Witches Abroad . . . and a writing lesson

26Nov10

from Wikipedia

I’m more stuffed than the turkey ever was . . .  but I’m beginning to wake up now, so I’ll write the post that I promised last time. But just a warning, this will include SPOILERS. Witches Abroad was published in 1991, so I don’t feel too bad talking about it freely.

Witches Abroad is a twist on the fairy tale trope that the beautiful young maid marries the handsome prince with the help of the fairy godmother. For starters, fairy godmothers here come in pairs, and one of the Emberella’s (OK, I didn’t say it was subtle) fairy godmothers dies. Lily, the other fairy godmother, believes that she’s good, it seems, but she has created the handsome prince out of a frog and the maiden [yep, SPOILER] is the legitimate princess and . . .

The point here is that Sir Terry Pratchett started with a fairy tale and twisted it not quite beyond recognition. He uses our expectations to set us up for an ending which is (in the language of writers everywhere) surprising but inevitable. I want to touch a little bit on one small aspect of how he does it.

Again, more SPOILERS.

The good fairy godmother knows her time is coming and that she has a great uncompleted task in preventing this wedding. She knows the power of the other fairy godmother, and knows what she must do. She sends her wand to Magrat Garlick, a young, inexperienced witch, along with instructions that neither Nanny Ogg nor Granny Weatherwax come along to Genua with her to prevent the wedding.  I’m not going to go any further into the plot, though. I’m more interested in technique.

paperback cover from Borders

Magrat is basically a teenage refugee from the sixties. She’s trying to find herself, experimenting with the Discworld equivalents of yoga and Wicca (despite the fact that she is a real witch). She’s trying to find herself. Pratchett contrasts her repeated with Granny Weatherwax, who always knows who she is.

We learn near the end of the book that Lily/Lillith, Emberella’s other, power-mad,  fairy godmother, is Granny Weatherwax’s sister. Granny Weatherwax, we learn early 0n, avoids mirrors because they steal just a tiny bit of your soul. Pratchett gives this weight by talking of cultural beliefs around the world about mirrors and photographs, and points out how “thin” are the souls of some who spend the most time in front of cameras and mirrors.

Lily’s power is mirror magic. She can look through mirrors and see anyone who’s looking into a reflective surface. Standing between two mirrors and seeing her own reflection reflected recursively increases her power–Pratchett never has to say that it thins her soul.

We’ll skip over the Red Riding Hood and Wizard of Oz allusions, each of which tells us a little more about Granny Weatherwax and Lillith, and over the creation of gods and Baron Saturday and Discworld voodoo and Nanny Ogg, skip past the glass slipper and the Ball. Lillith defeats Nanny Ogg, which is difficult, and Magrat Garlick, which is not. Now, it’s just Granny Weatherwax and her sister. Granny breaks one of the mirrors, and both Granny and Lillith are trapped inside the million shards of broken mirrors. Death comes. “Where am I?” Lily asks. INSIDE THE MIRROR. Lily is not dead, but not alive. She cannot escape until she finds the one reflection that’s real.

“Lily Weatherwax ran on through the endless reflections.”

Death posed the same problem to Granny Weatherwax.

“Is this a trick question?”

NO.

Granny looked down at herself

“This one,” she said.

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