Wyrd Sisters (Discworld Novel 6)

by Terry Pratchett | Science Fiction & Fantasy |
ISBN: 0552134600 Global Overview for this book
Registered by erinacea of Friedrichshain, Berlin Germany on 11/23/2014
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Journal Entry 1 by erinacea from Friedrichshain, Berlin Germany on Sunday, November 23, 2014
I'm currently following an online reading project of some guy (Mark Oshiro) reading the entirety of the Discworld series, entirely unspoiled (all kinds of spoilers are strictly forbidden on that site!), in publication order.

The first five books I either wasn't interested in (The Colour of Magic, Sourcery) or already knew (The Light Fantastic, Equal Rites, Mort). The sixth book, Wyrd Sisters I had not previously read but really wanted to, so I decided to join in the fun and buy the book for myself.

And it was a LOT of fun! I had accidentally spoilered myself on the internet about some key aspects of the story, but the story is so exciting, so well-written, funny and insightful that this didn't really matter. (It did make predicting the next section-to-read more difficult as I had to try and contain any spoily bits, but it was fun nonetheless.)

On the topic of spoilers, naturally all of the below is gonna contain spoilers for the plot and characters (though I'll try and clamp down on the major ones), so read at your own risk.

About the book:
Wyrd Sisters, loosely inspired by Shakespeare's Macbeth (which led to the inept German title, MacBest), centers on a coven of three witches who when the king of Lancre is assassinated by his cousin get involved in the protection of both the young heir and the kingdom.

Though Granny Weatherwax was introduced in the earlier book, Equal Rites, this is the book that sets the "Witches" subseries into motion. All three witches (the other two being Nanny Ogg and young Magrat) represent different lifestyles, different types of women and different aspects of witchcraft. And yet each of them is also a fullfledged well-rounded character with both weaknesses and strengths, personality quirks and meaningful flaws. The other characters are not quite as lifelike but are nonetheless highly interesting characters.

As is typical for Pratchett, the book is peppered with humour and references, often both at the same time. Following the main theme, a lot of the latter lead back to Macbeth or other Shakespearean plays. What makes the novel stand out, however, is how well the humorous aspects are tied into the main storyline and the big themes of identity and destiny. A initially minor theme that gains importance as the plot progresses is the power of words. (Spoilers! highlight to read) Part of the cast are a travelling theatre group complete with the Discworld's answer to Shakespeare (inspiration particles be thanked), the dwarven playwright Hwel, and one particularly gifted (literally even) actor. On the other side of the Disc we have the politically-minded new Lord of Lancre who intends to sway his subjects' view both of himself and the witches opposing him with the help of some cleverly crafted propaganda in the form of a play. A match made in heaven? Hilarity ensues! :) (Divers alarum.)

This was also the first Discworld book where the plot is not set into motion or propelled along by a powerful wizard or some kind of supernatural entity. (While the witches are clearly capable of powerful magic they spend a surprisingly long time trying to hold back from "meddling" in their kingdom's matters.)

Other commenters (as well as Mark himself) pointed out that the way Lord Felmet's descent into madness is described is not a realistic depiction of an actual mental illness at all but more of the stereotypical hodgepodge of various types of illnesses with a bit dramatic flair mixed in. I myself felt really uncomfortable by the way Pratchett keeps pointing out aspects of the evil Duchess' appearance that make her come across as "masculine". To be fair, she is strongly modelled after the ruthless (at least to begin with) Lady Macbeth ("unsex me here" etc.) But this does result in some unfortunate implications casting women who don't conform to the standard ideas of how women should look or behave in a highly negative light. It helps that at least two of the good protagonists (pudgy Nanny and flat-chested Magrat) don't exactly live up to the ideals of feminine beauty either, but something about the way Pratchett keeps highlighting Lady Felmet's broad shape, commanding bark and chin stubbles rubs me the wrong way.

Even given the above points of criticism this is without question one of the best Discworld novels I've read so far. According to various commenters, this is where "Discworld starts getting good", so I'm looking forwards to reading the next couple of books.

Here's a ranking of the Discworld books up to Wyrd Sisters:

1. Wyrd Sisters
2. Mort
3. Sourcery
4. Equal Rites
5. The Light Fantastic
6. The Colour of Magic

Next up: Pyramids.

Journal Entry 2 by erinacea at Friedrichshain, Berlin Germany on Sunday, November 23, 2014
In the section-by-section discussion about the book, one adaptation was brought up repeatedly, the animated series by Cosgrove Hall. I watched it yesterday and, seeing how it's quite late and I'm getting tired, will just copy'n'paste my comments over here:

It's certainly a good adaption, but (like many movies) it lacks a lot of the book's charm. That said, I loved the character designs for both Nanny and Granny - those were spot on! I also liked Greebo, the Fool (though I had a different picture in mind), Vitoller and the Duchess (although her hairdo seemed a bit strange).

I was a bit disappointed with Tomjon: I get that it's hard (impossible even) to bring across the magic when he's acting, but for me this didn't work at all in the movie. Having people burst into tears as a result only seemed ridiculous. Major spoilers! Highlight to make them visible On the plus side, him being replaced with Verence at the last moment is much, much clearer, though they really shouldn't have had that conversation in the middle of the assembled magistrate. :)

Unfortunately, the stage confusion didn't come across at all. Well... it certainly was confusing; it just didn't work as well as in the book. The witches' behaviour just wasn't outrageous enough to explain the other actors apparently becoming transfixed (rather than distracted) by them. Tomjon acting out part of the play out by himself wasn't remotely as funny as in the book. In fact, if I hadn't read the book I wouldn't even have noticed that that was what he was doing.

In general, some of my favourite sub-scenes were missing or only greatly toned down Spoilers, highlight to see(Granny intimidating the demon, Nanny's clan strangling the roosters, Greebo meeting the Fool). On the other hand, I really liked some of the added background action such as showing King Verence's increasingly successful attempts to interact with physical objects or hinting at familiar DW characters.

The thing I missed most, however, was any form of character growth. Granny and Nanny sort of squabble at some point but it doesn't seem important. More spoilers, you know the drill: Tomjon ("I don't wanna be king") comes across as some sort of moody teenager. King Verence was the good guy all along, and Felmet apparently never was haunted by guilt and instead directly cascaded into the stereotypical "babble incoheriently" type of "movie madness".

Still, I really enjoyed the movie. The plot and characters are simply that good. :D

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