Tuesday, 5 June 2001

Terry Pratchett: Witches Abroad (1991)

Edition: Corgi, 1992
Review number: 833

At the time when this came out, I thought it one of Pratchett's least successful Discworld novels; now, on re-reading it, I have a higher opinion.

It is one of the stories involving the three witches in the coven in the remote village of Lancre. One of them has a magic wand left to her, as well as the responsibility of being fairy godmother to a girl many miles away in the town of Genua. Unfortunately, the wand doesn't come with instructions, and so the three witches set out for Genua, which is a kind of Discworld version of New Orleans.

There are two kinds of humour in Witches Abroad. The first is the way that the witches are like the most naive tourists, distrustful of the food, unable to speak the language, always comparing to back home and so on. The second, more interesting, source of humour is similar to that of some of Neil Gaiman's adaptations of fairy stories in Smoke and Mirrors. The girl has another fairy godmother, and she is addicted to making stories, which (the Discworld being magical) have power. Unfortunately, she insists on traditional happy endings, many of which are only superficially happy (granny remains dead at the end of Little Red Riding Hood, and marriage to the prince is unlikely to bring happiness if he is only a stooge for someone else who runs everything).

It is the way in which familiar stories are manipulated both by the author and by the witches which makes Witches Abroad different and interesting as a Discworld novel. It is not one of the funniest, but it is probably the most self-consciously literary, because of the irony of being a story about manipulating stories.

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