Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Equal Rites - Terry Pratchett

1987; 254 pages. Book #3 in the Discworld Series. Genre : Comedic Fantasy. Overall Rating : B-.
There are two immutable truths in Discworld : 1.) Wizards are men, and 2.) Witches are women. That is, until a dying wizard bequeaths his magic staff to the about-to-be-born eighth son of an eighth son (which we all know will become a sourceror), and that son instead turns out to be a first daughter. The village witch, Granny Weatherwax, tries to set things right again, but eventually has to admit that it will take some assistance from the stuffy old wizards at the Unseen University.
What's To Like...
The realms of witches and wizards are introduced into the Discworld saga. There are also some great new "concepts", such as Borrowing (where a witch enters the body of an animal such as a bird, and uses it for a time while coexisting with the animal's mind), and Headology (wherein, if you act like a witch, talk like a witch, and dress like a witch; people will see you as a witch without you having to perform any witchcraft). Finally, Pratchett adopts a new strategy - writing stories with themes and object lessons.
Where's Waldo?
Waldo isn't here. Neither are Rincewind, Twoflower, the Luggage, and Cohen the Barbarian. All of whom were major characters in the first two books. There are dwarves and humans here, but no golems, werewolves, dragons, or vampires. This is also before any of the Night Watch show up, and there's no sign of the Patrician.
Granny Weatherwax becomes a major character, and the banana-loving librarian is here. But the two other major figures in Equal Rites - Eskarina and Simon - are once and done. And ANAICT, the major lesson here (Equal Rights) doesn't stick either. In subsequent books the wizards are all men, and the witches are all women.
New/Kewl Words...
Pratchett books are always vocabulary-builders.
Inglenook : a corner by the fireplace. Jollop : a strong liquor or medicine. Tannoy : a type of public-address system. Heterodyne : having alternating currents of two different frequencies that combine to make two new frequencies. Alembic : an obsolete piece of labware that once was used for distillations. Souk : the open-air market in an Arabian city. Incunable : Ancient books produced in the earliest days of printing. Topiaric : concerning the art of clipping trees or shrubbery into recognizable shapes, such as animals. Pillion : the seat behind the rider of a horse or motorbike (or in this case, a broomstick). Cowin : Some sort of term of familiarity. Evidently a Pratchettism, as googling it didn't help.
She let the animal go and looked out at the scenery again for a long time - the barge was passing between high orange cliffs now, banded with so many colours of rock it looked as though some hungry God had made the all-time record club sandwich - and tried to avoid the next thought. But it persisted, arriving in her mind like the unexpected limbo dancer under the lavatory door of Life. (pg. 103)
"There's no such thing as a female wizard!"
Equal Rites seems like both a once-only tangent and a pivotal book in the Discworld series. Most of the characters won't be seen again. Yet there is direction here - Pratchett seems to be saying the focus will be on Discworld itself, not on a particular character, such as, say, Rand al'Thor in the Wheel Of Time saga. And the zaniness already present will be supplemented by themes and morals.
Equal Rites will probably never be anyone's favorite Discworld volume, and I don't suggest it as the first-read for anyone new to the series. But it's still an entertaining read. We'll give it a "B-", and recommend it to all geeky readers (such as me) who like to watch the Discworld universe as it gradually adds new personalities, places, and species.


Amanda said...

I'm still kind of scared to delve into Discworld.

terry said...


Julie said...

I like your new/kewl word section. Here's the words that stand out to me today:

Also, the concept of 'Borrowing' sounds very amazing too!

terry said...

Hi Julie!

since i'm a chemist, i was a tad bit embarrassed that i didn't know what an alembic was. and you're right - topiaric is a kewl word.

the "Borrowing" was used in a neat way. young Eskarina borrows an eagle (IIRC) and enjoys the thrill of soaring high in the air. she does it naturally and effortlessly, and it was one of the signs to Granny Weatherwax that this child was something special.