Witches Abroad by Terry Pratchett
Published in 1991
Genre: Fantasy, satire
“This is the Discworld, which travels through space on the back of four elephants which themselves stand on the shell of Great A’Tuin, the sky turtle.”
Stories have power in the fantasy realm of Terry Prachett’s Discworld series, and they take center stage in the novel Witches Abroad. Fairy godmothers, fairy tales, and happily-ever-afters come into his satirical scope in a novel that is as entertaining as it is endearing. Granny Weatherwax returns, alongside Nanny Ogg and the timid Magrat Garlick, for an adventure that dives not only into stories in general, but her own family history.
Witches Abroad picks up a short while after the end of Wyrd Sisters where Magrat is chosen to take over for a fairy godmother who died. Unfortunately, she is bequeathed a magic wand without an operation manual or instructions as to what to do next (and the wand is apparently only capable of turning objects that aren’t pumpkins into objects that are pumpkins). She, Granny Weatherwax, and Nanny Ogg set out to stop another fairy godmother in the kingdom of Genua who is obsessed with stories and will do anything to create a happy ending.
Mirrors play a large part in Witches Abroad and are associated with Lilith, the evil godmother. One of the malevolent methods she uses is two mirrors facing each other that reflect into infinity, which can amplify the power of magic. It can also, however, take something from the user and steal part of their soul. She has killed the monarch of Genua and put a strange man known as the Duc (pronounced “duck”) in his place; he is a creepy (and possibly amphibious) prince whom the princess is being forced to marry.
The three witches take a tour throughout various kingdoms on the Disc, and come to a village that shutters up at night because of a local vampire terrorizing it. The witches, oblivious of the danger, unintentionally vanquish the vampire thanks to Nanny’s mangy old cat, Greebo. They also go riverboat gambling and Granny has to trick card sharks by acting like an unsuspecting old woman to win back the money (and broomsticks) that Nanny lost.
The trio eventually make it to Genua where Nanny and Granny meet Mrs. Gogol; a voodoo witch in Genua whose witchcraft is done though cooking (we’re talking divination through gumbo here, folks). Magrat meets her new goddaughter, princess Emberella (instead of Cinderella…like embers and cinders…get it?!), and decides that the witches need to rescue the princess. After a failed attempt to sabotage the carriage, they use Magrat as a double to catch the evil Duc. We see Nanny and Granny at a dance wearing the gowns of women they hypnotized in order to gain entry, and they use their confidence to schmooze their way in to backup Magrat. There is a final confrontation and some revelations, as any good story would demand, but I won’t divulge those here and take away part of the reason for reading this book.
We learn a bit more about Granny’s past and her characteristics. She spends a lot of the book hiding her full knowledge of the situation from the other two witches, but it all comes out in the end. Since fairy tales are the inspiration for the novel, there are a number that appear featuring the likes of Little Red Riding Hood, Sleeping Beauty, the three little pigs, Goldie Locks, and Cinderella. As befits any story about witches, there is also a Wizard of Oz reference when a house is dropped on Nanny and they are subsequently surrounded by dwarfs.
As stated earlier, stories are integral to the universe of this novel and the novel itself; Lilith creates stories and will kill or transform anyone in order to do so. Unfortunately for her, however, every story has an end and, in true Granny Weatherwax fashion, she is defeated by Granny’s sheer force of will. As far as stories go, this is an entertaining book that falls short of transcending the genre or its expectations. It works in that it continues to add depth and development to well-established characters, but since it relies so heavily on references to other media, its originality is swamped by the allusions and parodies.
Verdict: 3 shattered mirrors out of 5
Recommended for: Fans of Terry Pratchett, witch enthusiasts, readers of the Discworld series, those who enjoy parodies of fairy tales, and people with a sense of humor (or humour).
Not recommended for: Those who don’t enjoy fairy tales, people who aren’t reading the Discworld series, the Big Bad Wolf, Lily Weatherwax, the Duc, or people with no sense of humor (or humour).