Continuing my occasional series as I work my way through Sir Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels one book at a time.
Today’s entry: the 14th book, Lords and Ladies.
First appearance: Agnes/Perdita Nitt
Introduced to Discworld: a reminder about why Elves suck
Plot: Picking up right about where Witches Abroad left off, Granny Weatherwax, Nanny Ogg, and Magrat Garlick return from their travels to find Magrat is now engaged to the king, Verence II. He hadn’t asked, but do you say no to a king even if he was really once the court jester and the witches more or less pushed him into the throne back in Wyrd Sisters?
The problem is that Magrat’s wedding is going to have a few wedding crashers. The nearby parasite dimension where the Elves call home is falling into line, and thanks to some foolish indiscretions from a few of Lancre’s citizens, they can cross over to our world around the next Midsummer’s night. Elves haven’t been seen on the Discworld in so long people assume Elves are nice. They aren’t. They’re sadistic and beautiful. As Granny observes, if you lose to an Elf, you’re lucky if they kill you right away.
With the Elf Queen setting her sights on a different royal husband, can the witches save the kingdom? Even with help from the likes of Cassanunda, a few visiting wizards, and whatever else Lancre has going for it?
Dude, don’t doubt Granny Weatherwax.
Commentary: While this book is generally labeled as the fourth of the “Witches” subset, I prefer to think of it as the final book in the Magrat Trilogy. Once queen, Magrat’s role in the witch coven shrinks. In point of fact, her replacement, Agnes Nitt, also known as Perdita, is introduced in this novel as a somewhat sweet (if overweight) girl that Nanny says is the only one in a group of wannabe witches that has some potential. She shows it too.
But really, this novel finishes up with Magrat in a meaningful way. She started off as a new age-y witch often described with uncontrollable hair and not much of a bosom. Her physical appearance doesn’t really change, but she does over the course of the three novels grow a backbone that makes her more of what a Discworld witch should be. Witches like Granny and Nanny basically do whatever the hell they want to, and their personal dispositions will determine how much they appear to be “good” or “evil” witches, labels Granny doesn’t hold with anyway. Granny’s constant dispassionate or apathetic attitude towards Magrat forced her to become a stronger person, someone who could armor up and start taking out Elves to save her fiance, once she got over being mad about how much her wedding was set up on her behalf while she was away with the other two. While much of Magrat’s new strength is implied to be a result of Granny’s tutelage, that doesn’t take away from the fact that Magrat is instrumental in saving the day.
In fact, all the witches are. Granny had a past with the Elf Queen and manages to Borrow something no witch has ever Borrowed before. Magrat physically attacks the Queen. And Nanny just makes a deal with the Elf King to come claim his wife. It helps that Nanny’s son Jason is the best blacksmith on the Disc, and as such, he shoes Death’s horse from time to time. Iron is the Elves’ only weakness. Death can go anywhere, and so can his horse’s shoes in places that normally iron can’t go.
And as much as this novel closes out Magrat’s story, Granny is also a central figure here. Readers saw a little of Granny’s past in Witches Abroad given her relationship with Lady Lilith, but here we find out Granny might have almost been in love as a young woman to, of all people, Archchancelor Mustrum Ridcully of Unseen University. Ridcully, visiting Lancre for the Royal Wedding (he mostly wanted to get some hunting in), attempts to rekindle something, which obviously won’t work, but did manage to bring with him the Bursur, Ponder Stibbons, and the Librarian, each of whom is mildly useful when Elves show up. Granny even shows Ridcully some sympathy at the end, telling him due to her remembering things alternate versions of herself did, that somewhere the two of them were happily married, and that’s the best she can do because Granny always believes the world she lives in and the decisions she’s made are always for the best. Granny never doubts herself, so why should she wonder if she made a mistake in the past?
As much as rereading the books in order showed me the growth of Magrat, this experience also shows the deterioration of the Bursur. His “dried frog pills” are mentioned for the first time, as his insanity (caused by Ridcully being himself) have left him a pathetic shell of a man who is sometimes useful as a footbridge or a lever.
Likewise, the experience shows me how much attention Pratchett was paying to his narrative. Elves are treated as something that hasn’t been seen on the Disc in ages, but he mentioned them in past novels, particularly in The Color of Magic, where he said Elves and Trolls are the only non-human races on the Disc. After that he added Dwarves and Gnomes, among other things, but Elves got ignored aside from a spotting here and there. Nanny mentions those Elves here as off-shoots and descendants, not the real thing threatening Lancre. Pratchett also brings up an early Unseen University Archchancelor named Weatherwax who lasted about half a novel. Ridcully asks Granny about him, and she just dismisses him as a distant cousin. Even the inclusion of Ponder Stibbons, who started off as Victor the protagonist’s University roommate back in Moving Pictures, shows some growth and expansion of minor characters into something more than a brief throwaway.
Really, when Granny tells the Elf Queen the invasion was stupid because things have changed, she was right. The land itself doesn’t want the Elves. As much as humans can be glammored into feeling totally worthless next to the beauty of the Elves (their real power), just about everything in the kingdom ends up fighting the Elves, from a small god of hunted creatures, to visiting wizards, to a bunch of Morris Dancers. Few Discworld villains are outright evil outside the Dungeon Dimensions so much as misguided but well-meaning people like Lady Lilith and Dios. Even Brutha says Vorbis in Small Gods isn’t evil, but the sadistic nature of the Elves sure make them look like some of the worst things that could come to the Disc.
Fortunately, really stubborn old witches tend to be enough to send them packing.
On a final note, this novel had my favorite Discworld footnote, explaining the origin of the name of a minor character named Bestiality Carter. His parents knew to name daughters after virtues like Chastity and Prudence, but then thought they had to name sons after vices, like Anger. Each child ended up the exact opposite of his or her name. Bestiality is very kind to animals.
NEXT BOOK: This time I am going to reread my very first Discworld novel. Newly-promoted Constable Carrot is in charge of the Watch’s new recruits. The Watch is expanding. Be back soon for Men at Arms.