Witches Abroad
September 11, 2023 8:55 AM - Subscribe

Desiderata Hollow, an old Witch of the Ramtops, has died, and left her most notable possession to Magrat Garlick, along with instructions to travel across the Disc to the city of Genua to prevent a young woman from marrying the Prince, and to not take Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg along with her. Thus begins a road-trip comedy to a land of Fables, Voodoo, Pumpkins, Mirrors, and Fairy Godmothers, desperately in need of some Wicked Witches to save the day...

Again I say welcome back from Summer break to the Discworld Book Club! If you're new here, we've been through a lot of these books already, not always in the most sensible order, but you can find all of the previous discussions here. As I'm finally listening to these in publication order for the first time, it makes sense to me to just fill in the blanks I've left behind me so far, so here we are, with the next book as-yet uncovered! We last covered Reaper Man, and the next book we cover should be Lords and Ladies.


Ahh, Genua, the partyingest city on the Disc! They say that if you can't have a good time in Genua, you're probably dead. And that even if you are dead, you can probably find some quiet version of a good time anyway. "They" add that last bit because of the zombies, you see, animated by the magics of:

Mrs. Erzuli Gogol, Genua's "Swamp Woman" and leading practitioner of Voodoo, as well as one of its greatest cooks (and being the greatest chef in Genua means you're likely the greatest chef on the entire Disc.) Mrs. Gogol has been working and planning for the last dozen years to bring about the downfall of:

Lilith de Tempscire, Genua's resident Fairy Godmother, dedicated to making dreams come true through the powerful use of mirror magic and the narrative inevitability of classic stories. She can have any number of them running at once, you see, and since she's the good Fairy Godmother, she uses them to bring about happy endings for everyone she can, while holding off the interference by her nemesis:

Desiderata Hollow, a Fairy Godmother of the Ramtops, who at the start of this book has reached the end of her days. She won't give Lilith the satisfaction of victory quite yet, however, as she's passed her prized and valuable and very dangerous magic wand onto:

Magrat Garlick, a young Ramtops Witch from a nearby stretch. Well-read and strenuously moral, Magrat's distinctly new-age style of magic gets little to no respect from the other witches in the Lancre Coven, and for now she can't seem to get this new wand to do anything other than turn things into pumpkins, but Desiderata left her with instructions to get to Genua and stop a royal wedding, and to not bring along:

Gytha "Nanny" Ogg, a devoted cat-owner and incorrigible old lush seemingly made for Genua's good-time atmosphere, always ready for a round of drinks and a rendition of "The Hedgehog Can Never Be Buggered at All," and consistent thorn in the side of her best friend:

Esme "Granny" Weatherwax, most prominent of the leaders that the Ramtops witches don't have, master of Headology, hyper-pragmatist, and general force of nature, also named by Desiderata as forbidden to go on this particular adventure.

So, of course, Magrat, Nanny and Granny pack their broomsticks and head out on a long journey through numerous fairytales to the other side of the Disc to deal with whatever the hell is happening there. Along the way they will encounter sleeping beauties, falling farmhouses, gamblers, bats, banananana drinks, and alligators. But it's okay - Esme knows a joke about Alligators...
posted by Navelgazer (7 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Y'all, I love this one so much. Reading through in publication order, it's clear that as good as the previous books often are, none have this level of intense virtuosity. Apparently this one was inspired by Terry taking a trip to the U.S. which was basically "Disneyworld, then driving to New Orleans," and he was struck by the manufactured, compulsory "fun" of the Magic Kingdom as opposed to the organic fun that just seemed to arise from NOLA, which is why Genua is New Orleans if some Fairy Godmother imposed the Magic Kingdom on top of it.

There's always diceyness whenever Pratchett takes on a culture not his own, and this is one of (maybe his only?) attempt to delve into Black Culture. He's done his homework on Voodoo, and his love for New Orleans certainly comes through, but this is still probably the only iffy aspect of the book, as he tries to balance having respect for Mrs. Gogol while still needing Granny to teach her a lesson about using magic responsibly. The version I just listened to this time was narrated by Indira Varma, who does a gorgeous job, but if they're going to bring in Bill Nighy and Peter Serafinowicz to voice the footnotes and Death, respectively, I feel like they could have brought in an actual black voice actress for Mrs. Gogol, Mrs. Pleasant, Baron Saturday, and arguably Ella, rather than having Varma do an impression of A.A.V.E. (which Varma to my ears does a nice job of, but shouldn't really be doing at all.)

In any case, this one is hilarious, and gripping, and just generally stunning throughout. The Witches books are, to some degree, structured like heist movies, with the team using their different strengths to break into strongholds and take out whatever power structure offends them, and this one is a pinnacle of that. I'm sure I could write a whole book about how good this one is, but my thoughts aren't nearly coherent enough yet.
posted by Navelgazer at 9:11 AM on September 11, 2023 [13 favorites]

About this one, I just want to say: Greebo!
posted by redfoxtail at 10:02 AM on September 11, 2023 [6 favorites]

….can I just say, it took me FOREVER to figure out Granny Weatherwax’s “joke.”

Indira does a particularly fantastic job with voicing Nanny Ogg’s voice, and the postcards may well be my favorite parts of the book.

Agreed on the somewhat dicey approach to AAVE. I assume it skates closer to questionable choice for people in the States. (I’ve been thinking a lot lately that audiobooks, in general, have a lot of work to do in the field of representation, probably worth a topic on its own).

I doubt I will never not think of “speaking Foreign” when I’m bumbling at practicing new languages. This is a delight of a book.
posted by Silvery Fish at 10:16 AM on September 11, 2023 [2 favorites]

I'll say that I adored Pratchett's description of "Genuan" cuisine (obviously the Disc's version of creole/cajun cuisine) as the product of a culture of enslaved people taking the meager ingredients their masters didn't want and finding a way to reach transcendence with them, and how he later draws a subtle parallel to syncretic Voodoo being a belief system made up of available ingredients (a cool analogy that also happens to be historically accurate, and which he presents in a respectful manner, which I thought was super cool.) BUT...

He tries to have it both ways, saying that skin-color-based racism didn't exist on the Disc, since the humanoid-species-based racism superceded it. He understands the history behind black culture in New Orleans, and wants to make use of that history (it's not for nothing that the "Magic Kingdom" part of Genua that Lily imposes is called the "White City") but also wants to avoid going too deeply into it (which, fair, this book would be a lot less fun if racism were more of an omnipresent element) but it's jarring to have the book claim both sides are true. You can say that the introduction of the "White City" ruling over the "Invisibles" has created that dichotomy, but that's just in Lily's time that that has happened, not nearly enough time for the culinary and religious culture to have developed, plus when Ella's appearance (dark skin, platinum blonde hair, etc.) is described, it's made clear that such "mixed race" signifiers are very common in Genua, due to a long history of cosmopolitanism.

So maybe there's a way to make sense of that, maybe I just missed something, or maybe I'm overthinking it. Maybe you can just say that a history of rulers like Baron Saturday accounts for an oppressive enough culture to make this all work absent any race-based aspects of Genuan culture. This book is still one of my favorites, but I just wish that if he were willing to wade into the history of American slavery in order to expound upon why New Orleans food is so great, that the worldbuilding would have some consistency about that.
posted by Navelgazer at 10:19 AM on September 11, 2023 [3 favorites]

Oh, very well done, madame.

(I adore the Cripple Mr. Onion card game scene on the riverboat. Presuming my aged memory is not playing tricks on me as to which book that is in.)
posted by maxwelton at 4:05 AM on September 16, 2023 [1 favorite]

it took me FOREVER to figure out Granny Weatherwax’s “joke.”

That whole bit reminded me of a joke I first heard of on, of all places, the I Love Lucy show from the 50's (and makes me wonder whether that's where Pratchett got the idea for Granny's joke-telling efforts).

The premise was that Lucy is a terrible joke-teller, as illustrated by her story of a restaurant patron ordering pork chops and instructing the waiter to "make sure they're not fatty"; the punchline delivered by the waiter is "Yes sir, which way?"

And of course nobody laughs, because when told properly (by someone else later on in the show) the patron's actual request is to "make them lean".
posted by Greg_Ace at 9:15 PM on September 19, 2023 [1 favorite]

Re-read this one recently, for the first time since I was a kid. There's a large chunk of the book taken up with the witches traveling from flimsy parody to flimsy parody (the flimsy parody of Gollum was almost Epic Movie-level reference humour) which gradually improves when they keep stopping in increasingly alarming fairy tales. I really wish we'd got more time in Genua, and this could have been more of the book.

I'm not sure I like Pratchett's conception of Magrat; it feels like there's a contempt for her, without much understanding of what might drive the kind of personality he's parodying. I've met a couple of Magrats in my time, and I don't know if they really deserve Granny Weatherwax.
posted by Merus at 5:02 AM on October 24, 2023

« Older Killing It: The Second Season...   |  Movie: The Swarm... Newer »

You are not logged in, either login or create an account to post comments