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Wyrd Sisters (1988)

Updated on October 20, 2009

"On nights such as these the gods, as has already been pointed out, play games other than chess with the fates of mortals and the thrones of kings. It is important to remember that they always cheat, right up to the end..."

What happens when you mix Shakespeare and Pratchett? A whole lot of fun, that's what. In Wyrd Sister, Mr. Pratchett takes on one of the most venerated storytellers in history, taking Macbeth out of Scotland and dropping it right where it belongs, the kingdom of Lancre on the Discworld.

When the king of Lancre, Verence I, is murdered by his cousin, Duke Fermat, well, that's just succession by a different means. But a loyal servant escapes with the kings infant son, and the last thing the Duke wants is a rightful heir wandering the world, waiting for his chance to return, and the chase is on, right into the arms of the coven of Lancre.

We met Granny Weatherwax in the story Equal Rites, so we know that she's a hard woman who won't tolerate foolishness, let alone disrespect. When the leader of the Duke's men starts showing the least bit of disrespect, Granny takes it upon herself to show him the error of his ways. The survivors are quick learners, who are forced to report failure to the Duke. This leaves Granny and her partners, Nanny Ogg and Magrat Garlick in a bit of a bind, holding the heir to a throne. What to do, what to do? Send him off with a passing troupe of actors, that's what, and let him grow a bit before coming back to reclaim his throne. The only problem is that the land of Lancre is tied closely to the king, so when the Duke proves to be a poor steward of the kingdom, the land itself gets angry and it's  on Granny, Nanny and Magrat to set things right.

Wait, did I say that was the only problem? Silly me. There is one last problem to overcome. The heir doesn't want to be the king. Turns out he has a knack for the acting biz and doesn't want to leave it. It may just be that the clown becomes king.

I've mentioned before, I like Granny Weatherwax. One thing that differentiates the wizards from the witches is that the witches on the Discworld seem to have an intuitive understanding of the need for balance. Here you have one of the most powerful witches on the Disc,and yet she is very reluctant to meddle in the affairs of the kingdom, knowing that she could and knowing that crossing the line once would forever tempt her to do so again.

The other side of the coin is Nanny Ogg. The matriarch of the Ogg family, her family roots stretch far and wide. Ruling over her daughter-in-laws with a iron fist and doting over her grandchildren with all the love one little old lady can muster, she plays the human foil to Granny. Her understanding of people frequently allows her to smooth feathers, but she can also use it as the lever to open people up. Perhaps less powerful than her friend, her power with people is often more effective.Nanny is also the companion, I can't say owner - I just can't - of the most evil cat in the world, the smelly, one-eyed Greebo. Single-pawingly responsible for most of the feline population in Lancre, even wolves give him a wide berth. Not even elves are up for dealing with him.

The third witch in the group, Magrat Garlick, would fit right in at a local New Age shop. With her ceremonial knives and silver jewelry, she tries so hard to be what she thinks a witch should be, always looking to learn something new, much to the consternation of the others. Still when the chips are down, the core of steel, tempered in the fires of Granny, comes out hard.

The story itself is a story about words. About propaganda and the way truth can be used and twisted to the speakers ends. Granny, for instance, hates the theater, hated the the lies it tells and the way they use the truth to tell a whole new lie. The Duke finds a use for his Fool, who shows him how to "spin" words to make reality a little more palatable.And of course, its words, a play, that finally pushes the Duke over the edge.

As the first novel to really focus on the witches, though thankfully not the last, it's great fun. I was never a big fan of Macbeth until I read this version. Mr. Pratchett's characters are everything I've come to expect, vibrant and real. The way he continues to expand the Disc, to blend details and explore new territory, that's what keeps me coming back for more.


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