Equal Rites
February 22, 2017 7:47 AM - by Terry Pratchett - Subscribe

Book 3 in our Publication Order read through of the Discworld novels by Terry Pratchett.

“They say that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing, but it is not one half so bad as a lot of ignorance. There are some situations where the correct response is to display the sort of ignorance which happily and wilfully flies in the face of the facts. In this case, the birth of a baby girl, born a wizard – by mistake. Everybody knows that there’s no such thing as a female wizard. But now it’s gone and happened, there’s nothing much anyone can do about it. Let the battle of the sexes begin…”

This is our first book without Rincewind as the main protagonist, and the first in the Witches character series!

First book - The Color of Magic
Previous book - The Light Fantastic
Next book - Mort
posted by lazaruslong (19 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
My God do I love Granny Weatherwax. I want to say that this book's introduction of a divide in magic, with one type the domain of men and the other the domain of women, is probably not great, not even given that Pratchett seems to have introduced it purely in order to tear the whole concept down in this very book. It just seems a bit...convenient. A way for the story to have its cake and eat it, too.

That said: I've done some exploration of occultism, as well as the history of magical practices in times and places where people took magic to be a real thing, and the witches' magic in this books much more closely resembles "real" magic than the wizards' version does. Not least in that, as Granny says, most magic has a hefty dose of psychology/headology as the primary ingredient.
posted by Ipsifendus at 10:54 AM on February 22, 2017 [2 favorites]

It isn't 100% fully formed at this stage, but I would say this is the point in the story of Discworld where Pratchett successfully makes the leap across the chasm dividing "books that are about the traditional tropes of fantasy literature" and "books that are about the world that we live in, explored using the traditional tropes of fantasy literature."
posted by Nerd of the North at 12:30 PM on February 22, 2017 [13 favorites]

I cannot help the feeling every time I read these books that had they been available when I was but a wee Sophie1, I would have been a much happier, if potentially even more mischievous child (and adult).
posted by Sophie1 at 12:52 PM on February 22, 2017 [2 favorites]

Once upon a time I went to a presentation on the Discworld books, done by a Big Name Pagan (who looks like Gandalf/Santa/Ridcully/what have you on white bearded wizards) and a friend of his dressed like Nanny Ogg. I asked at some point how Terry Pratchett wrote the witches, and he said he'd asked Terry Pratchett himself and it boiled down to "these are the kinds of women he grew up with."
posted by jenfullmoon at 2:37 PM on February 22, 2017 [2 favorites]

Pratchett did an author Q&A on The WELL, back in 2001 after the publication of The Thief of Time.

Someone asked about the possible return of Esk:
inkwell.vue.117 : Terry Pratchett: Thief of Time
permalink #38 of 282: Terry Pratchett (tpratchett) Sat 14 Jul 01 01:43

>It seems to me that you abandoned the teenage girl wizard shown in
>Equal Rites. Did you know when you wrote it that you would have to
>abandon her in order to keep the Unseen University on track?

Well, who knows what happened next? Especially with history being
fractured and everything (Get Out Of Jail Free Clause.) But I have
plans for Esk.

I responded to his response by adding to the chorus of enthusiasm for Esk, hoping for her return (and somewhat presumptuously telling him that I felt his writing had improved quite a bit over the years -- though it was true).

Not too long after that, I stopped reading the Discworld books and so I never saw the promised return of Esk. I see from some online sources that he never gave her her own book again, but she did finally turn up again in 2010's I Shall Wear Midnight.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 3:59 PM on February 22, 2017 [3 favorites]

As I mentioned in the last thread, Granny Weatherwax isn't quite the version she'd end up becoming the next time we see her (Wyrd Sisters). She's a little too vain, a little unsure of herself, and has a slightly healthier view of sex. She suits this book, and she's an interesting character, but not exactly the dominant force she shortly becomes.

We're still in the undeveloped Discworld, but now it's no longer a way to joke about fantasy tropes exclusively, as Nerd of the North pointed out. He's still clinging to the magic basis, but at least he's expanding the world. I really admire that approach - he's sticking to the same world but making it bigger at the same time. We haven't even had a Star Wars movie without a Skywalker yet.
posted by GhostintheMachine at 4:18 PM on February 22, 2017 [2 favorites]

I found it really interesting to follow up my last reread of Equal Rites with a reading of Monstrous Regiment - a similar theme tackled at a very different point in his career.
posted by Proofs and Refutations at 9:59 PM on February 22, 2017 [4 favorites]

Thanks to noticing lazaruslong's mention of this in a thread on the Blue, I'm very pleased to say my long non-reading spell has finally been broken. I haven't been able to read for pleasure since November (this, after normally reading every day), and this book is exaaaaaactly the thing I needed. I never got into the Disc World novels in the past, other than reading The Color of Magic, because I'm not typically drawn to humorous fiction (not an elitist position! I normally read a buttload of genre fiction in addition to other stuff, mostly SciFi/Fantasy – but largely character-driven), but this was just right for my headspace. Warm, fun, funny, humane, wry, comforting, absurd – but in aid of RL Home Truths, and fast moving enough to keep me racing along.

I'll be honest: when I began, my eyes were skittering over paragraphs and losing the thread, not because of any problem with the text (which I'm very much enjoying, but which is not complex), but because I literally have never had a period of not reading books for so long in my entire life, and apparently my (non-internet) reading muscles had weakened. That was scary and bizarre. I plan to stick with this readthrough of the novels, since it's been on my list of Stuff I Need To Get To Eventually, anyway, and it's a kind of balm, and it will be great to do it here, with you all.

Anyway, I'm about 60% through the book. I'm more interested in Granny Weatherwax than Eskarina, just because the "Shockingly Skillful Wayward Girl Who Doesn't Know Her Own Power Can Do What The Mens Do, Only Better" trope is pretty well-worn, and I savor any depictions of a) older women who own their space, b) not because they are mysteriously still beguiling, c) and aren't perfect wise saint godesses, or d) calculating, secretly machinating Machiavillianesses. I'm intrigued by some of the paradoxes of Granny's personality and am not yet sure how much is intentional and how much might just be inconsistency, so I'll be super interested to see how her character develops in future books.
posted by taz at 10:48 AM on February 23, 2017 [9 favorites]

Oh neat! My wife and I have been listening to various Discworld novels over the last couple of years (I've read them all, her reading has been rather sporadic) and we did the whole witches arc first. My observation, which holds true through the whole arc, is that the temperaments and techniques of the witches match perfectly with the professional moderators of my acquaintance (who are almost, but not entirely, women.)
posted by restless_nomad at 4:17 PM on February 23, 2017 [2 favorites]

I love reading the older Discworld books after having re-read the series a number of times. The evolution of all the characters is fascinating. They feel sketched out early on, then TP just kept adding nuance to them and morphing them into slightly more complex versions in the later books. It's still nice to see how the core of Granny is obviously there already.

I admit to reading an advanced reader's copy of "I shall wear Midnight" and whooping loud enough to scare someone when Esk showed back up. I don't particularly like the idea of Simon and Esk having a son together (as has been opined by some), as I like the idea of her just roaming around time not doing magic to great effect.
posted by gemmy at 6:41 PM on February 23, 2017 [2 favorites]

'splain me something: I was chuckling about "against the lore," thinking it was a bit of a punny joke about how "against the law" might be pronounced by some British people who tend to add a soft "r" sound at the end of words that end in an ah (and aw?) sound – but perfect because wizards, magic, lore. But then I looked up "against the lore" on Google, and I see it seemingly used normally for "against tradition." Is it just a fairly standard phrase that I'm not familiar with instead of a clever semi-joke?
posted by taz at 4:58 AM on February 24, 2017 [1 favorite]

Welcome, taz and restless_nomad!
posted by lazaruslong at 12:53 PM on February 24, 2017

This was one of the books that got me hooked on Terry Pratchett at age 13. My mom was on a work trip to London (from India) and I had asked her to get me some books that were not available in India, which I carefully researched beforehand. My mom, never one to do things by half, filled an entire suitcase with books (thanks, Mom!) and I was given 32 books. Still might rank as the best present I've ever received. Besides the books I wanted though, she went to a London bookshop and asked the attendant for books that I would like. She must have described me pretty well / the attendant was great at her job. She recommended Equal Rites, Men at Arms and Guards, Guards as the three books to start with to get me hooked on Terry Pratchett, specifically telling my mom not to bother going chronologically as the earlier books were weaker. She also recommended the first Harry Potter book, which was not a big deal at all at the time. Thanks random salesperson!
posted by peacheater at 9:19 AM on February 25, 2017 [9 favorites]

On re-reading, I was finding that some parts of this book made me a bit sad for Esk because of the awful way she is treated by many of the adults in this book. Some of the wizards treat her with mocking hostility, and Granny Weatherwax often doesn't give her enough information to avoid hurtful and dangerous situations. I'm sure this is a product of this book being so early in the series; he hadn't yet developed the deep sympathy for his characters that you see in the later books. The plot is more focused on creating drama, rather than the deeper worldbuilding and character development that starts happening in the next few books.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 10:52 PM on February 25, 2017 [1 favorite]

This was a fun little book . Agreed that it's kind of trope-y. I think as he went along, Pratchett got better at winkingly utilizing tropes. This is a little stiffer, but I think still successful.
posted by latkes at 2:56 PM on March 1, 2017 [1 favorite]

I really liked this book - the first in the Publication Order read through that I found myself digging all the way through. While I do miss Rincewind, Twoflower, and most of all the Luggage, I found Granny to be very endearing and Esk perfectly palatable for her bit. But Granny really stole the show.
posted by lazaruslong at 6:45 PM on March 7, 2017

Finally finished this after starting it back when this thread started. I loved about 3/4 of this book but feel like that last act was kind of weak and rushed.
posted by octothorpe at 5:51 PM on July 22, 2017

I loved the training montage for Esk learning witchcraft and also cleaning Granny's cottage.
posted by The corpse in the library at 9:30 AM on March 26, 2022 [1 favorite]

On re-read of this one, it's another great leap forward for the series as a whole, Granny is mostly (though not completely) there, and I enjoy the use of different kinds of magic to critique arbitrary gender roles (though I think the series as a whole shows that the Witch Magic is a much more interesting vein than the Wizard Magic is.)

The most interesting thing to me here is how much this is written like a set-up/origin episode for Esk, who is never seen or heard from again until I Shall Wear Midnight, and Pratchett instead runs off with the Mentor character, which ends up likely being the best decision he made in his writing. (And I like Esk, but Granny is a far more inspired character.)
posted by Navelgazer at 10:33 PM on August 31, 2023 [1 favorite]

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