In the sixteenth part of Wyrd Sisters, I can barely believe what this book has become. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Discworld.
Good lord, this is so much fun. The jokes, the twists, the exploration of the power of words… it’s so many things at once. And it’s by far my favorite of the Discworld books that I’ve read for this site! I have no qualms about saying that because it feels so natural for me. Of course, I’ve got plenty more to go through, and I’m sure there are countless characters I haven’t met that I may come to enjoy. (I’m sure there’s been lots of rot13 of y’all saying, “I CAN’T WAIT UNTIL HE GETS TO THIS PERSON OR THIS BOOK.) But holy shit, I love the witches. I love that they’re flawed and complex and messy and delightful and rude and ignorant and full of wisdom and insight, and it goes back to what I said at the beginning of this: it’s all so much at once, and I appreciate that.
So let’s start first with how weird and meta and hilarious it is that King Verence and the witches are sitting down to watch a play about themselves that’s mostly wrong. On top of that, Mystery Witch Theater 3000 returns to our lives, and I’m not even exaggerating: I would read books that were merely the witches commenting on various plays or movies. That’s it. (New fanfic prompt: someone make this shit happen. The Witches Watch Pacific Rim or The Witches Watch Spring Awakening. THIS IS MY BEST IDEA.) And while I don’t want to draw from how funny this is, I was absolutely in love with Granny’s realization of what the duke had actually managed to pull off:
The theater worried her. It had a magic of its own, one that didn’t belong to her, one that wasn’t in her control. It changed the world, and said things were otherwise than they were. And it was worse than that. It was a magic that didn’t belong to magical people. It was commanded by ordinary people, who didn’t know the rules. They altered the world because it sounded better.
Like the later exchange about meddling, Pratchett does poke fun at Granny’s hypocrisy, since we know she’s willing to break the rules when she needs to. But this whole realization adds a sinister air to the play because the duke repeatedly turns to smile at Granny. He knows that she knows what he’s doing, and until the opportunity arises, Granny actually believes that the duke might have one.
More on that in a bit. I experienced quite a few flashbacks to my theater days as I read about Hwel freaking out backstage. IT WAS TOO REAL, Y’ALL. The panic, the last-minute questioning, the desperate attempts to pump one another up and get amped for opening night… oh my god. I kind of miss it. (And one day, I swear, I’ll get my hands on the video recording of myself as Harold Hill. I SWEAR IT.) Did Pratchett have experience with theater prior to this? Because holy shit, this was done so well! STAGE MANAGERS UNITE.
Also, Tomjon put the crown on. He put the crown on. !!!!!!!
And then the play introduces the witches, and it’s just over. I know that it’s beautiful to think of the witches watching these horrible versions of themselves on stage. (Ember Island Players, oh my god!) But there’s one particular thing I want to latch on to and be serious about because this is what I do.
That’s us down there, she thought. Everyone knows who we really are, but the things down there are what they’ll remember – three gibbering old baggages in pointy hats. All we’ve ever done, all we’ve ever been, won’t exist anymore.
There’s a lot going on here. Obviously, Pratchett is toying with notions of fairy tale tropes. The version of the witches onstage is the quintessential witch stereotype. It is! It’s got all the physical signifiers and the behavioral patterns. (I’m also kind of into the idea that the Discworld is where all these tropes got their start, and it just escaped that world and into ours.) On top of this, it’s also wrapped up in identity issues for someone like Granny, who has used headology to affect how others perceive her. But I also can’t ignore the fascinating parallel this has to what I do, since I often dissect stereotypes and tropes in an effort to point out why some of them have uncomfortable implications for our world. This idea – that “the things down there are what they’ll remember” – really speaks to my own personal experience with tropes and with what I’ve seen happen in this very community. It’s not an easy process to de-program your brain from accepting this sort of stuff. I know that! But I think it’s important to acknowledge that the media we consume does inform our worldview in some way, even if that way is positive.
It’s why I write about representation so frequently. I don’t want people to remember the harmful tropes and archetypes when they interact with others in the real world. And I think it’s so great that Pratchett says, “Everyone knows who we really are” because that implies that this behavior is about erasing an individual identity in order to make that person fit into someone else’s perception of said identity. The people of the Ramptops and Lancre know who Granny, Nanny, and Magrat are. But the power of the words on that stage could easily alter how everyone sees them.
So Granny decides to “let the iron-hard stream of wrath power the turbines of revenge,” and I could not be more excited for where this book is going, y’all. Maybe destiny isn’t at work here or maybe it is. It’s absolutely hilarious to see how everything falls into place. The duke orders the witches to be arrested, knowing he’s turned the people of Lancre against them, but the guards ARREST THE ACTORS PORTRAYING THE WITCHES INSTEAD. Which is actually a hilarious bit of commentary in and of itself, since the guardsman bases his actions on a stereotype, and he arrests the wrong people. We’ve also got Tomjon’s suspicion at work, since he is creeped out by this place and by an utterly disturbing phenomenon taking place:
Hwel had said that everything about the play was fine, except for the play itself. And Tomjon kept thinking that the play itself was trying to force itself into a different shape. His mind had been hearing other words, just too faint for hearing. It was almost like eavesdropping on a conversation. He’d had to shout more to drown out the buzzing in his head.
This wasn’t right. Once a play was written it was, well, written. It shouldn’t come alive and start twisting itself around.
No wonder everyone needed prompting all the time. The play was writhing under their hands, trying to change itself.
Y’all, this means that Pratchett made this book about the power of words and then literally gave the words power. Does that count as a pun? WHAT ISN’T A PUN IN THESE FUCKING BOOKS? But holy hell, I figured that this would be a disaster, and it is, so far, so much bigger of a disaster than I anticipated. There are so many variables! But nothing in the world – NOTHING IN THE WORLD – makes me more excited than the fact that Granny, Nanny, and Magrat have now taken their own places within this play, and they’re going to try to change the words and I CANNOT WAIT FOR THE SHENANIGANS TO UNFOLD BEFORE MY EYES.
This book is so good, y’all.
The original text contains use of the word “mad.”
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