Witches Abroad (Terry Pratchett)

When you find another Terry Pratchett fan, you can more or less guarantee that you’ve found a potential friend. Pratchett’s work in general has been a huge influence on my life. I first discovered his work through the Bromeliad trilogy and can still remember laughing out loud at those novels when staying with friends, who were desperate to know what was so funny. In my later teens I graduated to reading the Discworld novels. I’ve read most of them now, and reread them frequently. Each one still feels like a wonderful treat.

Most Discworld fans have their favourite books or series within the series. The Night’s Watch novels, for example, are deservedly very popular. I love them all, but my favourites are the Witches books, in particular, Witches Abroad.

I love these characters. I identify on occasion with Magrat’s wet hen-ness (and attended a party dressed as her a year or so ago) and Granny Weatherwax is, in my opinion, one of the greatest literary characters in existence, but Nanny Ogg is my favourite, for her bawdy sense of humour and her general cheerfulness. I particularly enjoy Witches Abroad because its major themes are highly relevant to my life and interests.

It’s about travel. I remember reading it about ten years ago when I was in the midst of lots of travel, including spending significant time abroad. I’m a linguist, and Nanny’s attempts to communicate in languages other than her own are both cringeworthy and hilarious. As she states, ‘they say travelin brordens the mind, I reckon I could pull mine out my ears now and knot it under my chin’. This is, of course, true, and expresses for me the joy of travel, as well as the difficulty that can be a part of it. Of course, a good story can also ‘brorden the mind’.

Witches Abroad is also about the importance of stories. This is true of many of the Discworld novels, but is especially the case in this one, as the need to make sure a story works is the crux of the drama. There are many references to famous stories (Cinderella, the Three Little Pigs, Lord of the Rings, the Wizard of Oz), always fun for an avid fantasy or fairy tale fan to spot. But, more interestingly, it is the power of stories themselves that is addressed in this novel: ‘People think that stories are shaped by people, In fact, it’s the other way around’.

Lilith, the antagonist, wants to be an author. She wants to control the people around her so that they have the ‘happy ending’ demanded by the story. But, as Desiderata Hollow says ‘I knows some people who make stories work their way’. And that is pretty inspiring stuff.

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