Thursday, January 12, 2012

Witches Abroad

Every time I sit down to review a novel by Terry Pratchett, I find myself a bit stymied, wondering how I can possibly do justice to the book. It's difficult because the books are so clever and funny; they are sometimes are parodies of various literary works; they're full of jokes, ridiculous puns and slapstick humor.  But they are so much more than that.  The characters are complex and delightful, not two-dimensional caricatures; the plots are surprising and intricate, and the themes are anything but superficial. The novels are smart and dense and light and funny, and often moving, too - and how on earth he pulls it off so well, I have no idea. To me, each book is a gift, and I always feel so fortunate and grateful every time I open one.

This twelfth installment in the Discworld series opens with the death of Desiderata, fairy godmother. She has not taken the time to train a replacement, but she has chosen her successor, a young and relatively inexperienced witch named Magrat Garlick. Just before her death, Desiderata sends her magic wand to the very surprised Magrat, along with instructions for her first fairy-godmothering mission. There is a dark situation brewing in a foreign land, and before she quite realizes what is happening, Magrat finds herself traveling to distant Genua in the company of Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg.  It quickly becomes clear to Magrat that the older witches don't have much confidence in her abilities, particularly when the only thing she can get the magic wand to do is turn things into pumpkins.

The narrative follows the adventures that take place during the witches' unforgettable, action-packed road trip, and culminates in Genua, where Desiderata's nemesis has been hard at work shaping the city to her own ends.  It is a funny and delightful novel, but as always there are more serious things being examined here, too.  There is the idea of the power of narrative and how it shapes our lives - in good ways and in bad, depending on how much power we give the stories in our lives.  It takes a look at the influence of archetypal symbols from folktales and fairy tales, and the way our expectations allow us to simply accept certain things without thinking because it's easier than paying attention and accepting the responsibility to act.  It examines free will, and the results of imposing our will upon others, or of taking away someone's will, even for the best of motives. These more serious aspects of the book are, as always, handled humorously and with more subtlety than you might expect, and the added depth of this thoughtful side of the book makes the funny, punny side that much more enjoyable.

I loved spending time with the witches, and the audio version of this had me laughing out loud, as always.  I encouraged my 11-year-old and 13-year-old daughters to listen to this one, too, because they are enormous fans of the Tiffany Aching Discworld books (the few books in the series that are written with younger readers in mind but are enormously appealing to adults as well).  While I'm sure some of the humor flew straight over their heads, they loved getting more Granny Weatherwax and certainly could identify with Magrat's situation.  They enjoyed this one just as much as I did, and I certainly wasn't surprised.

Books in the Discworld series:
1. The Color of Magic
2. The Light Fantastic
3. Equal Rites
4. Mort 
5. Sourcery
6. Wyrd Sisters
7. Pyramids 
8. Guards, Guards
9. Eric
10. Moving Pictures
11. Reaper Man
12. Witches Abroad
13. Small Gods
14. Lords and Ladies
15. Men at Arms
16. Soul Music
17. Interesting Times
18. Maskerade
19. Feet of Clay
20. Hogfather
21. Jingo
22. The Last Continent
23. Carpe Jugulum
24. The Fifth Elephant
25. The Truth
26. The Thief of Time
27. The Last Hero
28. The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents
29. Nightwatch
30. The Wee Free Men
31. Monstrous Regiment
32. A Hat Full of Sky
33. Going Postal
34. Thud
37. Unseen Academicals
39. Snuff

Witches Abroad (#12 in the Discworld series) by Terry Pratchett; narrated by Nigel Planer (Isis Publishing, 1996)

Also reviewed at:
A Book a Week "I love the witches. My inclination is always to say that my favourite Discworld character is the one with whom I've most recently spent time, but the truth of the matter is that Granny Weatherwax tops them all."
Somewhere I Have Never Traveled: "I started off not in the right mood and so was unsure if the book was going to work for me, but by the time I finished the book, it was exactly what I needed. Silly and smart and playful and pun-y and joke after joke after joke."
The Wertzone: "Pratchett's grasp of character, humour and pacing is as expertly-handled as ever. The characters of the three witches continue to expand and be explored in greater depth..."


  1. I really must read more Pratchett this year!

  2. What a fabulous review, Darla! I particularly like what you say about expectations and the responsibility to act. That's a theme I've noticed in a bunch of his books, but I've never articulated it to myself the way you have it here.

  3. Kailana - I think that's a New Year's resolution that you couldn't possibly regret! :-)

    Kiirstin - Thanks, Kiirstin. I always feel so unable to do his books justice, so I'm really glad you get what I was trying to say. I have the next one lined up on my iPod but there are a few I need to listen to from the library first.


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