Mark Reads ‘Witches Abroad’: Part 7

In the seventh part of Witches Abroad, the witches come across the stories of Lilith. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Discworld

All right, I’m really into where this is heading, especially if Pratchett is able to continue subverting and twisting fairy tales in the way he does here. This book has gone far beyond mere metatextual references to the nature of stories; Granny and Nanny are outright talking about it, addressing what Lilith has done while also constantly discussing a number of popular fairy tales and their tropes. It makes my head hurt if I think about it too much. SO LET’S THINK ABOUT IT A LOT.

The Card Game

I just want to acknowledge briefly that I found it quite astounding and hilarious that Granny defeated Mister Frank at cards by simply being better at it. Yes, she also exploited his bias against her, but at the end of the day, she also had to be good at the game. BLESS HER.

The Stories

It’s not hard to believe that elements of our own storytelling would appear in the Discworld, especially since we’ve seen them before. So that’s why Lilith’s affect on the towns outside of Genua shocked me a bit; I hadn’t anticipated that things would get worse as the witches got closer to her. But it makes sense that Lilith would experiment, that she’d extend her reach beyond Genua, and, most important of all, that nothing would matter to her aside from setting up these stories.

That single detail is the aspect of this that made this section so unnerving and eerie. When the witches come upon the castle where everyone has been set in an eternal slumber, Pratchett isn’t including this for the sake of it. He focuses heavily on the details, from the overgrowth to the dust. We’re shown just how disturbing this castle is because it’s been left to the story. Nothing else matters except the happy ending, and that means that the side characters – all the cooks and the guards and even the mice, y’all! – are forced into the framework of a tale. Who cares if they had dreams and ambitious outside of this? To Lilith, they’re just pawns in a story and nothing more:

“That’s fairy godmothering, this is,” [Granny] added, half to herself. “Always do it impressively. Always meddling, always trying to be in control! Hah! Someone got a bit of poison? Send everyone to sleep for a hundred years! Do it the easy way. All this for one prick. As if that was the end of the world.”

And put in that perspective (with a rather clever pun in there for good measure!), it’s easy to see why Granny despises the casual use of magic as much as she does. But I also loved this later moment where Granny utterly destroyed one of the more common elements of fairy tale storytelling:

“I wonder if we did the right thing? I’m sure it was a job for a handsome prince.”

“Hah!” said Granny, who was riding ahead. “And what good would that be? Cutting your way through a bit of bramble is how you can tell he’s going to be a good husband, is it? That’s fairy godmotherly thinking, that is! Goin’ around inflicting happy endings on people whether they wants them or not, eh?”

That’s what this really comes down to, isn’t it? Granny objects to Lilith’s interferences because Lilith doesn’t care whether or not these people want the ending that she’s given them. On top of this, there’s all these clues that she and Lilith look alike, enough that multiple people think Granny Weatherwax is Lilith. So… long lost sister? Her twin? I mean, Nanny did just tell us that the Weatherwax family is well-known for being extremely powerful at magic. LOOK, I’M TRYING TO BE PREPARED, OKAY?

Which is hilarious to me because the entire bit about Little Red Riding Hood and the Big Bad Wolf came out of nowhere and I AM STILL REALLY FUCKING DISTURBED BY IT. I started off laughing at the whole thing, especially once Esme was basically like, “COME ON, GRANNY, THIS IS TOTALLY LILITH’S DOING, WE HAVE TO STOP THIS.” And then Magrat lies and says they’re all fairies, and I was ready for a loving romp of absurdity. That’s not to say that this doesn’t happen, since it’s still a surreal set of scenes, and now I want to call these characters Fairy Tulip, Fairy Daisy, and Fairy Hedgehog FOREVER. (I could easily imagine the ire and rage on Granny’s face once Magrat named her Fairy Daisy. BLESS THIS BOOK.)

And then it kind of stops being funny, gradually at first, and then Pratchett DESTROYS ME. First of all, let’s acknowledge the greatness of this line:

“Anyway, that’s no good to the grandmother, is it? She’s already been et!”

“I always hated that story,” said Nanny. “No one ever cares what happens to poor defenseless old women.”

Right??? So, we’ve got the humorous scenes where Nanny and Granny find the grandmother; then we’ve get Magrat being unable to handle Little Red Riding Hood’s brilliant child logic; and then both Granny and Nanny are more certain than ever that there’s been meddling in these people’s lives. Now, I don’t know if Nanny knows who Lilith is, but she’s well aware of what fairy godmothers can do, particularly with mirrors.

So when the wolf arrives, they both know the ending. As they said, this story has unfolded countless times on the Discworld, and every time, the grandmother gets eaten. So how do you stop something so inevitable?

Granny hesitated for a second, and then hit it very hard on the head with a cast-iron frying pan.

Well, that’ll do it.

And that’s how Granny figures out just how dastardly and horrifying Lilith’s actions are. I get the sense she always knew that this was an awful thing to do, but after entering the mind of the Big Bad Wolf come to eat the grandmother, there’s no question anymore:

“Someone made this wolf think it was a person,” she said. “They made it think it was a person and then they didn’t think anymore about it. It happened a few years ago.”

It’s common for animals to be anthropomorphized within fairy tales, and Pratchett takes this to its natural conclusion. This wolf is stuck in between species, slowly losing its mind, and suffering ENDLESSLY. It’s not funny at all, and it’s NIGHTMARE FUEL. Y’all, the wolf begs for Granny to take its life, to give them an end.

WHAT THE HELL DID THIS BOOK BECOME?

The original text contains use of the word “mad.”

Mark Links Stuff

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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since ’09.

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