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The Witches Of The Discworld

This Who's Who was originally featured in Issue 11 - March 1998

This month Taetia Zysshe provides us with a in-depth view of three of the Discworld's best know crones. Our original piece about the witches will appear in issue 3 of the Discworld Chronicle the Discworld Convention's newsletter. We have an archived copy of our who's who on the Discworld Monthly web site.

Terry Pratchett is unusual among fantasy writers for his ability, indeed inclination, to portray strong, credible female characters instead of resorting to unidimensional stereotypes. The three witches challenge the traditional historical roles allotted to women: those of the maiden, the wife and mother, and the crone.

Granny Weatherwax meddles relentlessly in the affairs of others despite claiming that to do so is inherently dangerous.

Magrat Garlick is shy, virginal and soft-hearted. Her inexperience and optimism condemn her to junior status by her fellow witches, who are alternately amused by or contemptuous of her romantic nature.

Pratchett consciously defies the maiden stereotype because Magrat is a great deal more than just a romantic virgin who dreams of marriage. She is practical and capable (even when limited to producing pumpkins by the technical vagaries of her equipment), and can be headstrong in following her own course of action instead of that determined by others. She teaches self-defence and natural childbirth methods to the Lancre village women. Her most obvious repudiation of the maiden role is when she marries King Verence in Lords and Ladies, but her real escape into individualism is her self-transformation into the warrior queen, saving herself, her husband and her future subjects from the elves. Pratchett conveys the restrictions of the maiden's role through Magrat's frustrations with her lot.

Nanny Gytha Ogg represents the wife and mother in the trio of female stereotypes. She fulfills this role in some respects as she is indeed the matriarch of a large brood, idolising her sons and grandchildren while paying little attention to her daughters and making life quite miserable for her daughters-in-law; she is more concerned with the lives of her family than the activities of the outside world. The Ogg family, however, comprises a large part of the small outside world of the Kingdom of Lancre, and when Nanny meddles with village concerns it is most likely that a child or grandchild is directly involved. Nanny departs from the wife and mother stereotype because she is an outspoken woman who lives exactly as she pleases instead of sacrificing her own life for those of her husband and children. She has buried three husbands and, well into her seventies, is still sexually active with a healthy libido and a shocking reputation. She washes only once a year, compels her long-suffering daughters-in-law to do her housework and sings songs so dirty Pratchett declines to write them down in full.

Granny Esmerelda Weatherwax is as old and curmudgeonly as any village crone, but beneath the black hat and cloak is a very handsome woman who still enjoys the power to attract her past lover Ridcully. She meddles relentlessly in the affairs of others despite claiming that to do so is inherently dangerous. She is quick to take offence and to retaliate against any perceived injury to her pride, like the traditional witch, but her strong sense of justice prevails and she demonstrates mercy against those she has vanquished. She appears reluctant to use magic when simple psychology, or headology in her own term, will suffice; she wins back all the money Nanny has lost to the professional gamblers by her acute assessment of human nature rather than casting spells or fashioning a voodoo doll. The stereotypical witch and crone is selfish and preoccupied with her own situation in life, whereas Granny is concerned with global affairs.

Pratchett is not self-conscious or artificial in his treatment of female characters; there is no suggestion of forced "political correctness" or explicit moralising about the value of women's individuality. Discworld women are as fallible and flawed as the men, and it is this equality, rather than an equal nobility or heroism, which makes them credible characters.