In the seventeenth and penultimate part of Wyrd Sisters, the witches decide to change the play. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Discworld.
I could not have been prepared for how chaotic this was, y’all. There is so much going on here, and I admit that the complex nature of humor and characterization unfolding on these pages made me wish I could see a live version of this, because it’s such a visual experience. We’ve got an audience who still thinks a play is going on; we’ve got actors who are struggling to remember their lines because they play is re-writing itself while they’re performing it; then we’ve got actors retelling the ACTUAL truth; then we’ve got Death, the witches, the duchess, and Duke Felmet all playing themselves in the play, though they’re all they’re for a secondary purpose that has nothing to do with the play; AND THEN IT JUST KEEPS GETTING WORSE AND WORSE.
Let me start by saying that I’m absolutely tickled that the witches are onstage and fully commenting on how terrible their representation is within the play, and then Granny gives an actor permission to keep acting. The audience had to believe that this was some form of experimental theater, right? My god, no wonder they burst into applause when the duke left the stage. I MEAN, I WAS SUPER ENTERTAINED, TOO. So it’s a challenge to talk about this section because there are so many layers to it. Keeping in mind that the audience has no reason to believe that they’re not watching some new type of theater, I also have to take into account how this is the big climactic battle between the duke/duchess and the witches. And what’s it over?
The power of words.
Granny finally casts a spell to make her promise come true, and it lifts the “ghosts of the mind” away from the play, which finally gets to write itself:
Up from out of the depths of their blank minds new words rushed, words red with blood and revenge, words that had echoed among the castle’s stones, words stored in silicon, words that would have themselves heard, words that gripped their mouths so tightly that an attempt not to say them would result in a broken jaw.
The power of words flows through the actors, who then TELL THE TRUTH. They recount what actually happened when this whole disaster was set into motion, and as they do so, Felmet loses his grip on his sense of self and on reality. (Well, he’ll later lose his literal grip on something else. WHOMP WHOMP, I HAD TO.) That had already been a fragile thing, as his guilt had been eating away at him this entire time, but when he sees his crimes so plainly displayed on stage, he cannot cope with the truth anymore. So we get this unreal assortment of characters on stage – the actual Death, the Duke, the witches, the actual king of Lancre, and a ton of actors who have no idea what’s unfolding before them – who are all stuck in a bizarre game of logic and circumstance. Because it seems obvious enough that if you just change the words, the people will follow. But they’ve got someone else they need to get past: the duchess.
She does have a slight point when she points out that the victim of a murder can’t really testify to who killed him. I mean, technically, there really is no precedent for it! But there’s been no precedent for anything that’s happening here, and that includes what I think is the biggest shock here: THE FOOL REVEALS THAT HE WAS THE PERSON DUKE FELMET SENSED WAS IN THE ROOM. Y’all, this adds so much context to his behavior because… holy shit. He was questioning his job as the Fool because he watched his last king be murdered. That means he was torn between loyalties, wasn’t he? He couldn’t be loyal to both kings at the same time. Oh my god, WHAT AN EXISTENTIAL CRISIS.
I definitely fell for the misdirect involving the knife. WHOOPS. But I’m glad that the Fool isn’t dead, I WAS GOING TO BE SO DISTRAUGHT. I will talk about the other death here in a bit, but let me first address Granny doing her worst. I’m torn on my thoughts about the duchess because even this section calls attention to her size and weight in ways which are really unnecessary. At the same time, I’m really into the idea that Pratchett has written a villain who is evil and knows she is evil. There’s a self-awareness to the duchess that’s particularly rare, and it’s why Granny’s bit of headology fails so quickly. When Granny tears down the walls of compartmentalization in Lady Felmet’s mind, it only briefly distracts her:
“I’m supposed to grovel on the floor, is that it? Well, old woman, I’ve seen exactly what I am, do you understand, and I’m proud of it! I’d do it all again, only hotter and longer! I enjoyed it, and I did it because I wanted to!”
Lord, that’s so frightening. So when headology doesn’t work on someone like the duchess, what can the witches do to stop her???
At this point Nanny Ogg hit her on the back of the head with the cauldron.
Well, that works.
There’s only a brief moment where Tomjon gets to address the massive responsibility that’s been given to him, so I imagine that we’ll get his decision in the final section of this book. Duke Felmet himself, convinced that he died, is off trying to be a ghost, which is delightfully absurd. Well, and maybe a little sad, but I admit I don’t really feel that much sympathy for him, since he brought this on himself by murdering the previous king and scheming to cover it up through a slanderous play. But his end here explains Death’s presence. Actually, that’s not entirely true, since I must acknowledge that Death also took the opportunity to portray himself in Hwel’s play. He was so excited!!! But the Duke accidentally falls to his death in the Lancre gorge, and perhaps that means he’ll actually get to be a ghost. However, I think that because Pratchett describes his voice as growing “fainter,” that means he’s actually moving on. Just a personal theory!
Oh gods, THERE’S STILL ANOTHER PART OF THIS TO READ.
The original text contains use of the word “mad” and “idiot.”
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