Wyrd Sisters by Terry Pratchett
Published in 1988
Genre: Fantasy, satire, parody
“The wind howled.”
As befits a tale of witchcraft and regicide, Wyrd Sisters by Terry Pratchett begins on a dark and stormy night. A mysterious baby (well, the circumstances of its origin are mysterious…the baby itself is fairly normal…as far as babies go) is delivered to three witches: Magrat Garlic, Nanny Ogg, and Granny Weatherwax. Taking on Shakespeare and common misconceptions about witches, the novel is ripe with wit and satire to rival the other books in the Discworld series.
The witches receive the mystery baby on the very same night that King Verence has been killed by his cousin, Duke Felmet; King Verence was murdered by a coward (meaning he was literally and figuratively stabbed in the back) and now exists as a ghost. Felmet spends much of his time trying to clean blood from his hands and a seed of guilt festers in the back of his mind; he goes from washing his hands with soap to using steel wool and other more harsh methods, but nothing can clean the blood from his hands (especially since steel wool draws it to the surface). The aforementioned baby also came with a crown (surprisingly NOT sold separately!…okay, I’ll stop), and the witches decide to hide the baby so he can grow up and return to reclaim his kingdom. What better place for the once and future king than a traveling theater troupe?
Meanwhile, Felmet and the duchess take over the kingdom of Lancre and make a mess of it. The Duke’s guilt transforms into paranoia and he soon begins to believe that the witches are conspiring against him, which is far from the truth. He decides to spread rumors (or rumours) of their evil deeds, but people don’t believe him because they all respect, or at least tolerate, the witches. Felmet ensures a play is written (by the very same theater troupe that harbors (or harbours) the true heir) that portrays the witches as evil and that he had nothing to do with his cousin’s murder. The play, however, goes awry as the actors begin to speak the truth through no volition of their own.
The ghost of king Verence roams the castle and decides to lure one of the witches in order to ask her for help to reclaim his kingdom; however, witches cannot use magic to interfere with politics. Magic cannot rule the kingdom and in order to dissuade magical attempts at the throne wizards assassinate each other and witches can’t stand one another. As Felmet reigns, the land itself becomes unhinged; it has awoken because it is searching for a true king to care for it. Granny realizes (or realises) this and teams up with the other two witches after deciding to chuck the rules about magical intervention, and they use a spell to transport the kingdom 15 years into the future when the heir will be of age.
Wyrd Sisters parodies Shakespeare and his plays rather extensively. Tomjon, the aforementioned heir, travels with an acting troupe in the company of Hwell, a dwarf playwright who writes from inspiration he has in dreams. The king’s Fool is wiser than many of the other characters, which was also a trope that Shakespeare employed in some of his plays. The novel even includes a play-within-a-play, erm, play-within-a-novel which was central to the plot of Hamlet.
Granny Weatherwax really shines as a character in this book; she is a force of nature and affects the world around her. She is a fantastic example of a female character with agency, though she isn’t without her faults. These small chinks in her otherwise admirable personage humanize (or…humanise..?) her (think of the people who talk in a theater or during a movie; Granny would be one of them).
Wyrd Sisters take the promise of Equal Rites and fulfills it thoroughly. We see more of Granny Weatherwax, how she interacts with other witches, how the theater can be as magical as magic itself, and the references are on point throughout. Wyrd Sisters is one of the first Discworld novels to really set Pratchett apart from other fantasy authors; though his goofiness and humor (or humour) are in each book, he is well into his stride with this sixth entry in the series.
Verdict: 4 plays-within-a-novel out of 5
Recommended for: Fans of Shakespearean references, fans of Terry Pratchett, people reading through the Discworld series, and those who like funny stories about witches.
Not recommended for: People who dislike Shakespearean references, enemies of Terry Pratchett, people not reading the Discworld series, or those who take witches too seriously.