Title: Equal Rites
Number in series: # 3 in The Discworld Series, # 1 in The Witches Collection
Author: Terry Pratchett
Concerning spoilers: The Discworld series is made-up of forty-one books that together form a universe, but can be read as standalone novels; I’m reading them in the order they were published. There will be no spoilers for this particular book. However, minor spoilers for previous novels in the series can occur.
For more information about The Discworld Series, audiobook narrators, editions, reading order, etc. you can find my introductory post to The Discworld Series HERE.
They say that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing, but it is not one half so bad as a lot of ignorance.
There are some situations where the correct response is to display the sort of ignorance which happily and wilfully flies in the face of the facts. In this case, the birth of a baby girl, born a wizard – by mistake. Everybody knows that there’s no such thing as a female wizard. But now it’s gone and happened, there’s nothing much anyone can do about it. Let the battle of the sexes begin…
It’s incredible how relevant a thirty-one-year-old fantasy book about witches and wizards can be. In the wake of #metoo this little book, published in 1987, is so modern and so relevant it’s almost depressing.
It’s in this third book the Discworld series begins its transformation into a universe. Although we stay on the magic side of things, this story introduces not only an entirely new geographical region but an entirely new cast of characters; one of them being a recurring protagonist in the series, Esmeralda “Granny” Weatherwax.
At last, we get to see the female side of the magic system and watch as it clashes with the male side. The magic in this series is amusing, and the male versus the female aspects pretty spot on when it comes to everyday prejudices about typically male and female skills and interests.
In previous installments, we’ve learned that wizards, all male, are educated at the Unseen University in Ankh-Morpork. When they’re not scheming against each other—the preferred method of advancements into higher ranking positions within the university being the assassination of your soon to be predecessor— they tend to be preoccupied with outrageous fashion, eating, smoking, and generally admiring their own cleverness. Male magic is scientific, geometric and found in large dusty tomes. It’s academic, ambitious, ruthless and mostly something shared among fellow wizards.
The female side of magic is grounded in nature, empathy, common sense and psychology. It has a humanistic approach and its application centers around helping people. Whereas wizards tend to keep to themselves inside their university, witches are usually the wise woman of a village, taking on the role of a midwife, healer, and overall problem solver. Unlike wizards, some witches do marry, and most of them don’t mind men all that much, they’re just not that impressed by them or their academics.
Granny Weatherwax isn’t impressed at all, which makes her life slightly difficult when she has to figure out what to do with little Eskarina, a girl born a wizard— by mistake.
Granny Weatherwax steals the show; all the other characters are well written, but Granny’s the one you’ll remember.
I think most people have known or at least met a Granny. An older woman with a razor blade tongue who, armed with a snappish sarcasm, insists all those modern ideas, or your fancy education, is severely overrated. How things would be a lot better if people just listened to common sense; common sense meaning whatever happens to be her opinion on the matter.
But, despite the tongue lashings and the general objection toward progress, she’s also the person you’ll call when you need advice on anything from how to cook a roast or the best way to get your fever down.
Esmerelda Weatherwax is the first person to roll her eyes and sneer at the sheer stupidity of people, and their overconfidence in (in her opinion) useless things like literacy or geometry. But she’s also the one standing on the doorstep ready to fix whatever dumb thing they’ve undoubtedly done.
Without giving the plot away, the best parts of the book is watching the imposing personality of Granny butting heads with the unsuspecting, pompous Archchancellor of The Unseen University and its misogynist views on the existence of female wizards.
Compared to the two previous books in the series, (you can find my review of them HERE) Pratchett’s skill as a writer has taken huge leaps forward. In style the writing is tighter and less wordy, the plot more streamlined and to the point. It still has Pratchett’s humor and unique use of language, but it works better; this is the first book in the series that actually made me laugh.
I also feel that this is the book where you start to see the intelligence behind all the humor in Pratchett’s writing. Despite the tone and subject, these books are a lot smarter than they appear, the key to recognizing that is your own understanding of the theme or subject Pratchett is referencing. Behind the quirkiness, this is an on the nose commentary about misogyny, predetermined gender roles and prejudice ideas about how our gender determines what subjects or interests we will excel at.
Little Eskarinas trials to be taken seriously as she tries to be accepted as a potential wizard, could as easily have been set in a random classroom, preschool or university, in which a girl tries to be recognized as a mathematician or physicist; because everyone knows men are better at math and physics, right? Or, for that matter, a young man trying to be taken seriously as a childcare professional in a room full of middle-aged women. For all Granny’s qualities, she’s no less judgmental of her opposite sex than her wizard counterparts.
I really enjoyed this book. Equal Rites is not perfect, but a vast improvement compared to The Color of Magic and The Light Fantastic. If you’ve read the first two novels in the series but found you didn’t like them, I’d urge you to give this a chance. This book is where the Discworld begins to take shape, this is where the series subtly starts hinting at something deeper while staying true to its style and quirky humor.
My Rating: 6/10