Wyrd Sisters Discussion *Spoilers*

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Wyrd Sisters Discussion *Spoilers*

Postby Tonyblack » Mon Feb 01, 2010 6:54 am

**Warning**

This thread is for discussing Wyrd Sisters in some depth. If you haven’t read the book then read on at your own risk – or, better still, go and read the book and join in the fun.

For those of us that are going to join in the discussion, here are a few guidelines:

Please feel free to make comparisons to other Discworld books, making sure you identify the book and the passage you are referring to. Others may not be as familiar with the book you are referencing, so think before you post.

Sometimes we’ll need to agree to disagree – only Terry knows for sure what he was thinking when he wrote the books and individuals members may have widely different interpretations – so try to keep the discussion friendly.

We may be discussing a book that you don’t much care for – don’t be put off joining in the discussion. If you didn’t care for the book, then that in itself is a good topic for discussion.

Please note: there is no time limit to this discussion. Please feel free to add to it at any time - especially if you've just read the book.

And finally:

Please endeavour to keep the discussion on topic. If necessary I will step in and steer it back to the original topic – so no digressions please!

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Wyrd Sisters by Terry Pratchett
Originally published 1988

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When Duke Felmet and his wife decide to snatch the Kingdom of Lancre through murder most foul, they neglect the fact that the witches of the country won’t be happy about it.

And when the Kingdom itself is unhappy with the deed, the witches take drastic action to give the country the King it deserves.

I want to thank swreader for volunteering to write the introduction to this month’s discussion. :)



swreader wrote:Wyrd Sisters introduction by swreader

This novel introduces us to one of the most important types of people inhabiting Discworld—The Witches. Although in some senses we have met Granny before, this is the first novel in which we meet the three most dominant witches. Witches, as they will tell you, do not believe in hierarchy, do not have leaders or head witches, and Granny Weatherwax (as she appears in this novel) is the most highly regarded of the leaders whom witches don’t have. But also vitally important (in this and the other witch novels) are the two other members of the original coven, Nanny Ogg and Magrat Garlick.

Though the opening line of this book is exactly that of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, and though Pratchett makes extensive allusive reference to Shakespeare and that particular play, this novel is not a parody of the play. Rather Pratchett uses witch magic as well as the magic of words, whether written by some playwright or used by the witches, to begin the exploration of several themes which he will develop more fully in the later witch novels. The Shakespeare allusions which underlie the novel give it a richness not only by the use of comic contrast but more importantly serious consideration of the responsibilities of kings or rulers of a country and that of those citizens who have special talents.

One of the themes Pratchett explores here is the responsibility the witches have to the special quality of their land. They are not rulers, nor do they seek to be—but their talents force them into unusual actions, such as the use of witch magic to move the country fifteen years into the future, making Lancre perhaps the only country to have “time-traveled”. Pratchett sets up the tension between the three witches in this book that runs through all the witch books. Each of the three has different strengths and weaknesses which contributes to both the tension and bonding of the three. Pratchett’s witches are not the evil spirits conjured by Shakespeare, but specially talented human beings who have chosen or been chosen by a calling that requires an unusual way of life.

Pratchett sprinkles this book with comic references, sometimes almost with parody. One only has to pronounce the name of Hwel, the dwarf playwright of the Vitoller Company of Actors, and perhaps think of Shakespeare’s company, the Lord Chamberlain’s men, to notice the name of the theatre they eventually construct in the capital city to realize that Pratchett has enriched the play by the comic allusion to Shakespeare and his play. But, as is true of Pratchett’s best work, while knowing Macbeth may add to the laughter, knowledge of the play is not, in the final analysis, necessary to enjoy and appreciate the first appearance of the famous trio—Granny, Nanny & Magrat.




Want to write the introduction for the next discussion (Thud!)? PM me and let me know if you’d like to – first come first served. :wink:
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Postby theoldlibrarian » Mon Feb 01, 2010 2:58 pm

Well done swreader that was a great introduction.
I personally really enjoyed the book greatly but I also found it was not a good book for starting readers off on Discworld. Unlike other books which take from many others aspects of literature, science, culture etc.
This book I found was far more based on a particular theme. Taking chiefly from English literature and fairy tales, in particular Shakespeare. It parodys MacBeth as swreader said aswell as other plays like the Merchant of Venice.
As I have already said I greatly enjoyed and appreciated the book but Im not sure that those less read in Pratchett would so to the same extent.
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Postby Tonyblack » Mon Feb 01, 2010 3:06 pm

I watched Hamlet on the BBC iPlayer the other day (with David Tennant as Hamlet) and was surprised at how much of that is alluded to in there. Terry has twisted things around though - rather than (as in WS) getting the players to act out a lie, in Hamlet they act out the truth. :)
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Postby Doughnut Jimmy » Mon Feb 01, 2010 3:23 pm

Great introduction swreader!

Interesting that you don't think its a good intro OldLibrarian as since it was one of the first to be made into a play I think it was the introduction to Discworld for a lot of people.

I have to say I enjoyed the book even more this time than on previous readings, there is a wonderful richness and depth of allusion in it and as SWreader says the tensions and interactions between the three witches are very cleverly done.
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Postby poohcarrot » Mon Feb 01, 2010 10:21 pm

According to the Annotated Pratchett, bits from the following Shakespeare plays are parodied;

Macbeth
Hamlet
Julius Ceaser
King Lear
Midsummer Night's Dream
As you like it
Tempest
King Henry IV part 1
King henry V
Richard III

http://www.lspace.org/books/apf/wyrd-sisters.html
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Postby swreader » Tue Feb 02, 2010 1:51 am

Pooh- even the complier doesn't say all these plays are parodied, and the first example he gives ("When shall we three meet again?") is not a parody, but an allusion. Pratchett uses the allusion to alert the reader that this novel is going to be full of Shakespearian references--although I have a bit of trouble with a few of the references that are listed in L-Space.

Parody is" in contemporary usage, is a work created to mock, comment on, or poke fun at an original work, its subject, author, style, or some other target, by means of humorous, satiric or ironic imitation." according to Wiki. And in that sense, there is almost no parody in this novel.

But the term is also used in post modernist literature for what I would call allusive reference. And this is what most of the references in this book do. They take a scene from a Shakespeariean play, stand it on it's head, or illustrate the opposite. For example, Hamlet has "the play's the thing wherein we'll catch the conscience of the King" (if memory serves me correctly as to that quote). But Pratchett uses both "the pay's the thing" and "the play's the thing" in the scene where the Fool is hiring Hwel to write the play. And the play he is to write for the money that the Duke is paying him is supposed to do almost the exact opposite--justifying the evil actions of the bad would-be-king and trying to slander the witches in their attempt to protect the land.

Theoldlibrarian--did you really mean Merchant of Venice? I don't know of an allusion to that, but the novel is so full of literary allusions that I may have missed it.

And I don't know about whether this (or any other) is the best "first book" of Pratchertt to read. I've heard people recommend both Color of Magic and Mort, neither of which I would recommend--but which others like. Personally, I ususallly recommend Guards! Guards! for an introduction. I suspect that Pratchett's greatness is that his novels generally are good even if you don't get all the puns, allusions, etc. and have great comic and satiric style and just plain fun to read in either case. They have more to say if you pick up on some of the allusions and the way he uses them.
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Postby poohcarrot » Tue Feb 02, 2010 2:20 am

swreader wrote:...is not a parody, but an allusion.


I stand corrected. :oops:

If I had said TP had "ripped-off" all those plays, would that have been OK? :lol:
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Postby poohcarrot » Tue Feb 02, 2010 5:00 am

Hang about! I don't stand corrected! :D

According to my dictionary;

Allusion = "something that is said or written that refers to or mentions another person or thing in an INDIRECT WAY"

Parody = "A piece of writing, music, acting etc that deliberately copies the style of sb/sth in order to be amusing."

Using these definitions, I would say that Wyrd Sisters IS a parody of Macbeth. It could hardly be said that the following are indirect references to Macbeth;

3 witches
"When shall we 3 meet again"
Weird sisters = wyrd sisters
A murdered king
A pushy wife
A forest
"Is this a dagger..."
A ghost
The usurper dies.
Trying to get the blood off the hands.
"Pricking of my thumbs"
"Eye of newt"
etc etc etc.

Just how many allusions does it take to make a parody? :?

(I'm sure you do it deliberately to make me re-act! :lol: )
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Postby Doughnut Jimmy » Tue Feb 02, 2010 9:29 am

poohcarrot wrote:Parody = "A piece of writing, music, acting etc that deliberately copies the style of sb/sth in order to be amusing."


But Wyrd sisters doesn't really copy the style of Macbeth does it? It exands humorously on parts of it but in a completely different style. In the same way I don't think you can say Kiss Me Kate is a parody of The Taming of the Shrew although maybe you can say it satirises the story line

Hang on - haven't we already had the parody/satire/etc argument last month - Noooooo!
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Postby poohcarrot » Tue Feb 02, 2010 12:42 pm

Last month was a definition of "satire" month.

This month it's obviously become a definition of "parody" month. :roll:

Actually I will quantify my comment.

I agree Wyrd Sisters is NOT a parody of Macbeth. However it does parody Macbeth. Verb not noun - important difference.
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Postby Jan Van Quirm » Tue Feb 02, 2010 1:05 pm

I mentioned this in the Pyramids thread so it shouldn't come as too much of a shock :wink: - I did not like Wyrd Sisters at all when it first came out because I thought it 'borrowed' (or ripped off as pooh's already said), from Shakespeare far too much. :shock:

You can call it what you like - when I first read it I nearly gave up on Discworld altogether, because what I loved most about it was that Terry was striking out with something truly original and it was his twisting of logic and physics as much as the fantastic elements that drew me in whilst the Disc was young... Now here Terry was regurgitating Macbeth and other Shakespearean themes and I felt really, really cheated, even though I liked Granny already and was really impressed with Nanny and Magrat. I persevered on the basis that I already had a lot of affection for Discworld, but the feeling that Terry had sold out festered and so I very nearly didn't pick up Pyramids when it came out - in fact I wasn't going to, but I happened to be going on holiday and didn't have much to read with me, so I bought that duty-free at Gatwick and fell in love all over again (yes it was that long ago!). :lol:

Then I went back to WS after I'd read and enjoyed Moving Pictures and clicked majorly with the irony and satire in that, so, having 'forgiven' Terry and now thoroughly addicted I went back to WS and this time, with my resentment conquered I loved it for the hag, the mother and the maiden and finally did it justice by reading it 'properly' instead of skimming, and embraced the deftly applied comedic mucking about with the play within a play and the rest of the motifs and forgot all about reading Macbeth at school with my rotten teacher.

I still don't absolutely agree that Terry's humour is entirely satirical - it's not really sharp enough a lot of the time. More like poking fun at subjects that are too serious or taboo and daring you to re-assess and see it differently rather than 'over-egging' the hilarity which is an exasperating fault of Pythonesque satire sometimes (the sketch format especially). This was actually something that came home to me rather poignantly last night watching the Dimbleby lecture. How Terry doesn't really mock anything too crudely or at length, not even religious bigotry, he just points and infers how absurd something is and then applies gentle logic and justice to it (look at the way he gives Dios and Vorbis and their come-uppance and in the latter's case even gives him a chance to redeem himself when Brutha takes his hand in Death's desert :) ). I prefer the other Witch novels but WS is, for me, seminal in that it's Terry making another landmark for the development of the Discworld universe :wink:
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Postby poohcarrot » Wed Feb 03, 2010 3:08 am

One of the major themes, if not the main theme of the book, is the power of words and how history can be changed by those in power to suit their own perverted aganda by creating their own reality.

Rage Against The Machine wrote:Who controls the present, controls the past.

(Insert name of Neo-Con nutjob) wrote:Saddam Hussein was responsible for 9/11

(Insert name of Neo-Con nutjob) wrote:Iraq has WMDs

Terry Pratchett wrote:A lie can go half way round the world before the Truth has got its boots on

Poohcarrot wrote:The pen is mightier than the Sjoerd :lol:
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Postby Tonyblack » Wed Feb 03, 2010 7:09 am

I agree Pooh - this book is very much about the power of words. The play that the duke orders up is basically a piece of propaganda. There's a very good bit earlier than that where the Fool says words can be more powerful than swords and when they don't believe him he says something along the lines of 'Liar, usurper, murderer!' which has the effect of shocking the couple into horrified silence. :)
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Postby raisindot » Wed Feb 03, 2010 12:33 pm

poohcarrot wrote:One of the major themes, if not the main theme of the book, is the power of words and how history can be changed by those in power to suit their own perverted aganda by creating their own reality.


This seems to emerge as a central theme of many of the DW books. "The Truth," "Witches Abroad," "The Fifth Elephant," "Thud" and even "Lords and Ladies" and "Hogfather" have as central themes the power of stories, myths and written words and folklore to literally and figuratively shape both the past and the present. Is "Wyrd Sisters" is the first DW novel to make this a major leitmotif?

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Postby poohcarrot » Wed Feb 03, 2010 12:51 pm

But in those books the stories are established. None of them are the same as WS, because in WS the words are used by the baddies to create the realities they want to create. Propaganda (as Tony said) in the past (the play), the present (the rumours about the witches) and the future (the Fool's plan for urban renovation which meant getting rid of all the trees, which is the desired result).

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