Lords and Ladies
September 12, 2023 10:46 PM - Subscribe

Ahh, Midsummer in in the Ramtops, where the Lancre Coven returns from Genua to learn that Magrat is due to marry the King in two weeks' time, and that in their absence a gaggle of young new witches has been consorting with beings that they may not fully understand. Magrat meets the Royal Beekeeper, learns some local history, and chooses a new hat. Nanny Ogg has a hot date, does a little spelunking, and gives out some candy. Nanny's sons shoe a horse for a stranger, put on a play, and defend the castle against an invasion. And Granny Weatherwax stares at the sun, comes to grips with what might have been, and learns to borrow the Swarm... (Discworld #14, Witches #3). By Terry Pratchett.

Hullo hullo hullo! We're back in the swing of things with the Discworld Book Club! You can find all previous entries here, but since returning earlier this week we've covered Reaper Man and Witches Abroad. The next book in publication order that we haven't covered yet, and thus the next one for us to tackle, will be Soul Music.

Elves are wonderful. They provoke wonder.
Elves are marvellous. They cause marvels.
Elves are fantastic. They create fantasies.
Elves are glamorous. They project glamour.
Elves are enchanting. They weave enchantment.
Elves are terrific. They beget terror.
The thing about words is that meanings can twist just like a snake,
and if you want to find snakes look for them behind words
that have changed their meaning.
No one ever said elves are nice.
Elves are bad.
Kids these days, lemme tell you. No sooner have Granny Weatherwax, Nanny Ogg, and Magrat Garlick returned home to Lancre than Nanny is learning from her many sons that a new coven of wannabe witches led by Diamanda Tockley has been covorting near the "Dancers," a group of iron standing stones that good girls know to keep away from. Of course, the new coven doesn't know why they're supposed to stay away from the Dancers, just as many years ago a young Esme Weatherwax didn't know why, and Esme doesn't trust the younger generation well enough to tell them - not even Magrat, which leads to Magrat abandoning the coven to focus on her upcoming nuptials and coronation as Queen.

Not that King Verence has actually popped the question, mind you. Rather, he just informs Magrat that the wedding is happening in two weeks - an action that goes over about as well as you might expect, except that Magrat is angrier at Granny than at him for the moment. Throngs of people travel to town for the wedding, including Archchancellor Mustrum Ridcully of Unseen University, his coterie of Wizards, and Casanunda, the Great Dwarven Lothario with eyes for Nanny ever since the two met in Genua. Local artisans are even rehearsing a play by Hwel himself for the occasion.

But the Dancers are a ward against something very, very dangerous to the Disc, and that barrier is growing very weak at the moment. In the ensuing havoc, Nanny will dive deep into the caves, Granny will see into the multiverse, and Magrat will find confidence in a warrior queen from Lancre's mythological history. But beware, for when these incoming shadows offend, they make no promises of mending...
posted by Navelgazer (8 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
This one is notable for a number of reasons, first and foremost being probably the Elves themselves, perhaps the only Discworld villains to receive no sympathy from the Author (here at least. They get a little bit of something akin to humanity in the Tiffany Aching books, but it takes a lot to earn that and they definitely don't all get it in equal measure.) Also, the trio is largely separated throughout the book, so there's less of the banter that usually drives the comedy of the Witches books, but in its place are three compelling parallel stories properly in keeping with the Midsummer Night's Dream inspiration for the book.

So many compelling bits of writing in here. I quoted the bit about elves and words that change their meaning above, but also just the whole scene of Jason Ogg shoeing Death's horse is atmospheric and amazing. And I'm a sucker for Magrat Garlick, the painfully good-hearted Britta Perry of the Lancre Coven, and the moment when she decides to take matters into her own hands and go all Boudicca is one of my favorites in all of the series.

Also bees, of course. Just lots and lots of bee imagery and symbolism throughout, if that's your thing.
posted by Navelgazer at 10:56 PM on September 12, 2023 [7 favorites]

“Do you ever wonder what life would have been like if you’d said yes?” said Ridcully.


"I suppose we’d have settled down, had children, grandchildren, that sort of thing…"

Granny shrugged. It was the sort of thing romantic idiots said. But there was something in the air tonight…

"What about the fire?" she said.

"What fire?"

"Swept through our house just after we were married. Killed us both."

"What fire? I don’t know anything about any fire?"

Granny turned around.

"Of course not! It didn’t happen. But the point is, it might have happened. You can’t say ‘if this didn’t happen then that would have happened’ because you don’t know everything that might have happened. You might think something’d be good, but for all you know it could have turned out horrible. You can’t say ‘If only I’d…’ because you could be wishing for anything. The point is, you’ll never know. You’ve gone past. So there’s no use thinking about it. So I don’t."

"I don’t know what the other future would have been like,” said Ridcully, “but I for one would have liked to give it a try."
This bit's always been a comfort to me, when I think about "if I had only..." and "what might have been if..."
posted by Pope Guilty at 11:15 PM on September 12, 2023 [13 favorites]

I haven't read this in years because during a very hard period in my life I read this compulsively over and over until the covers fell off and the binding was loose. The moment when they step up to the circle and come together as three - this is why many years later my youngest was called Magrat.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 12:35 AM on September 13, 2023 [7 favorites]

This is a great one, that line with "terrific" knocked me on my ass at the time. And god, I love Granny. She's so ugh, I don't even know what she is, but like some sort of broken paladin...
posted by Iteki at 9:46 AM on September 14, 2023 [4 favorites]

Granny is like... well for one thing, she's probably Pratchett's greatest character (though some would say Sam Vimes and I wouldn't argue against either camp. Personally I love Moist von Lipwig but recognize that Terry only got one truly great book out of him before the embuggerance started to rear its head.) But the Tiffany Aching books have that thing running through them about how Tiffany is from the Chalk, and great witches can't come from the Chalk because it's too soft, just as they can't come from Ankh-Morpork because it's built on loam. But then Granny recognizes that "the bones of the Chalk are iron" (just as we learn that while Ankh-Morpork was originally built on loam, it is now most built atop Ankh-Morpork - great witches can come from there as well.)

But Granny is, to put it both metaphorically and mildly, a witch with a great respect for iron. Which is why the dynamic between her and Magrat is so wonderful and natural. Magrat has a ton of great qualities: she's curious, well-read, genuinely caring and kind down to her bones, smart, and willing to speak her mind. But her relative inexperience means that she's always seeking validation, and Granny Weatherwax simply does not do validation. She's never needed it herself and doesn't understand the value of granting it to others. So Granny sees Magrat as persistently childish (and Granny, for all of her considerable innate confidence, does have a real fear of being made obsolete by the younger generation, as we see here) and needy. And Magrat is needy! But she'd be a lot less needy if Granny weren't reflexively trying to toughen her up rather than encourage her.

Meanwhile, I love how Pratchett realized that Nanny's role in this needed to be as only-moderately-successful peacekeeper between these two personalities. Nanny is encouraging to Magrat, but is also silly in a way that Magrat doesn't respect as much as she should, so Magrat doesn't take that encouragement to heart as much as she should. It's a truly amazing dynamic the mechanics of which I didn't really get until this reread.
posted by Navelgazer at 10:24 AM on September 14, 2023 [10 favorites]

Don't you half look like your picture?

Granny capturing the unicorn was kind of sad, in a way, but I'm confident she would not share my POV.
posted by maxwelton at 4:12 AM on September 16, 2023 [1 favorite]

I remember this as being the first Discworld book that I felt was a good book, rather than just being a clever book or a book with some entertaining bits.

I also felt that this was the first book where Pratchet really got what being a witch was about. (I had missed Witches Abroad, so I don't know if I'd have had the same reaction to that one.)

Still a favourite, for the moments where people find strength and ability beyond what they thought they had. For the amateur actors doing the Stick And Bucket Dance for dear life. For Nanny and Casanunda and the phallic otherworld quest. For the sleepers under the hill ("some sodde alwayes banges the bell. Go awaye"). For the wizards doing something that isn't just bumbling sexism for once. For the oh-so-accurate 1990s teen witches. And always, eternally, for Esme Weatherwax.
posted by Pallas Athena at 5:37 AM on September 18, 2023 [6 favorites]

And god, I love Granny. She's ... like some sort of broken paladin

I'd say not broken, but rather a paladin with an intensely realistic sense of...well, Headology I guess you could say, which can certainly make one cynical and grumpy despite one's beliefs/higher calling/whatever. As such she's one of my favorite characters (among many fantastic characters), and makes me suspect she is the one most like Pratchett himself.

Also, the opposite-of-ova pun of naming a Dwarf "Casanunda" is brilliant.
posted by Greg_Ace at 9:34 PM on September 19, 2023 [3 favorites]

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