on May 20, 2002
Although Terry Pratchett has abandoned non-stop satire in his Discworld books after "The Light Fantastic," "Wyrd Sisters" is as much a satire as it is a character and world-building novel, this time taking some very solid shots at William Shakespeare, "Macbeth," "Hamlet," the popular conception(s) of witches, and even a bit of a riff on fairy tales.
A jealous relative has killed the King of Lancre, who is now stuck (literally) haunting his castle. But his infant son has been delivered into the care of three witches, including the formidable Granny Weatherwax, who refuse to meddle in politics. Well, that's what they say, anyway ...
As a Shakespeare enthusiast, I found the parodies of both plays spot on and very fun -- elements of it hold up very favorably next to "Shakespeare in Love" -- and as a fan of fantasy novels, I was delighted to see how Pratchett handled the problem of needing (REALLY needing) to get a usurper off the throne with an heir to the throne who's not even potty trained.
A word of warning: The hamhanded marketing copy in the back pages of the book promoting the Discworld series gives away the end of this novel. I'm not sure what they were thinking there ...
Although I mostly prefer the Unseen University novels, "Wyrd Sisters" is easily one of my favorite Discworld novels, and indeed, novels in general. Whole-heartedly recommended to fans of Discworld, Shakespeare or fantasy with a sense of humor.
on January 25, 2007
Terry Pratchett's first novel, "The Carpet People", appeared in 1971. "Wyrd Sisters" is the sixth novel in his hugely popular Discworld series and his second (after "Equal Rites") to feature Granny Weatherwax, the Discworld's greatest witch. It was first published in 1988 and was later made into a cartoon. Pratchett won the 2001 Carnegie Medal for "The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents" and was awarded the OBE in 1998.
Granny Weatherwax is joined in "Wyrd Sisters" by the two other members of her recently formed coven. One, Nanny Ogg, is the raucous head of the Ogg clan based in Lancre town. (She also owns a fearsome, one-eyed tomcat with an unbridled libido called Greebo). The other is Magrat Garlick, who has a few fanciful ideas about magic that Granny doesn't altogether approve of - dancing, occult jewellery, runes and the healing power of colours, for example. The trio are caught up in Lancre's political affairs when Duke Felmet decides it's time for his cousin, King Verence, to 'retire' - and kindly plants a dagger into the King's back. The King's infant son and the Kingdom's crown are delivered into the witches' hands by an escaping servant loyal to the deceased King - who now haunts the castle, desperately longing for the ability to eat. The coven, in turn, christens the royal orphan 'Tomjon' and, for his protection, put him in the care of a travelling theatre. The new king, however, is such a disaster they realise Tomjon must return to the throne as quickly as possible.
Although "Wyrd Sisters" is most obviously a parody of Shakespeare's "Macbeth", you don't have to have read the Scottish play to enjoy the book. Having said that, even a basic awareness of the Bard's work should increase the number of laughs. Hwel, the dwarven playwright for the travelling band of actors, seems to owe a little to Shakespeare himself and when the troupe settle in Ankh-Morpork their home theatre is named "The Dysk". (Shakespeare's, of course, was called "The Globe"). Hwel, at various points, was also on the verge of 'inventing' the Discworld's versions of the Marx Brothers, Laurel and Hardy and Charlie Chaplin. Duke Felmet's Fool, who falls in love with Magrat, not only hates his job but is clearly a good deal more intelligent than his paranoid boss. (The Fool and the young witch also deliver what is quite possibly the longest kiss in literature). However, it's Nanny Ogg - with her fondness for a 'knees up' and a vulgar song - who is my favorite character. Thoroughly recommended !
Although we first met Granny Weatherwax in Equal Rites, Wyrd Sisters gives us the three witches—Granny, Nanny Ogg, and Magrat Garlick—in all of their glory. These are my favorite characters in the Discworld, and loud peals of laughter are always to be found when this remarkable coven of witches gets together. The story itself is a thoroughly Pratchett-like concoction of Shakespeare, fairy tales, satire, and infinitely rich comedy. The king of Lancre, much to his surprise, has been murdered by the Macbethian Duke Felmet, and he is not at all happy about this. No one, in fact, is happy, including the very kingdom itself, which physically shows its rage at having a new king who despises his own royal domain. The witches are also not happy, as the Duke works continually to discredit them among the people—Granny Weatherwax just doesn’t have any truck with that at all. Of course, in a story such as this, there has to be a long-lost child of the murdered king who will eventually come back to right the wrongs done his father and dethrone the regal malefactor—or something along those lines, anyway. Things are never quite that simple on the Discworld.
The antics of the witches are hilarious. Granny Weatherwax is a stalwart personality who never admits she might be wrong or that there is something she is not familiar with. Nanny Ogg is a rather worldly witch who enjoys nothing more than getting blasted and drunkenly singing about hedgehogs or the fact that a wizard’s staff has a knob on the end. Then there is young Magrat, quite plain in appearance, who believes the traditional ways of witchcraft are best and whose sometimes naïve, positive nature often conflicts with the thinking of her older cohorts; you have to love her, really. Her romance of sorts with the shy king’s Fool is a rather comical yet sweet subplot to the novel. My favorite scene, one of the funniest I have ever read, concerns the witches’ trip to the theatre; Granny has no understanding of theatre or drama, and her increasingly raucous reactions to the performance she sees is not to be missed.
You don’t have to know Shakespeare intimately in order to enjoy the numerous allusions to his work, particularly Macbeth and Hamlet, but I decided to read those two plays before reading Wyrd Sisters in order to make sure I caught as much of the comedy as possible. From the attempts of the duke to wash the blood from his hands to the manipulations of the duchess to the performance of a drama in order to call out the murderous king for his treacherous deeds, this fictional cauldron is swimming with Shakespearean ingredients. It’s remarkably witty on a number of levels, yet the constant humor does nothing to take away from an intriguing and not wholly predictable plot. Even if you don’t agree that the three “wyrd sisters” are the funniest and most remarkable characters inhabiting the Discworld, I do not see how you could possibly fail to find much enjoyment and humor in this novel.
on November 8, 2001
Wyrd Sisters continues the story of Granny Weatherwax, who we first met in the Discworld novel Equal Rites. In this book, Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg have joined with another witch, Magrat, new to the Discworld novels, to form a coven. Magrat has some odd ideas of what witchcraft involves, such as rituals, candles, and herbs, but the other two humor her. We also get a visit from our old friend Death. We also get introduced to some new characters. The old ruler of the kingdom, Verence, was murdered and is stuck being a ghost, bound to the stones of the castle. Hwel is a playwright given the job of writing a play to make the current evil ruler and his wife look better in the eyes of the people. The witches get involved in the royal intrigue, despite wanting to not get involved in matters outside of the coven. The land is unhappy with the new ruler, and the witches know it. Wyrd Sisters abounds with references to Shakespeare, namely MacBeth. Filled with witty dialogue and amusing parodies, the Discworld novels keep getting better and better.
on August 27, 2001
This book is the second in the "witches" subset of the Discworld series. The first was "Equal Rites" which pales in comparison to this one. "Wyrd Sisters" is clearly a parody of Macbeth and other Shakespearan ideas. This is the story of three witches who set out to see justice done by restoring the rightful heir of Lancre to the throne. This is easier said than done, and they have to use not only some very powerful magic (Granny Weatherwax makes fifteen years pass in an instant!) but also some very practical skills ("headology"). As usual, Pratchett's satire is great. There are many interesting characters (DEATH is back and wants to act on stage, Magrat the witch with New Age ideas, the official Fool who hates being one, King Verence's ghost who misses having a good meal etc.). My favorite character in this book is Hwel the dwarf playwright who has the makings of Shakespeare himself. Pratchett's descriptions of the Theater and of life in the city of Ankh-Morpork make good reading. So why did I rate this four stars? I personally prefer the Death and Rincewind stories to the Witches'. That said, this book has greater depth in plot than the earlier ones, and is a very good read.
on February 13, 2001
Like Tom Stoppard (amongst others) before him, Terry Pratchett has re-written Shakespeare, shifting focus to a group of secondary characters. Where Stoppard switches the hub of "Hamlet" to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, Pratchett uses "Macbeth"s three witches, the so-called "Wyrd Sisters". He also replaces Scotland with a giant, interstellar Discworld, perched atop four gigantic elephants, who are themselves perched atop an even more giant turtle. Needless to say, Shakespeare's original does not come away unscathed.
Pratchett tosses around numerous parodic references to "Macbeth" (i.e., the opening scene where an eerie voice asks, "When shall we three meet again?" and a deadpan voice replies "Well, I can do next Tuesday"; people are constantly seeing daggers before them, or at least thinking they do). It should be noted that a familiarity with the original text is not important to your enjoyment here. I haven't read the play in about five years, and still caught enough to stay with the joke. References to other plays abound as well. "Hamlet" (a tightfisted theatre director decrees that "the pay's the thing", then swiftly corrects himself), "Romeo and Juliet", and "Richard III" are all prominently featured and lampooned.
"Wyrd Sisters" also features the finest example of an ensemble cast so far seen in any of the Discworld books. Each character is distinct and interesting, not to mention integral to the plot. My favourites include: Tomjon, the unknown heir who is a great example of how a passion for the theatre can stand side-by-side with more conventional magic; Hwel (Will?), a dwarf playwright, who at one point almost invents the stage personas of the Marx Brothers (yay!), Laurel & Hardy, and Charlie Chaplin; Granny Weatherwax, who first appeared in "Equal Rites" and now has her own odd but endearing coven to deal with; Verence, late King of Lancre, who is doomed to hang around his old castle as a frustrated and ineffectual ghost; and Greebo, a cat best described as a feline rapist, for his prodigious spreading of the seed. But my favourite character is The Fool, a Shakespearean staple given a surprising amount of depth here. The Fool is allowed to feel love and despair, the former for the young witch Magrat, and the latter for his fated placement in a job that he despises. Normally a device for exposition, here The Fool is a full-fledged, living and breathing character. A wonderful creation.
To me, this is the first in the series which gets all the elements right. Pratchett throws in enough references to keep fans of those continually happy. He has created an eclectic and fascinating cast of characters. And fashioned a story that is involving, complex, intriguing, funny, and supremely entertaining. It's not the proper place to start your journey through the Discworld, but for those of you amongst the initiated, don't make the mistake of skipping "Wyrd Sisters".
on June 10, 2001
I discovered the writing of Terry Pratchett when I happened to read a short story called 'The Sea and Little Fishes,' which was included in the Legends compilation series. That short story featured one 'Granny Weatherwax' and her companion Gytha Ogg, and the deadpan brilliance of the writing and imagination hooked me immediately. Since then, I have purchased and read every book in Pratchett's 'Granny Weatherwax' cycle (except Witches Abroad) and I have enjoyed each one of them immensely. Pratchett is sly, witty, fiendishly nonsensical when he has to be, masterful in his plotting when he has to be, and above all else, entertaining. Wyrd Sisters was an absolute hoot of a book, laced with memorable scenes, lines of cracklingly funny dialogue and fresh imagination. Pratchett knows how to walk the fine line between camp and clever, and he never misses a beat in his Granny books. Read and become hooked at your own peril.
on April 26, 2001
What can I say about Pratchett that hasn't already been said?
He is an amazing satirist and a talented author with an excellent grasp of the literary arts.
Wyrd Sisters is one of his earlier works, though I have only recently aquired it after reading 20 of his later Discworld novels)
It's the story of MacBeth with many a humorous twist and turn, satisfactory in every way from start to finish.
The Characters of Granny Weatherwax, Magrat Garlick and Nanny Ogg, though familiar to me, are truly developed in this story and happily so. The three witches step to the front in this tale and keep you laughing page after page and even manage to through cautions about government and society to tumble you on your way to an ending that will merely make you astonished and give you a smile...
and isn't that the point afterall?
on August 4, 2000
I usually read books on the bus. Especially if it is the kind of book I feel I can't lay down. You will feel that way about this book, and so you will want to take it with you on the bus unless you managed to finish it at 4AM the day before a work-day. My very sincere advice to you is: Don't! Reading this book on the bus will ruin your social life and possibly kill you. The howls of laughter you will make whilst reading this book will be violent, loud and long-lasting. This will undoubtedly annoy your co-passengers, who will vilify you in public for having pierced their eardrums. There goes your social life. It might also starte the bus driver, and your laughter spasms might rock the bus too violently, causing the bus to swerve off the road. Which could kill you. And therefore also really damage your social life.
on September 7, 2001
I bought Wyrd Sisters expecting little. Equal Rites, for lack of better definition, [wasn't good]. I saw great potential in the characters, but I remember laughing only once or twice throughout the whole book. Thank God Pratchett lived up to the character's potentials this time.
The back cover of the book says the main plot is about royal trouble, while it really is a parody of theatrical plays. Some of the scenes are laugh-out-loud funny.
The book is pretty slow in the beggining, but it speeds up gradually. If you ever chuckled at one of the previous discworld novels, you will love this one. Yes, the improvement is that huge.