I can’t let Terry Pratchett’s death pass without looking at one of his masterful Discworld novels, particularly this one, which I love. (Well, I love them all… but you know what I mean).
While I was at university studying to complete my PhD, I loaned my original copy of Lords and Ladies to my doctoral supervisor. Cutting a long story short, I never got it back – not because it vanished into the pestilential pit of his office, but because he loved it so much that persuaded me to give it to him as a gift. There was actual eyelash-fluttering involved (and he did buy me a beer to sort-of make up for it), so I had very little hope of withstanding. I relinquished the book, and that was that. For several years – almost a decade, in fact – my Pratchett collection had a hole, right in the middle.
Then, one day, my beloved came home with a small, paper-wrapped package in his hand, which he gave to me without a word. I opened it, and the wonderful red-coloured cover in the photo above came into view. The book I now have is a different edition to the one I gave away, but it hardly matters. My favourite Discworld novel had returned, and I was delighted to welcome it.
Lords and Ladies is a book about the collision between worlds – as so many Discworld books are, in some form or other – and this collision happens in a lot of ways. On the most basic level we have the world of the Disc coming into contact with the world of the Gentry (or the Shining Ones, or the Fair Folk, or – of course – the Lords and Ladies), as the Elves, the baddies of the piece, have come to be referred to over the years that have passed between their last appearance and the present time. These are not the gentle, wise Elves of Tolkien, by the way; we are not in Lothlorien, here. These are Elves of an entirely different breed. We also have the collision between the ‘old’ and ‘new’ styles of magic, embodied in Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg (who are as old-school as it’s possible to be) who come face-to-face with Perdita (real name: Agnes) and her friends, whose naivety has given them corrupted ideas about the magic they wield. Their ‘new-fangledness’ has led them to dabble in things they do not have the experience to understand, and it is through their attempts to work magic without first learning what it is that the world is left open to the influence of evil. We also have Magrat, the third and youngest of the witches, who leaves behind her magical life (sort of, at least) in order to marry Verence, King of Lancre, a man who began his career as a Fool, and the book explores the relationship between king and people, nobility and commoner, and man and woman, all through their gentle, awkward relationship. In fact, I think part of the reason I love this book so much is because we have a chance to see Magrat as she is, not through the lens of being the ‘third witch’; we see her learning how to defend herself and those she loves against terrifying odds through her own ingenuity and bravery, and not through her magic.
But it’s the story wot matters, and here it is.
in the countryside of Lancre, there is a circle of standing stones known as the Dancers. Birds divert their course so as not to fly over it; clouds separate and flow around the circle, rejoining again once they’re past it. The weather inside the circle is different to the weather outside it. Once, the stones were guarded and feared, and the grass around them was kept short, and people stayed away. But time passed, and the fear began to dissipate. The grass grew. The old stories were forgotten. Young, unschooled witches begin to have their sabbats around the stones, and careless hunters disturb it by driving animals, against their will, into the gaps between the Dancers. If something goes in, then something must also come out… In this way, the power of the Gentry is awoken, and the Elves finally manage to find the crack in the world which they have long been searching for. It is up to Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg, as well as a brave band of Morris Men, to send them back where they came from. For these Elves are not benevolent, or kind, or interested in being guardians or custodians of mankind. Their power is not on the wane. They are cold, and treat humanity as though it were a bug beneath a magnifying lens, and they love to cause pain just to watch what happens. They rejoice in their own power. Over the years, people have forgotten the cold and the cruelty, and remember only their beauty and the glamour they shroud themselves in, and nobody fears them any more – nobody but the witches, at least.
Until they come, and their true nature shows itself…
Everything about this book is a triumph, from the wizards of the Unseen University and their cross-country trip to attend the wedding of King Verence and Ms Magrat Garlick (and the adventures which ensue), to the courtship of Nanny Ogg by Casanunda, the Disc’s second-greatest lover, to Granny Weatherwax’s secret past, to the legend of Queen Ynci whose fearsome iron armour becomes a useful weapon against the Elves. There are scenes which make the reader snort with laughter (like the Stick-and-Bucket dance, or the moment when Verence takes delivery of what he thinks is a guide to ‘marital arts’, but turns out to be something quite different), and there are scenes which chill the blood, and there are scenes which bring tears to the reader’s eyes because they’re so real and moving. And, of course, on every page there are sentences so perfect that you just sigh in admiration as you read.
Every Discworld novel has something to recommend it, and every fan of the series will have their own particular favourite – this is mine. If you haven’t already found yours, I hope you’ll read and re-read the books until you do.
THE TURTLE MOVES.
GNU Terry Pratchett.