Wyrd Sisters

by Terry Pratchett

Cover image

Series: Discworld #6
Publisher: HarperTorch
Copyright: 1988
Printing: February 2001
ISBN: 0-06-102066-4
Format: Mass market
Pages: 265

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After a book focusing on Death and a return to Rincewind, Wyrd Sisters revists Granny Weatherwax, introduced in Equal Rites. This time, the action mostly stays in the highly magical Ramtop Mountains and Ankh-Morpork plays a much smaller role.

The small country of Lancre, possessed of a rather rickety castle and a large number of trees, has its true king treacherously murdered by a duke. As so often happens in these cases, his infant heir is rescued from the castle in the nick of time by a loyal coachman, driven through the woods with soldiers in pursuit, and delivered to safety just as the coachman is killed. The safety in this case, however, is a coven of witches: Granny Weatherwax, the grandmotherly Nanny Ogg, and Magrat Garlick, a rather young witch who desperately wanted a coven, dancing, dramatic spells, and the sorts of things that she thought should have come with being a witch. Granny and Nanny Ogg are something of an unexpected experience for her.

Pratchett has his usual fun poking at genre conventions, this time with the adopted heir who knows nothing of his past. The witches deliver the child in short order to a travelling company of actors with a ridiculously over-inspired dwarven playwright, but not before giving him their equivalent of a fairy godmother blessing. Meanwhile, the duke, driven largely by his wife, becomes rather nastier than the previous king and starts going after witches in particular, while the dead king discovers he's now a ghost. Parodies of Shakespeare (particularly Macbeth and Hamlet, but there are plenty of other bits thrown in), witchcraft, and rightful-king fantasy tropes abound.

There are a ton of references to Macbeth here, including some close parallel scenes, so if you're familiar with that play in particular and Shakespeare in general, you can have lots of fun noticing the references and similarities. Pratchett uses the travelling company as an analogue to Shakespeare's company in multiple ways and throws a mass of Shakespeare and other theatrical references into the blender of Hwel's over-inspired brain. (I particularly liked the Marx Brothers bit.) For maximum enjoyment, you may want to re-read Macbeth just before reading Wyrd Sisters, and of course the Annotated Pratchett File covers all, or at least most, of the references (only to be read after reading the book).

Even if noting references doesn't sound interesting, though, this is a solid Discworld entry. For me, the highlight was Granny Weatherwax, who gets lots of screen time now that she doesn't have to share with Eskarina can expand beyond the mentor role. She's a crotchety traditionalist who also has a wonderfully practical and world-wise attitude towards magic, with lots of emphasis on "headology." Like most things in Discworld, this is mostly played for laughs (particularly in contrast with Magrat, who tends towards a flakey neo-pagan attitude), but it works dramatically as well. She manages hard-headed practicality in the insane environment of Discworld, which is an enjoyable feat to read about. She's one of my favorite Discworld characters.

Wyrd Sisters is fun stuff, with a bit more depth than prior books and a good mix of humor, plot, and copious Shakespeare references that add some depth but don't detract from the story if you miss them. I think Sourcery is a slightly better book, but it's a close call and I'm sure Shakespeare lovers will disagree.

Followed by Pyramids in the chronological sense and (later) by Witches Abroad in the plot sense.

Rating: 7 out of 10

Reviewed: 2009-05-24

Last modified and spun 2014-12-21