Lords And Ladies Terry Pratchett, 1992
Jen Williams discusses one of her favourite novels by the late author
How can you choose a Discworld novel to write about, when the series is littered with classics? Mort, Small Gods, Guards! Guards!, Night Watch… You could pick a title out of a hat and be blessed with a great work of fantastical fiction. Lords And Ladies is a tremendous example of an early Discworld book and, quite selfishly, it is my favourite.
It’s the fourteenth Discworld novel, and the fourth concerning that fractious coven of Lancre witches made up of Granny Weatherwax, Nanny Ogg and Magrat Garlick. In this adventure, the Elves are coming to Lancre; they’re achingly beautiful, mindlessly cruel, and they want nothing more than to make us afraid of the dark again. Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg are going to be hard pressed to sort this one out, especially when there’s a royal wedding looming, a gaggle of new witches causing trouble by the standing stones, and the ever present threat of the “Stick and Bucket Dance”…
Lords And Ladies has so many of the things that make the Discworld novels special. It has an inhuman threat that highlights the humanity of our heroes: the easy grace and cold indifference of the Elf Queen, in comparison to our doubtful, frustrated Magrat, who is only just finding out what being a Queen means when all at once she has to fight for the position, or the sleek, faceless elf hunters in comparison to our own Shawn Ogg, who is learning his kung fu out of a book. It has the friendships and relationships that you understand within a few lines of text and recognise because they are true: the deep trust and slightly knowing tolerance of the friendship between Granny and Nanny Ogg, the awkward romance between the shy Magrat and Verence. And it has humour of course, buckets and buckets of humour. Humour in fantasy books is extraordinarily hard to pull off, but Sir Terry peppers the page with jokes like it’s the easiest thing in the world, even while he’s slipping an icy piece of truth down the back of your jumper.
Hidden amongst the witches and elves is so much truth
That truth is most apparent in the internal lives of his characters. Here we see more of Granny Weatherwax than we ever have done. This pragmatic, independent, fiercely capable woman is doubting herself for the first time as the spectre of her death looms closer. Complicating things further is the presence of Mustrum Ridcully, her partner in a youthful romance that never quite led anywhere. The relationship between them too – the sweet, slightly desperate attempts from Ridcully to reignite their passions and the flat avoidance of any such nonsense from Granny Weatherwax – reveals so much about the two characters that it’s almost painful to read, mainly because in her refusal Granny is actually being kind ( or at least her version of it). There are other worlds where they did marry, where they did have children, she tells him. And that is enough. Discworld books are often described somewhat dismissively as humorous fantasy, but I have rarely read a sentiment truer or more heart- breaking than Granny’s practical acceptance that her choices are ultimately her own.
Granny isn’t the only character to have new layers revealed. Soon to be queen, Magrat is struggling with this change in her status. People she’s known all her life are speaking to her like she’s a stranger, and even worse, being a queen is boring. Frustrated, betrayed, and frightened, she stumbles across the armour of Queen Ynci, a woman more concerned with steel spikes than tapestries. Pushed into a corner, with everything she loves at stake, the iron core at the heart of Magrat shows itself. Magrat’s sudden bad ass* transformation is wonderful not because she’s fearless – she’s actually terrified – but because the Queen of the Elves mistakes her for someone who can be overlooked because she is kind, and that turns out to be a huge mistake.
It’s impossible to summarise here exactly how much Sir Terry Pratchett meant to me, or to fantasy and literature in general. Hidden amongst the witches and the elves, the trolls and the dwarves, there is so much truth about humanity that in reading these books, you cannot help but know yourself a little better. * Bad ass as in “formidable”, not as in that small village in the Ramtops** ** What? I can’t have a footnote in an article about a Discworld novel?