31/10/2004

Wyrd Sisters (by Terry Pratchett)

I don't quite know why I like Terry Pratchett's books so much, as they're not my normal genre for reading at all. But he minimises the fantasy element (once one accepts the bizarrenness of a Disc-shaped world on the back of four elephants, and the multiple species that co-exist in something resembling harmony - sometimes -that live on it) and there's some very clever satire that's surprisingly thought-provoking. And some clever one-liners too, that sometimes have me chuckling out loud.

'Wyrd Sisters' is the sixth 'Discworld' novel, and in my view shows Pratchett at his best. There are cleverly intertwined plots, humorous characters, and brilliant references that take the mickey from the 'real world'.

Granny Weatherwax, Nanny Ogg and Magrat open the book, in an attempt to form a coven. Magrat is the youngest, newest witch in the neighbourhood and would love to do things traditionally. She has yet to come to terms with the rather more relaxed lifestyle of Nanny Ogg (who loves a drink and has a large number of children and grandchildren) or the practical 'headology' taught by Granny Weatherwax.

Meanwhile the King of Lancre just happens to be murdered by a Duke. The Duke is one of the next in line to the throne, and is persuaded to commit the murder by his loud and ambitious wife....

Yes, this book is an overt spoof on Shakespeare's 'MacBeth'. With a sprinkling of 'Hamlet', and a touch of 'King Lear'. Familiarity with these plays probably enhances the enjoyment of 'Wyrd Sisters', although it's not vital.

A baby, the son of the murdered King (complete with the royal crown), is rushed from the palace by a lone horseman. This brave man hands the baby to the witches before dropping dead. The three decide that they can't possibly look after a small child, so they pass him on to a band of travelling players and hide the crown amongst stage props....

The story veers well away from Shakespeare many times, although I expect the Bard would enjoy it thoroughly if he were still alive. Time passes - at times considerably more quickly than usual - and eventually the baby, now grown-up, arrives back in Lancre.

But the plot really isn't all that important. There are some lovely images, and references not just to Shakespeare but to classic fairytales: for instance, Granny and Nanny knew personally the witch responsible for the Sleeping Beauty. Apparently she lived in a gingerbread house.

Suitable for adults or teengagers; indeed there's no reason why fluently reading younger children shouldn't enjoy it too, although they would probably miss many of the references. My younger son was about nine when he first read 'Wyrd Sisters'.

All in all, I recommend it highly for an enjoyable light read. There's no need to have read any other Discworld books beforehand since this stands alone, although it works quite well to read 'Witches Abroad' soon after.

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