REVIEW: Witches Abroad – Terry Pratchett

1992 Corgi paperback cover (image from Amazon)

1992 Corgi paperback cover (image from Amazon)

This is one of the earlier Discworld novels, and features Pratchett’s trio of witches – Granny Weatherwax, Nanny Ogg, and Magrat Garlick – who previously appeared in Equal Rites and Wyrd Sisters. In the small kingdom of Lancre, in the Ramtop Mountains, Desiderata Hollow, witch and fairy godmother, awaits Death with the confidence of one who knows exactly when she’s going to die. She sends her magic wand – though it’s not named as such – to Magrat, with the instructions that she is to go to Genua, make sure that Ella Saturday does not marry the prince, and on no account to take Granny Weatherwax or Nanny Ogg with her.

Needless to say, the three witches set out for Genua, and encounter or subvert several stories – there’s a lovely bit where the three witches, plus Nanny Ogg’s cat Greebo, manage to destroy a vampire in the Count Dracula mould, though it’s never stated as such. Once they arrive in Genua – which is like a Discworld New Orleans – they find that making sure that Ella does not go to the ball is not as easy as it sounds, and they have a formidable opponent, as well as allies.

This is one of my favourites of Pratchett’s books. Here he’s deconstructing stories, and it’s fantastic to see how he has the witches subverting them, while their antagonist, Lady Lilith de Tempscire, tries to use the stories for more power. There are nods to Dracula (as previously mentioned), The Wizard of Oz, the story of Little Red Riding Hood, and Cinderella, most noticeably, and probably to Hemingway’s descriptions of the bull-running of Pamplona in The Sun Also Rises. Magrat’s struggles with the wand – it has a tendency to reset to pumpkins – lead to some amusing predicaments, as well as being of some use. What he’s also interested in is free choice – Genua under Lilith’s governance is a fairytale city, where “people smiled and were joyful all the livelong day. Especially if they wanted to see another livelong day…” but people are not stories, and people are messy creatures.

There’s also a theme of identity – Magrat wants to “find herself”, for example, though the other two witches, so serenely self-confident and content in their own skins, can’t see why she’d want to do this – she is who she is, surely? Quite apart from the transformations which occur in the novel – wolves thinking they were men, the Duc who’s nominally in charge of Genua, horses to rats, Greebo into a human (which is a fantastic passage) – there’s the knowledge that Granny Weatherwax has to face on encountering Lilith, that she herself has forged some of her identity from having to be someone other than a bad witch.

This is a very entertaining mash-up of fairy-tale deconstruction and travel novel, and is very funny.

Published by: Corgi (1992)

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