Book Review: Terry Pratchett’s Wyrd Sisters
In light of me failing to read some books because they were boring and crappy, my untold dozens and dozens of readers will no doubt be glad I moved on to a writer who’s actually, you know, good. Namely, Sir Terry Pratchett’s Wyrd Sisters.
For those not in the know, Wyrd Sisters is a Discworld book. (For those in the know, you can probably skip the rest of this paragraph). Without getting into the nitty-gritty setting details, the Discworld is a series of loosely interconnected comedic fantasy novels. The interesting thing about the Discworld books is that there are different ‘series’ of them, each following a different cast of characters. Kind of like how Marvel publishes both X-men and The Avengers, and each team is in its own little sphere. Now just apply that to a series of books that aren’t published monthly, and you kinda-sorta have an idea of how things work.
Wyrd Sisters is a book in the ‘Witches’ series of Discworld. For whatever reason, I hadn’t really read any of the Witches books before, which is entirely my mistake. See, each of the Discworld ‘lines’ sort of has its own little niche- The Watch books are mysteries (sort of), the Rincewind books are more traditional fantasy pastiches, and The Witch books get a little more metatextual.
Anyway, Wyrd Sisters centers around three witches- Granny Weatherwax, Margat Garlick, and Nanny Ogg (Nanny’s my favorite, I’d say). The whole ‘three witches’ thing should definitely be ringing bells for anyone who paid attention in sophomore English.
Which is to say, the book is Pratchett doing a riff on Shakespeare. Sort of. If someone had actually told me this, I imagine I would’ve read the book a long time ago.
The plot is kind of a ramshackle combination of Macbeth and Hamlet; there’s a usurper, a dead king, the ghost of the dead king, a Fool, some Traveling Players, and the aforementioned three witches. Of course, since this is Pratchett, things are considerably sillier and without nearly as many deaths at the end. (Spoilers?) Honestly, Wyrd Sisters isn’t the kind of book one reads for the intricate plot. Instead, it, like most of Pratchett’s oeuvre, is a delightfully wry take on the stories we tell each other through theater. Pratchett is a joy to read, and his mastery of the English language is the kind of thing that can make an aspiring writer want to go crawl in a hole for lack of talent.
It’s easy to praise Pratchett. And you should! He’s a great writer, and one doesn’t get knighted for mediocrity. Or, well, maybe you do, but I don’t watch Downtown Abbey so I don’t know how the English Monarchy works. Having said this, I’ll still bring up a few quibbles I had with the book, just ’cause.
For one, Wyrd Sisters is Pratchett’s sixth Discworld novel- and as such, it comes off as a little ‘transitory,’ I suppose. See, the thing about Pratchett is, he started his books as straight-up fantasy pastiches, which were…okay enough, but one can definitely see how they’ve improved over the years, as Pratchett finds his voice. I guess what I’m trying to say is, “Wyrd Sisters isn’t quite as good as some of the later Discworld books,” which I guess is a good problem to have.
In reading Wyrd Sisters, I realized another key thing, something that’s kind of pestered me about Pratchett for years now, but I can only now really articulate. See, in a good number of the Discworld novels, there’s a lot of focus on the power of Bigger Things. Which is to say, the characters stumble across and inadvertently harness the magical power of, well, whatever the book’s about. In Wyrd Sisters, it’s the magic of the theater. In Moving Pictures, it’s the magic of the cinema. In Thief of Time it’s the magic of, uh, time. You get the idea. The tapping of this ‘magic’ acts in a vaguely deus-ex-machina sort of way, as characters connect with this greater power and manage to use it to awe everyone into a somewhat neat plot resolution or something. Now, not every Discworld novel ends this way, but it’s common enough.
Also, it’s kind of bullshit.
Again, let me reiterate that Terry Pratchett is a talented an accomplished writer whose work I enjoy. But! More often than not, Pratchett makes a big deal of whatever ‘thing’ each particular book is about- theater, movies, time, death, whatever. Which makes sense- but at the same time, a lot of the time these ‘grand, universal, too-big-to-contain’ magical whatsits are things of straight-out human invention. I guess I’m just a humanist at heart. I mean, yes, talking about the power of language and the theatre is great- but at the same time, I can’t help but think, “you know why theater is so great? Because humanity made it, and kept it going. Seriously, humans are pretty rad.” To attribute such human accomplishments to nebulous magical forces of the universe kind of seems like making them a bit cheaper, you know? That, and a deus ex machina ending is still a deus ex machina ending, even if it’s written wonderfully.
Still, even with these complaints, Wyrd Sisters is a great read, and one I’d recommend to just about anyone who enjoys a good comedy. That is to say, if you haven’t read it already.