Lords And Ladies Terry Pratch­ett, 1992

Jen Wil­liams dis­cusses one of her favourite nov­els by the late au­thor

SFX - - Rated book club -

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?

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