I like Terry Pratchett’s Discworld, specifically on a literary level.
Now that might surprise you considering it’s a comedic series. You see, here in North America comedy doesn’t always have a point.
Beyond the initial joke I mean.
I think that’s the reason why the meme culture exists the way it does over here. A lot of our comedy is based around getting to a joke and moving on to the next one. So when you have small one picture memes that build of off existing things; well, like it or not that’s sadly the evolution of comedy, instant punch lines.
That’s a problem with some of the comedic books out there like Robert Asprin’s Myth Adventures (a miss-pronunciation of misadventures) and the Xanth novels. Asprin, I’ll give credit, had the good courage to go with a somewhat different theme from “Heroes win” to “Heroes win because they are sneaky as fuck!” while Xanth, as I’ve understood it, used a lot of puns for humour before returning to standard fantasy roots of good guys winning. Nothing wrong with either though, please don’t misunderstand me.
But the thing is, I’ve been getting into Discworld lately and while I love Color of Magic over the course of the books I’ve noticed something in Terry Pratchett’s literary narrative aside from the sheer overall improvement in quality.
Specifically how much balls the man has as his books go on.
Don’t believe me?
I just, just finished reading a novel called Witches Abroad. It is an entire novel that deals with the idea of a fairy-tale ending and why fairy godmothers, who force these endings onto people, might be incredibly evil. I know a lot of you are muttering Shrek 2 under your breath so I will point out that this book came out in 1991 during the height of the Disney Princess era. As In the same year as Beauty and The Beast. Now that’s balls.
And this isn’t done in the way Cracked does its articles, with a long drawn-out analysis that sounds more like a hipster rant. Yes I know I wrote for Cracked at one point. I debate constantly about getting that particular piece taken down because of how poor it was.
I should mention now that I’m going to start talking about details in Witches Abroad so the regular spoiler nonsense.
In the novel, it’s revealed that within the Discworld stories happen frequently; rather the same stories do hence why they become fables, because they keep happening. A particular witch named Lilith is using that methodology to consolidate her own control over a nation by being the fairy godmother of a tale and ensuring the princess marries the prince. Even if he is a horribly transmogrified frog.
Enter the three witches of Discworld Granny Weatherwax, Nanny Ogg and Margrat. It’s hinted and then revealed that Granny Weatherwax is actually the sister of Lilith. Lilith herself ran away from home many years ago. Throw in some wonderful humour about traveling to distant lands while you’re at it.
Now to get this particular plot point I’m about to explain, I have to explain Granny Weatherwax. Granny is the living incarnate of the obstinate nature of old women. For example, if Granny Weatherwax goes out for milk you’ll be damned sure she’ll get there and get it for free because she helped the teller boy set his broken leg when he was young. The fact that it might be the wrong teller boy or that when she started walking the shop was behind her is entirely someone else’s fault. She is a master of Headology, as she calls it, which is the branch of psychology designed specifically for fucking with people in a way to make them fear you. That doesn’t mean she’s bad at magic. Rather, she’s very good at it but understands that it’s a lot easier, sometimes, just to throw a rock at an opponent wizard’s eye then to fight them with magic.
Throughout the stories Granny is infamous for insisting (and when I say insisting I mean making sure) that people get to live their own damned lives and none of this silly “murder for glory seeking” business happens. She quickly becomes the old woman you’re glad is on the side of good and her presence in a situation is a welcoming and comforting one.
Then Witches Abroad goes and completely fucks with that.
When Granny faces off against her sister Lilith, she manages to outwit her sister and beat her. Prior to this moment Granny has shown an incredible dislike for forcing people into stories and has done everything in her power to ensure that doesn’t happen. You’d think this was because of some innate sense of justice she’s displayed in novels up until now, never stated but we assumed was there. Instead she delivers a series of statements that chills the reader to the bone.
Last chance on that spoiler warning by the way.
Anyway; here are the two lines:
‘But because, and I wants you to understand this pop’ly, after you went I had to be the good one. You had all the fun. An’ there’s no way I can make you pay for that Lily, but I’m surely goin’ to give it a try…’
“Good? Good? Feeding people to stories? Twisting people’s lives? That’s good is it?’ said Granny. ‘You mean you didn’t even have fun? If I’d been as bad as you, I’d have been a whole lot worse. Better at it then you’ve ever dreamed of.’
Oooooh fuck that still gives me chills.
After only three books with Granny Weatherwax the sheer thought of her given the choice of turning evil is one of those horrible outcomes that provides no hope for the universe much like destroying the Xbox of a five year old or a tax audit. With a lot of characters you look at them and imagine that if they turned evil it’d be a manageable thing regardless of how bad it was. For example, if Gandalf had picked up the one ring, he’d be evil, but he wouldn’t outdo Sauron. Granny though, is just one of those characters (like I said earlier) that you are glad is on the side of good. Learning the reason why and just how lucky the whole universe is that it worked out that way only adds to the raw terror of the woman.
I don’t always get great character development moments like that. It’s one of the reasons why I love Sci-fi and fantasy so much. Just so that we can have these unusual conventions that show new character dynamics like the Doctor when he spoke to the Tardis or… something else. What’s yours? Let’s see if we can nail down some great moments that could only happen in these genres.
And so too does this work exist.