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Aliss "Black Aliss" Demurrage

Updated on May 26, 2013

The Wicked Witch of The Discworld

Black Aliss was the witch of fairytale, legend and rumour that every Ramtops witch longed to be and feared becoming. One of the most powerful witches in living memory (with the exception of Esme Weatherwax) sadly she lost track of reality and went a bit funny at the end.. cackling, gingerbread cottages, that kind of thing.

An interesting figure, about which little is truly known, Black Aliss, born Aliss Demurrage, is a character discussed in several of Terry Pratchett's Discworld novels, who casts a shadow over the characters and events.

She is an unseen, but significant, influence on the Witches novels of the Discworld, as her feats and failures shaped every witch after her. Her memory is a constant thorn in Granny Weatherwax 's mind, warning her of what she might become if she drops her guard against herself.

Is she someone you'd like to see when you were lost in the woods?

Quick, what do you think of Black Aliss?

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Black Aliss by ~SlightlyMetaphysical
Black Aliss by ~SlightlyMetaphysical

Connections to the Current Characters

Black Aliss was a well known figure and continues to have an influence on current Discworld events

Black Aliss is long dead, but she's very well known. her name comes up occasionally, or is tactfully avoided, in conversation among the Lancre witches (specifically Esme Weatherwax, Nanny Ogg and Magrat Garlick).

"Even Magrat knew about Black Aliss."

Witches Abroad

Apparently, Granny Weatherwax's craft is implied to be directly past down from Black Aliss herself (although it may have altered in some respects...)

"I learned my craft from Nanny Gripes, who learned it from Goody Heggety, who got it from Nanna Plumb, who was taught it by Black Aliss..."

Lords and Ladies

Fairytales are a recurring theme in some books, as are folk tales and literary allusions. Witches Abroad is the strongest example of this, being about the power of story and how they shape events to suit themselves... whether Black Aliss began certain stories, or merely continued them is a matter of debate, but she certainly played a role in a number of fairytales - dying after being pushed into her own oven by two children (a la Hansel and Gretel) (p140 Wyrd Sisters)

She apparently was poor of spelling, accidentally summoning Glod (a recurring throwaway character), rather than Gold. She cursed princesses to spin straw into Glod (in another book, a King was cursed so that everything he touched turned into Glod, but this was due to a God with bad spelling)

Bad spelling can be lethal. For example, the greedy Seriph of Al-Yabi was cursed by a badly-educated deity and for some days everything he touched turned to Glod, which happened to be the name of a small dwarf from a mountain community hundreds of miles away who found himself magically dragged to the kingdom and relentlessly duplicated. Some two thousand Glods later the spell wore off. These days, the people of Al-Yabi are renowned for being remarkably short and bad-tempered.

Witches Abroad

Black Aliss Versus Granny Weatherwax - Power versus restraint, headology versus stories...

In a showdown between Esme and Black Aliss, who would win?

Discworld Novels That Black Aliss is Mentioned In - If you're curious to read about her firsthand...

Black Aliss is referenced in most of the Witches books.

Discworld version of Hansel and Gretel by Sofen on DeviantART
Discworld version of Hansel and Gretel by Sofen on DeviantART

Why Was She Called Black Aliss?

Aliss Demurrage became Black Aliss because of her dirty fingernails and rotten teeth

One reason Black Aliss has such a presence in the books is because she has such an enormous influence on Granny Weatherwax. She could be evil at will and disregard morality and conscience. She was the reason witches feared to let loose a cackle, and guarded against magic more than used it.

Esme's power is probably greater than, Black Aliss' and the dark path Black Aliss went down, and the temptations and the bad end she came to, are something Esme is constantly aware of. A lot of the great feats attributed are probably just rumour and old wive's tales, nevertheless...

Black Aliss...

  • Sent an entire castle to sleep for a hundred years... maybe. (Actually, she just stretched time around)
  • extended her own life
  • knew every witches' trick, including the use of stories
  • could run up to three stories at once
  • had a very sweet tooth. Confectionery cottages and all that...
  • came from the Forest of Skund (an extremely magical place near Lancre)
  • was killed by two berwaldean children, who pushed her into her own oven
  • became unable to tell apart reality from story and went mad

"Very romantic, Black Aliss was. She liked nothing better than Girl meets Frog."

Black Aliss In Ramtops Culture - Black Aliss is remembered every autumn in the local Ramptops area

Every autumn (Halloween) people put up flying witch silhouettes of Black Aliss, on shop windows and schoolroom walls.

Excerpt from the Wyrd Sisters Play - A Discussion About Black Aliss

This is the first time Black Aliss is talked about, in Wyrd Sisters.

Nanny Ogg: A child on the throne? He wouldn't last five minutes.

Granny Weatherwax:(quietly) Not a child. A grown man. Remember Aliss Demurrage?

(A pause)

Nanny Ogg: Bloody hell. You ain't going to try that, are you?

Granny Weatherwax: I mean to have a go.

Nanny Ogg: See here, Esme. I mean, Black Aliss was one of the best. I mean, you're very good at, well, headology and thinking and that, but...

Granny Weatherwax:You're saying I couldn't do it, aren't you?

Magrat: Excuse me. Who was Black Aliss? And none of this exchanging meaningful glances and talking over my head. There's three of us in this coven, remember?

Nanny Ogg: She was before your time. Before mine, really. Lived over Skund way. Very powerful witch. She turned a pumpkin into a coach once.

Granny Weatherwax: Showy. That's no help to anyone, turning up at a ball smelling like a pie. And that business with the glass slipper. Dangerous, to my mind.

Nanny Ogg: (ignoring this interruption)But the biggest thing she ever did was to send a whole palace to sleep for a hundred years until... Can't remember. Was there rose bushes involved, or was it spinning wheels in that one? I think some princess had to finger... no, there was a prince. That was it.

Magrat: (uneasily)Finger a prince?

Nanny Ogg: No, he had to kiss her. Very romantic, Black Aliss was. She liked nothing better than Girl meets Frog.

Magrat: Why did they call her Black Aliss?

Granny Weatherwax: Fingernails.

Nanny Ogg: And teeth. She had a sweet tooth. Lived in a real gingerbread cottage. Couple of kids shoved her in her own oven at the end. Shocking.

Magrat: And you're going to send the castle to sleep?

Granny Weatherwax: She never sent the castle to sleep. That's just an old wives' tale. (she glares at Nanny) She just stirred up time a little. It's not as hard as people think. Everyone does it all the time. It's like rubber, is time. You can stretch it to suit yourself.

Terry Pratchett tends to have a lot of layers in his writing, and almost everything references or puns. But where does Aliss Demurrage fit in, here? Is there a deeper meaning, a terrible pun, or does it just sound 'right'? Is there no meaning, and the important part her nickname?

One suggestion from a Discworld Wiki editor is that it's a pun of LSD Mirage!

Is there some meaning or reason behind "Aliss Demurrage"?

The New Discworld Companion - An encyclopaedic guide to the Discworld by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Briggs

If you're interested in these obscure little Discworld characters and facts (and fictions!) then you probably want to check out The New Discworld Companion which is an entertaining and comprehensive guide to the happenstance of whimsy that is Pratchett's writing. This catalogue to characters, events and locations is, of course, hilarious.

The New Discworld Companion
The New Discworld Companion

The Discworld is an unpredictable place, what with rivers you can skateboard across (if they weren't so knobbly), rocks that like a stroll about of an evening and points of raw magic that can turn a body inside out soon as look at it. For safety's sake, you need a guide! The DISCWORLD COMPANION contains everything you need to know about the Discworld. This edition, the first major revision since HOGFATHER was published (1997), covers the eight DISCWORLD novels from JINGO onwards, including THE LAST HERO and MAURICE AND HIS AMAZING EDUCATED RODENTS, as well as the Diaries, the plays and other Discworld Spinoffery.


The Tiffany Aching Series - The young adult witches books

The more recent series of young adult books about Tiffany Aching involve her growing up, meeting Granny Weatherwax and other witches, and training to be a witch herself. Black Aliss hasn't come up yet, but there's a new book coming out in September...

I Shall Wear Midnight - The next book from Terry Pratchett

The fourth in the young adult series following the young witch Tiffany Aching as she tramps in her giant boots from her shepherd roots on the Chalk, up to Lancre and back, attracting unfortunate allies with minds of their own, and the flattering and even more unfortunate attentions of Winter itself and Granny Weatherwax, I Shall Wear Midnight comes out in September 2010

Comments - Do you read the Discworld books?

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    • FlynntheCat1 profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago

      @Bus Stop Toy Shop: Yes! I forgot to talk about that :D It's called 'I Shall Wear Midnight' and is due out in a month!

    • Bus Stop Toy Shop profile image

      Bus Stop Toy Shop 

      8 years ago

      @NanLT: New Tiffany Aching? Excellent! Although I'm more of a Vimes fan, I've always enjoyed the Lancre-set books.

    • NanLT profile image


      8 years ago from London, UK

      When I get old enough be be croned, I want to be just like Granny Weatherwax. I love the Discworld books. This is a great look at such a character who is never seen but has a vast influence over the Lancre Witches.

      Have just discovered there is a new Tiffany Aching book coming out soon. Woohoo!!


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