In the fourteenth part of Witches Abroad, the witches face off against Lilith. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Discworld.
Trigger Warning: For discussion of sexism, objectification.
I have a few things to nitpick here, but I am, once again, utterly blown away by Pratchett’s writing. As I read more and more of this man’s books, I’m getting a chance to see him get better. I know this is not the first time I’ve said this, and I imagine it won’t be the last. But there’s an entire section within this part of Witches Abroad where Pratchett… I don’t know, he just settles into his narration? It was spellbinding. Addicting. Evocative. I don’t think Pratchett often aims for the kind of diction that’s flowery or poetic, since so much of his work is full of wordplay and humor, but the recent batch of Discworld novels have shown me that he’s more willing to demonstrate his ability to immerse us in his writing.
So let’s get started.
I’ve never been one to enjoy dancing ever, and I blame a large part of that on the fact that it wasn’t part of my own culture while growing up. If I’d simply gotten used to the beautiful absurdity of dance at a younger age, I would not be as self-conscious about it as I am now. I say that as a segue into a discussion about this line:
Dancing is instinctive, after you’ve got past that stage of looking down to see what your feet are doing…
And I cannot agree with this more. I always avoided dances in high school, and I was averse to them after I went to college and started going to gay clubs. My body just felt wrong while dancing, and I know that’s largely because I never got past the stage that Granny referenced above. I couldn’t figure out what to do with my feet. Or my hands. Or my face. Or my hips. Or literally any part of my body. I’d say that it’s only in the last two years that I’ve begun to face my anxieties and give in to this quiet desire I’ve had to dance and do so freely. I’ve experimented at clubs, at conventions, and in the last four months alone, I’ve started to enjoy myself when I can immerse myself in the music, the beats, and the atmosphere. Am I a great dancer? No, but I know music. I know how to keep time, and I understand rhythm without a second thought, and I’ve let that be my guide.
I’m enjoying myself, and it’s nice.
Ugh, I just feel weird typing that, y’all. I am not going to speak much about this because I don’t want to become that dude who lectures people about how they should or should not feel about this kind of shit. But I felt like Pratchett spent a little too much time focusing on Nanny’s breasts. I mean, he spends an entire paragraph talking about them! I don’t think he should just outright ignore them because that is just as weird, but I found the section to be jarring because of how intense it felt. How does it serve the story? Is it necessary? Who is the butt of the joke, and who would most likely find this funny? Or be hurt by it?
I can’t say I have the answers to those questions, and I’d offer up that maybe I shouldn’t be the one to figure that out. But I wanted to bring it up so that we could discuss it. (Respectfully, of course.)
I really adore that when Lily and Granny are finally in the same room together, he does not refer to her as Lilith. No, she’s Lily Weatherwax, the spitting image of Granny, the sister no one knew existed. Her entrance into this story is grand and terrifying, exactly as it should be. It doesn’t matter that I figured out her identity long ago; the moment is powerful and intimidating. That’s definitely the case once Granny realizes that she cannot stop the story. There are too many threads relying on this single moment; there is too much momentum.
And it’s only the start of Lilith’s powers. I actually believed that Granny and Nanny could stop the story by literally stopping time, but in hindsight, that never could have worked, could it? That sense of inevitability is what makes this such a suspenseful confrontation. Even after things appear to be unraveling, we can’t help but wonder what other secret Lilith has up her sleeve.
Mrs. Gogol / Saturday
I think it’s right around this part in Witches Abroad – where Mrs. Gogol’s longstanding plan begins to finally come to fruition – that Pratchett’s writing slips into a mesmerizing style of prose. We see the reappearance of the theme of the power of belief, and yet even that feels new here. I think that his deliberate ambiguity about Mrs. Gogol’s plan made me hang on every word. Which one would reveal the truth to me? But holy shit, CAN WE TALK ABOUT THIS PART?
Mrs. Gogol could feel them among the trees. The homeless. The hungry. The silent people. Those forsaken by men and gods. The people of the mists and the mud, whose only strength was somewhere on the other side of weakness, whose beliefs were as rickety and home-made as their homes. And the people from the city – not the ones who lived in the big white houses and went to balls in fine coaches, but the other ones. They were the ones that stories are never about. Stories are not, on the whole, interested in swineherds who remain swineherds and poor and humble shoemakers whose destiny is to die slightly poorer and much humbler.
These people where the ones who made the magical kingdom work, who cooked its meals and swept its floors and carted its night soil and were its faces in the crowd and whose wishes and dreams, undemanding as they were, were of no consequence. The invisibles.
IS ANYONE SURPRISED THAT I WOULD LOVE THIS? It’s such a powerful part of the book because Lilith’s evil comes in her treatment of people as nothing more than a supporting cast, who never get the kind of treatment that they deserve because they are always destined to fade into the background. And as far as I can tell, Mrs. Gogol has been slowly planning on utilizing the desperation and loneliness of the same people to launch one final attack against Lilith. Is it fucked up? Most definitely so, and I think you could easily criticize her for how she treats the same people she claims are so often forgotten. But Mrs. Gogol and Saturday do not delude themselves into thinking that they’re good, you know? I think they’d both be willing to admit that they’re opportunistic, self-centered, nasty, and interested in power. They don’t believe as Lilith does, and it’s that honesty that separates them from the fairy tale nightmare that Lilith has set up.
My gods, I love everything about the first half of the big confrontation between the Weatherwax sisters. It’s easy to see how Lilith and Esme are related and similar, and it’s that promise that got me so excited for this. They’re both incredibly powerful and fearless, so how do two such forces deal with one another? I was thrilled by the thought that Granny and Nanny had outsmarted Lilith, but it was never going to be that easy, was out? It was clever to smash one shoe, to trick Lilith by having Nanny be the one who could perfectly fit in the glass slipper, and to openly identity the Duc as a frog. (I wonder if Granny’s insistence on repeating that the Duc is a frog is part of her attempt to use headology to get the Duc to realize who he really is, all so that Lilith’s magic doesn’t work on him. I AM SHARING THIS THEORY WITH Y’ALL.) But that’s not enough to stop her, and it’s not enough to halt the story. AND I DON’T KNOW WHAT THEY CAN DO TO NEXT.
Even worse, Lilith appears to genuinely believe that she’s the best option for Genua:
Lily threw up her hands. “What do you want, then? It’s your choice. There’s me… or there’s that woman in the swamp. Light or dark. Fog or sunshine. Dark chaos or happy endings.”
Now, we know that Lilith’s idea of “happy endings” is horrifically warped, but I think she truly believes that she’s making people happy!
Okay, his constant interjections throughout this are hilarious, but this one is my favorite:
“I’m a prince of blood royal!” said the Prince.
“And a frog,” said Granny.
“I don’t mind,” said Casanunda, from somewhere down below. “I enjoy open relationships. If you want to go out with a frog, that’s fine by me…”
HE’S SO DETERMINED TO STAY WITH NANNY, OH MY GOD. And so oblivious at the same time. I feel like we all know a dude like this.
Mrs. Gogol’s House
What the FUCK.
Mrs. Gogol’s hut traveled on four large duck feet, which were now rising out of the swamp. They splashed their way through the shallows and, gently, sculled out into the river.
THE RUNNING HOUSE. OH MY GOD.
I still feel intensely weird about sexualized Human!Greebo, but I think that Pratchett excels at showing us just why this state of being is bad for Greebo. While Greebo may have enjoyed the temporary joy of being human, he eventually discovers that he cannot enjoy the pleasures of being a cat. It’s the same thing we’ve seen by the creatures made human by Lilith, and I think it’s a fitting inclusion here since it makes us reflect on the moral ambiguity of the witches, Mrs. Gogol, and Lilith. It might be easy to stick them on “sides” in this fight, but there’s a lot that they do that makes them equally messed up. And this is something that Nanny and Granny will have to contend with. They brought this kind of misery and dissatisfaction to Greebo’s life.
I also want to close out with this:
Greebo stared at the door handle like someone trying to come to terms with a piece of very advanced technology, and then gave her a pleading look.
She opened the door for him, stood aside as he slunk out, and then shut it, locked it and leaned against it.
That’s the most cat-like behavior I’ve ever fucking seen, y’all.
The original text contains use of the word “madness.”
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