say no, and they’ve been conditioned by our sexist society to have to think of the ways in which men will react poorly to being rejected.
Of course, it’s entirely possible that this is going to be addressed in the text or Magrat will give the Fool a firm no, or they’ll discuss their issues, or ONE OF A MILLION OUTCOMES. There’s quite a bit left in this book (HOW? HOW IS THIS GOING TO BE RESOLVED), so don’t take this as my final word on the matter. It can develop along with the text as I read more.
They’re attending the play, y’all. THIS IS GOING TO BE SO RIDICULOUS.
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