Equal Rites (Terry Pratchett)

Equal Rites by Terry Pratchett is the first Discworld book about the Witches. [My reviews of the other Discworld novels here.]

Drum Billet is a wizard who knows that he is about to die. So he travels to a small town where the 8th son of an 8th son is about to be born to pass on his powers. Unfortunatel, neither Drum nor the father listen to the protests of Granny Weatherwax, resident witch and midwife and before she can stop them, the world’s first female wizard is created. Unfortunately nobody really knows what to do with little Esk, since female wizards not only didn’t exist before, but are quite unthinkable – according to lore. So, Granny Weatherwax tries to take Esk’s education upon herself.

Equal Rites is nice but it didn’t blow me away. As usual when Pratchett approaches feminism, it’s well-meaning but it doesn’t really work out.

I liked the general idea of this book. It’s so very easy to show the inherent ridicule in believing that your genitals somehow influence what you’re capable of in life in general. And Pratchett does wonderfully with this – the way nobody can tell Esk why being a girl would have any influence on her being a wizard, apart from it being “the lore” is perfectly done.

Though I think it fails to capture that in real life, people make up reasons to justify their prejudices (“Oh, women can’t possibly be wizards because wizardry is logical and women are way to emotional for all of this.”) and it also fails to challenge the underlying assumption that witchcraft is generally female (even if guys should be able to do it) and wizardry is generally male (though women should be able to do it, too). Which are also the reasons why the book falls a little short on the feminism front.

But apart from that (and one reference to Steven Spielberg that threw me from the Discworld back to Earth), the book was fine – Granny Weatherwax is pretty cool and I loved her dynamic with Cutangle. That was fun. But it won’t be my favorite Discworld book.

Finally have some quotes:

“As you grow older you’ll find most people don’t set foot outside their own heads much.”

Hilta laughed. Esk quite liked the sound. Granny never laughed, she merely let the corners of her mouth turn up, but Hilta laughed like someone who had thought hard about life and had seen the joke.

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