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.
Reading 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.
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.