Disworld Reading club 3: Equal Rites

There are no inconsistencies in the Discworld books; ocassionally, however, there are alternate pasts.
- Terry Pratchett, alt-fan-pratchett

Discworld reading club 1: The Colour of Magic
Discworld reading club 2: The Light Fantastic

Spoilers of plot details for future books should be boxed, spoilers for characters can go unboxed. Be warned though, if you haven’t read more than the three first books in the DW series, there will probably be spoilers regarding character development for future books. Part of the fun of going back is visiting old characters and seeing how they’ve evolved.

Granny Weatherwax is the second oldest recurring character in the series, next to Rincewind. And whereas Rincewind seems to be fading more and more into the background in later books (he just a cardboard figure in Science of Discworld III), it doesn’t seem as if Pterry’s tired of Granny, though I doubt we will get more books with her as the main character, mostly because it seems to me that Pratchett is using more and more of his older characters in cameos or as part of upstaging a new character (as with Vimes in The Truth and Monstrous Regiment).

Granny isn’t really totally fleshed out, as compared to what we will get in later books. She works as a dramatic character here, but it’s only with the introduction of Gytha Ogg that the comedy comes alive. However, Pterry introduces a very important concept, invented on the Disc by Granny – Headology. I think it’s a marvelous concept, not psychology, but something more. Esk’s realization about it and the pointy hat is clearly a journey into how humans on earth work, not how magic works on DW. In marketing, there’s a saying that “perception is reality”, i.e. it’s not what you make, but how the consumer perceives it that matters. When there’s anxiety about caffeine and Schweppes slapped “no caffeine” on the labels of its tonic water bottles, it’s headology at work. Tonic water never had caffeine, but suddenly it’s a selling point. Same with Rispinos, marketed with the “no fat” label, even though the calorie content is roughly the same as potato chips.
There’s no doubt that on DW, where narrativium plays such a strong role, headology is important, but it’s even more important here.

Pterry leaves Granny in Ankh-Morpork, chatting with the Cutangle, but this is clearly out of character, as is her contemplating to set up business in Ankh-Morpork. I cut Pterry a lot of slack, but this is bordering on annoying for me. There’s also been quite a lot of speculation over the years about what happened to Esk and many think she’s clearly too good a character to have been just discarded, which Pterry did anyway. I don’t know how he could have used her, though. She’s more of a plot device, than a character, as is Coin in sourcery.

If The light Fantastic had a clearer narrative flow, this is a story, told even tighter. There’s still something that annoys me about this and many early books, and that’s how Pterry sort of don’t really start and stop the story. It’s as if the first couple of pages have him sidling and sneaking up on the main event and the last pages sort of just dwindles away. I’m sure he has a point to this, since a recurring theme is that it’s hard to pinpoint when things begin and end. It’s still annoying, though.

Another recurring theme her is about the young person coming of age and going through changes or forcing changes on others. Equal Rites, Mort, Sourcery, Wyrd sisters, Pyramids, Eric, Reaper Man, Small Gods (to an extent – Brutha is very childlike in the beginning), Soul Music, Maskerade, Thief of Time and Monstrous regiment. As a plot device it’s kinda formulaic.

The puns are wonderful. I don’t envy those trying to translate DW: “The lodgings were on the top floor next to the well-guarded premises of a respectable dealer in stolen property because, as Granny had heard, good fences make good neighbours."

A couply of things I wonder about: All the witches in the DW have honorary titles: Granny, Goody, Nanny… Clearly Esme Weatherwax isn’t a grandmother, and I’ve herad these titles in other context, the Scarlet Letter, I think. Why and how ASF.

Also, Mrs Whitlow is mentioned (but will be changed for later books) as someone who drops her aitches, but in the text, Pterry adds “h” were there shoudn’t be one: “his there a message from the Hother Sade?” I understand that leaving out “h” where one should be is a sign of working class in England, but this doesn’t add up.

It’s the “Mrs Slocum” effect, of someone of working class trying to give the appearance of being at equal level to those of the higher classes, but clearly has no clue. Its use here speaks volumes about what sort of a character Mrs Whitlow is.

And even though she doesn’t maintain the affectation in later appearances (she’s quite a central character in Last Continent) she still clearly has that same character - considers herself an equal to the Wizards, yet defers to them as only a Housekeeper. It’s an odd juxtaposition, but not uncommon, I think.

Yeah, it’s a sign that someone knows that they are supposed to put “h” sounds at the start of some words but have no idea how it actually works. It appears to actually occur in real life.

One possible example is the pronunciation of “aitch” as “haitch” by many australians. Certainly not an example on an individual level, but that may be where the phenomenon came from.


:smack: Of course.

We’re not counting Great A’Tuin, I hope.

These are all modes of address for older women dating to IIRC the 17th C. “Goody” being shorthand for “Goodwife”. Similar to the way some cultures call all older women “Auntie”, whether they are one’s parent’s sister or not.

I remember reading that some of those names, or at least the forms, come from scottish and West Country witch trials. Not sure where, maybe on a.f.p. in the early 90’s? Certainly a lot of the names do, like Nutter, Garlick, Device and Magrat.

I’m pretty sure I read the same discussion. If I did, it was on a.f.p.

I really can’t re-read the earlier books, no matter what PTerry says about “different pasts.” His later stuff is just so much better!

You skipped a certain Librarian as well.

Regarding the future of Esk (and a tiny spoiler for Sourcery):

I recall their being a brief one line mention of her in Sourcery, but I haven’t read it in a long time since the Rincewind books are not my favorites.

Equal Rites is just about the bottom of the barrel for me when it comes to Discworld novels and this one was a slog for me. Fortunately I had some free time this weekend and managed to pick my way through it but the narative is plodding, the humor is less frequent and less sharp, and worst of all the book is preachy. Certain later books also have a big message but typically lack the first two problems or the message is so carefully done that I don’t feel like the author is talking down to me. A point that is better saved for later books is comparing the handling of this in Equal Rites to Pyramids, Small Gods, Feet of Clay and Jingo (to pick four).

I couldn’t find Esk’s magical misadventures cute or amusing and that was where the bulk of the humor in the novel was apparently supposed to come from. There is a bit of word play here and there but it’s sparse. I wanted to pick out at least my favorite line from the book but I don’t have it in front of me at this point.

Another thing that bothered me a lot about Equal Rites (and sorry, I don’t like it so that’s what most of this post is going to be about) was that a lot of the humor wasn’t coming out of the situation in Discworld. The book is loaded with roundworld references in the naration and Pratchett wisely avoids most of this later on.

My impression of the characterization of Granny in Equal Rites is that it was maybe three-quarters formed at this point and then Terry had a real humdinger of an idea when it came to Wyrd Sisters and just threw out the parts that didn’t fit. I’ve got no complaints on that since it lead to a much more interesting character.

In fact that might be the best thing to say about Equal Rites; it’s built out of these half-formed ideas that Terry had which he then rebuilt down the line into much more interesting stories. Granny v1.0 is replaced by Granny v1.5. The apprentice who’s name escapes me as I type this is dropped and replaced by the more interesting Ponder Stibbons who has the added bonus of not raising questions about where Esk is when he turns up. The university structure is starting to become more solidified but it gets changed up quite a bit more before becoming firm. Running gags like the Librarian and the “Million to one chances happen nine out of ten times,” are starting to pop up as well but not used as effectively as they will be. Equal Rites may be a weak book, but its also a necessary step in the evolution of the Discworld series.

It’s the next one where things really turn. I’m going to have an awful lot to talk about with Mort…

My, how Granny has changed. I’m up to “Lords and Ladies” right now. Looking back, I can see how the Granny and Nanny in “Equal Rites” really don’t mesh with how they’d evolved since.

One thing I’ve noticed is that Pratchett really seems to keep to a plot outline in this book. Ironically, this works to the books detriment, because when he allows the plot to stray from his original intension (“Guards! Guards!” comes to mind.) it often ends up in a better place than it would have.

In Massachusetts and other New England states, you can hear words like “huge” and “human” pronounced without their leading consonant (“yooj” and “yoomin”), and you can also hear where the letter went. Chickens lay “heggs”, for example.

As for whether we’re going to count the Great A’Tuin, you can’t count him: it’s turtles all the way down.

Actually - I don’t think we should count the Librarian. He’s only mentioned in The Light Fantastic, and hasn’t even played a part, even off stage.

Hurrah! A minor arguement about insignifigant details of the Discworld series! Now things are moving! :slight_smile:

In the Light Fantastic the Librarian is not simply mentioned, in the beginning portion of the book as the wizards are following the large changing spell they pass the just transformed Librarian. It’s not much of a role, but its definitely on stage and not just mentioned.

Have to agree.

I’d also like to point out that Twoflower and the Luggage both count as recurring characters, and are both right in from the beginning. Also the Patrician (I know, I know, but Pterry says it’s the same Patrician*) and Cohen the Barbarian predate Granny.

  • to quote him: “How about: maybe he was Vetinari, but written by a more stupid writer?”

I remember when this book first came out, all those many years ago. I had bought TCOM and TLF at the same time and loved both of them. When I discovered a new Discworld book I was elated.

Until I read it. Well, some of it. I couldn’t finish it. Tried again several; years later to the same result. Finally forced myself to finish it about 6 months ago.

This book just doesn’t have the magic or the first two and not the narrative power of the later books. It just fell flat.

I never worried about what happened to Esk because I never cared about her.

I can’t think of much to say that hasn’t already been covered. Reading with retrospect, at first I tried to handwave Granny’s discrepencies as being an adventure in her youth, but her characterization is still fairly far off for that to work. Alternate trousers of time it is, then.

Am I the only one who sees elements of Nanny Ogg’s character in Granny’s portrayal here? The whole fortune-telling bit with Mrs. Whitlow, for instance, is the kind of plot Nanny would dive into enthusiastically. And having Granny have a partner to chat with is far more fun than her largely solo act here.

On the plus side, I think this is where Terry Pratchett starts moving away from simple comedy and farce and starts dipping a toe into more characterization and deeper issues? Sure, it’s not as laugh-oriented as the first two books, but I didn’t miss it at all, since I was sufficiently intrigued by the characters’ growth.

The Dungeon Dimensions make an appearance again; three novels and they’re already wearing thin. Though Esk’s fight with them makes up for much of it.

Will you let me weasel out of it by saying “character in a leading role”?

Somehow, it’s a miracle that Terry could quit his dayjob and write full time, considering how disliked the earlier booksare. I didn’t read them back then, but surely, someone must have enjoyed them enough. Knowing what wonders he’ll make lessen them, but the readers back in the mid 80’s didn’t know that.

For those who caught on at the time - what was Pterry perceived as? One of those hacks making parodies like “Bored with the Rings” and the various Harry Potter spoofs?

Also, in defense of this book, this is the first instance of “Million-to-one chances” crop up nine times out of ten. And I think it’s the last time Granny’s village - Bad Ass - is mentioned by name.

Actually, Bad Ass is mentioned in Wyrd Sisters. Page 52, in my copy of it – discussing the Duke.

Actually, it’s kind of funny. I read TCOM and TLF in high school and Equal Rites came out during college. When I made it to college, I met several people who were bit fans of both TCOM and TLF, in fact, I never knew anyone who didn’t like them until coming on this board (well I knew quite a few who never read them).

Also, Strata was thought of quite highly back then.

In fact, I can remember when Good Omens came out. My friend and I were both fans of both Pratchett and Gaiman, and he had been doing work for a newspaper and mentioned it to them. They gave him their advance copy to do a review. So we both got to read it before it hit the U.S. market.

To answer your question, my friends and I all really liked his work even from the beginning.

Weaselling accepted. :slight_smile:

He was considdered a carbon copy of Douglas Adams for fantasy. So not the one to one hack spoof, but not exactly held in much higher regard than the Myth Adventures books. So not quite Bored of the Rings hackery but not much higher than that. Nerds picked him up and giggled, a few people saw the hint of greatness but he was mostly ignored in the US.

Somewhere I’ve got a review of The Light Fantastic in a magazine from that period which I should dig out just to see how it was reviewed…

Personally, I think it was a Transportation spell rather than a Transformation spell, and Horace Worbblehat is currently enjoying life swinging through a jungle in Darkest Klatch eating bananas. An unrelated orang-utan simultaneously found that he had a knack for Library Sciences and is resisting any attempt to exchange them again…