Lords and Ladies by Sir Terry Pratchett

ARTWORK by chic2view from 123RF.com

Today I have a wonderful book for you, courtesy of those marvelous Wyrd & Wonder prompts, that being Terry Pratchett’s Lords and Ladies, featuring Granny Weatherwax, Nanny Ogg, Magrat Garlick and many others. Spirit of nature? Why, a book about the lords and ladies themselves might have a few of those in there indeed, and of a very vicious kind too. This is an old favourite of mine, indeed to the point where I’ve felt the need to split this review into First Time Reader and Second Time Reader. First is pretty much spoiler free, second is… not. But goes a lot deeper into the themes. I’d also point out this is third/fourth in a series for those as cares.

With no further ado

First Time Reader

Hello good reader. Are you looking for a book featuring elves of a most wicked nature and sourly virtuous witches? Riffs on rural England, Shakespeare, parallel universes, love, and too much damn folklore? An all star cast of strong-minded women backed up by dwarven lotharios, orangutan librarians, overly enthusiastic castle guards, humorous yokels and (sometimes) wise wizards?

I do very much hope you at least shrugged and went “could be good”, or you’re in the wrong place.

Lords and Ladies is very much centered around three witches. There’s Magrat Garlick, busy with getting married and not being a witch. There’s Granny Weatherwax, busy with the stopping the ‘Good’ Folk from invading the kingdom of Lancre and making sure no one foolish (like Magrat) interferes. And there’s Nanny Ogg, who’d just like to have a good time and make sure nothing much gets broken. They snap and bicker, occasionally shout, occasionally trick, and when it comes to it, they support each other.

Which is just as well, or otherwise Lancre will be overrun by the Lords and Ladies (don’t call them elves).

Pratchett leans hard on the possible comedic potential of the scenario and this book contains some of his funnier moments, particularly when the dwarf Casanunda tries wooing Nanny Ogg. There’s no shortage of pathos or drama either though, and he often manages to get many of those elements into the same scene, like Granny’s confrontation with some younger witches and much of Magrat’s arc. Much of the trick here lies in just how colourfully lifelike the characters are – I feel sure we all have a Nanny Ogg in our lives – and how sharp the observations are.

They are very sharp. There’s so many little thematic observations about what partnership is and what love has to do with it, about what in the past matters and what doesn’t, about what to do when there can only be one of you, and so on. These can be missed as Lords and Ladies rattles on at a fair old pace, too intent on having fun to belabour any point. That’s fine. The book more than holds up without them. But when you see amidst the giggles, you know why so many of us think Pratchett was something unbelievably special.

So there we have it. A riotously funny, whip-smart ride though three women fighting against Fairy Peasebottom and each other, sometimes in that order. A book like that has to be worth a glance, right?

Now let’s put some images up before we get to the spoilery parts. People who haven’t read this or the preceding books – I don’t think I’ll spoil much, but caveat lector.

Second Time Reader

It wasn’t until I wrote a recent essay that I realised how many of Granny Weatherwax’s enemies were those who could hold mental sway over humanity as well as physical; the monsters that we didn’t even want to defeat.

But it is very true and indeed, I think all of the characters here are fighting a range of enemies they don’t want to fight, not just Granny and not just the elven monsters.

It’s probably truest of Magrat, if only because she’s such a reluctant fighter. She’s a romantic, a visionary chasing a vision, a shy and introverted woman who is used to being overruled. When she receives her most devastating news of the book, Granny’s letter to King Verence, her initial impulse is to withdraw altogether – or fight the control over her by refusing to be in a place where she can be controlled. Indeed, for a lot of the book, Magrat’s main enemy seems to be Granny herself. And while Magrat eventually fights the elves physically and accepts Nanny’s admonition that Granny had never been her enemy, it is clear that her main fight throughout is her own mentality. Magrat has own inner Lords and Ladies telling her to submit to the world that must be banished.

Granny Weatherwax is notorious for having very few such things. She has her doubts and moments of weakness, the same as the rest of us, but she is very clear as to who Granny Weatherwax should be and that wins. However, Pratchett needs to challenge that, and his choice of opponent is Granny Weatherwax herself – just Granny from a different reality, one where she married and actually became a granny. The creeping sense of what could have been is something that can get through her armour. It is telling that her grand speech is that it is her living and learning – her giving up what might have been to be her – that has made her powerful; and that her grand act is an expression of the power of her identity, namely ‘borrowing’ the bees.

Nanny’s arc is far less thematically important, with her mainly playing foil to both other women. There is a statement of it in two parts, right at the end, where she states she won’t have her grandchildren growing up in a world with elves but Casanunda later shrewdly guesses she doesn’t have much of an animus to them herself. Nanny likes the glamour of an exciting world, but it’s not the world she’d pick for her children. She is never conflicted about this, but she is wistful.

The Lords and Ladies can be seen to represent many things through this prism – sheer cruelty and charisma, the past, and elitism to pick three obvious ones – and this versatility enhances the story. Their key trait is a full enjoyment of their supremacy over others, something that makes them one of the most compelling examples of absolute evil in the genre and a dark mirror of humanity. In many ways, the witches are not just fighting invaders or their own demons, they are fighting for humanity’s freedom from their own worse impulses, the heritage of our dark past (notice how the elves come from what appears to be an ice age).

In this respect are like some mythic trio I’ve never seen before; the moralist, the hedonist, the worrier, each philosophy being the bedrock of their respect for (most) others’ autonomy. Granny is too moral to take it away, Magrat too worried about doing wrong, and Nanny just has other things she’d rather be doing. But for all of them, these things come with flaws too, their own worst impulses from the dark past.

Fortunately for Lancre, the three are equal to that. May we all be.

2 thoughts on “Lords and Ladies by Sir Terry Pratchett

  1. Pingback: Quest Log the Last

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