Vulpes Libris

A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.

Magrat: note spelling

Cover - Wyrd SistersReading a Terry Pratchett novel is an unputdownable experience. I don’t mind if people try to put me down for reading him openly and in public. I really like his books. I also can’t put them down: once I’ve begun, I’ve got to keep reading till the end, and nothing else has much importance until then. He is an expert and thoroughly well practiced storyteller. A funny, witty writer. And good at characters: good LORD, the characters. Where to start? You want witches? Academic wizards? Police werewolves? Priests? Aged mercenaries? Death himself? Goblins? Death’s grand-daughter? A platoon of female soldiers? Since this is Margaret Week, it has to be witches, and Magrat Garlick.

The names are half of the characterisation, and Magrat is a bit of a drowned rag, emotionally speaking. Quite a lot of her personality can be summed up by remembering that Mrs Garlick was too shy to ask the priest to write her baby daughter Margaret’s name down for her, and so she did it herself in her own inimitable spelling. Magrat inherited this blight of social diffidence, which is tricky when you are a witch, and thus not only one of the more educated (relatively speaking) members of your community, but also one on whom authority rests. Magrat is part of a three-witch coven in the very small mountain country of Lancre. She is the maiden of the trio (it’s a technical term: actual maidenhood is not required), while the raucous and lewd Nanny Ogg is the mother, and cunning, biting, snappy Granny Weatherwax is … the other one.

Lords and Ladies by Marc Simonetti

Lords and Ladies by Marc Simonetti

The way Pratchett writes these witches, in their several books (Wyrd Sisters, Witches Abroad, Lords and Ladies, and Carpe Jugulum for this particular trio), they begin as more or less wacky and comic, with little apparently at stake other than the settlement of local issues. But with Lords and Ladies (and with the other Discworld novels from the early 1990s), real darkness arrived. Pratchett began to flex his writing muscles and attacked a lot of social ills and injustices that he didn’t agree with, using his fiction as satire. So when the witches face mythological ills in the form of elves, which are really, really BAD, like evil, nasty, vicious and brutal, they end up fighting not just for the survival of their community, and the prevention of cruelty to the weak and vulnerable, they’re entering metaphorical territory too. And Magrat finally stops being wet and soppy, no longer distracted by her habit of using occult symbols and mystic ritual. Instead, she plays to her strengths, because she’s stuck in the castle alone with the infiltrating elves, and no-one else can do the magic for her.

If she wants to marry her fiancé King Verence II (formerly a professional Fool in a troupe of players and now a determined modernising king), she has to save him and save the kingdom too. So she stops worrying about how to act as a pre-queen, for which there is no model, and finds an excellent alternative role model in a portrait of a fully-armed Queen Ynci, all armour and horned helmets. Since Magrat isn’t stupid, just initially dependent by other people’s ideas about what being a witch is about, she works out very quickly under pressure how to be a darn good elf-killer instead. When the casualties pile up she also has to use her medical witching very quickly and without messing about: another chance for her to find out what she is really good at, and not what she thinks she’s is good at.

In Carpe Jugulum, Magrat has found her role quite easily, by becoming a mother. She’s no longer wet: she’s sharp, decisive, calm, confident, and perfectly patient. She still doesn’t know everything, because Nanny Ogg and Granny Weatherwax continue their utterly maddening practice of refusing to mention really important things to the junior witches (Agnes Nitt and her irritating second personality Perdita are the new junior witch now). But Magrat has learned to put two and two together very efficiently, and once she floors Nanny Ogg with a series of rude jokes and innuendo, the kind that the old Magrat would have blushed and run into the privy to escape, Magrat is well on the way to becoming a senior witch on her own merits. I like this new grown-up Magrat better, because at last she isn’t being bullied.

Terry Pratchett’s novels are available pretty much everywhere. Work out which one to start with here.

Kate posts podcasts about books that she really, really likes at http://www.reallylikethisbook.com.

About Kate

Blogger, lecturer, podcaster, writer, critic, reviewer, researcher (in no particular order) in and on British literary history. Preferred occupation while listening to podcasts: cooking or knitting. Preferred soundtrack while reading: the sound of silence.

9 comments on “Magrat: note spelling

  1. Ela
    March 22, 2013

    Oh, I love Terry Pratchett, and no-one should be ashamed to read his books in any company. You’re right that his books have got more interesting, less one-note comedies, and I do like how his characters develop and change. Magrat is delightful – I am a particular fan of ‘Witches Abroad’ – though I like all the books in which the witches feature.

  2. Jackie
    March 22, 2013

    While I don’t read sci-fi, you’ve manage to make me question whether I should try with this review. I really like how you’ve followed this character through multiple books and showed us her evolution. She does sound intriguing.
    Nicely done review with humor and details.

  3. Leena
    March 23, 2013

    Magrat does sound delightful – would it be possible to start with Wyrd Sisters without reading other Pratchett novels first? Or would it be too confusing?

    Pratchett is one of those writers I’ve always wanted to read, but never knew where to start. That is, I could of course start at the very beginning, but individual later books sound more interesting to me!

  4. Kate
    March 24, 2013

    Yes, Wyrd Sisters is the first one in that ‘Magrat of Lancre’ series, so do start there. You certainly don’t have to read any of the other Discword books first. They can all be read in any order, more or less. More recent editions have a very helpful list of all the Discworld novels in order, so you can work out where to start, and which ones you may have missed that will fill in the gaps in others that you’ve read. I’ve just finished rereading the last two of the Tiffany Aching series (teen witch who takes things really seriously, obviously a contender for Granny Weatherwax’s ‘best witch on Discworld’ title in due course), but haven’t actually read the first two, as they’re aimed at a slightly younger readershp, so i skipped them. But have now ordered them now so I can fill in the background details to the heavier, more serious latter two….

  5. Hilary
    March 24, 2013

    Now my source of shame is never having started to read Terry Pratchett. I’ve been too daunted by the sheer volume of Discworld novels and I haven’t known where to start either, so this review is invaluable. It gives me a character to focus on, one who seems to have the sort of trajectory I’d find really good to read, and an easy way into Discworld. So, thank you! Magrat sounds like me in so many ways in her diffident guise. It must be good for me to read her journey to confidence and senior-witch-dom.

  6. CFisher
    March 24, 2013

    As you say, where to start? It’s been a while since I’ve read any Pratchett but “Guards! Guards!” and “Small Gods” still stand out as favourites. Having said that Nanny Ogg is one of the great literary inventions. Somewhere, possibly in a parallel universe, she and Granny Weatherwax are making sure that the men don’t balls everything up.

  7. cherylmahoney
    March 29, 2013

    I LOVE Pratchett. I fully believe in self-medicating a dreary day with Pratchett. The Witches are enormous fun, and I love watching Magrat’s character grow and find her place. I haven’t read Carpe Jugulum yet…must get on that soon!

  8. Pingback: Maurice and Man-Flu: 2013 365 Challenge #104 | writermummy

  9. Pingback: Lessons from The Wee Free Men: 2013 365 Challenge #119 | writermummy

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  • (The header image is from Aesop's Fables, illustrated by Francis Barlow (1666), and appears courtesy of the Digital and Multimedia Center at the Michigan State University Libraries.)
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