Thursday, July 21, 2016

Review of Witches Abroad by Terry Pratchett

Fairy godmother Desiderata Hollow has passed away, leaving one unfinished task to her successor Magrat Garlick: go to the city of Genua and prevent a girl from marrying a prince. Oh, and she also leaves strict instructions that Nanny Ogg and Granny Weatherwax are not to be traveling companions on the trip, nor ever to touch the fairy godmother’s wand. In a tussle of skirts and vests, boots and broomsticks, the three—Magrat, Nanny, and Granny (would it be any other way)—set out on the journey. Throughout the stages of their trip, strange reflections appear in mirrors around the women. Someone meddling in the affairs of the peripatetic trio, it’s a good thing Nanny Ogg also brought her tomcat Greebo along for the trip. His brawn is needed when marriage time approaches.

Traveling through the Discworld equivalents of France, Spain, New Orleans, and beyond, Pratchett has a riot riffing off European and American culture. Like your grandmother’s first trip outside her comfortable little village, the three elderly ladies find themselves at a loss for language, cosmopolitan panache, and knowledge of local cultures every step of the way. Eating strange foods, drinking exotic alcohols, and running with the bulls, they never find themselves lacking in the confidence needed to keep pushing ahead, however. Plowing into every new situation with humorous innocence, Pratchett takes advantage of mispronounced foreign words, cultural taboos, and and an overall blind perseverance to get his trio into Genua in time for the proposed wedding.

Beyond the humor, Pratchett is dead set on looking at the relationship of fairy tales (and other such myths and legends) to human existence. Cinderella, the frog prince, Little Red Riding Hood, Rapunzi-stiltskin (or Rumple-zel?), even The Hobbit are brought into the story in some way. The mirrors operating as both plot and thematic devices, he reflects back upon his characters the stories they enjoy hearing vs. the stories they are writing by living. The sentiment classic Pratchett, it’s this grounding in the fundamentals which gives Discworld stories a leg up over most modern epic fantasy.

In the end, Witches Abroad is a fairy tale mash-up wonderfully washed through with the personalities of the witches three, Granny Weatherwax, Nanny Ogg, and Magrat Garlick. Pratchett examining the relationship between the creation of stories and the living of them, he seems to clearly side with the idea humanity writes stories.

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