Title: Equal Rites (Discworld 3; Witches 1)
Author: Terry Pratchett
Publisher: Corgi (newer edition)
Release Date: January 15, 1987
Genre(s): Fantasy, Humour
Subjects & Themes: Magic, Gender Roles
Page Count: 282 (paperback)
They say that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing, but it is not one half so bad as a lot of ignorance.
There are some situations where the correct response is to display the sort of ignorance which happily and wilfully flies in the face of the facts. In this case, the birth of a baby girl, born a wizard — by mistake. Everybody knows that there’s no such thing as a female wizard. But now it’s gone and happened, there’s nothing much anyone can do about it. Let the battle of the sexes begin.
Okay, so Equal Rites wasn’t quite the battle of the sexes (at least, not until the end), but I did enjoy it far, far more than I did The Colour of Magic. Part of that has to do with the setting which is a lot more contained this time around, so the readers aren’t bombarded with worldbuilding info from the get-go. Instead we start off with a small village called “Bad Ass” and a wizard who accidentally passes his staff to a newborn girl instead of, well, a boy. Because girls can be witches and boys can be wizards, but under absolutely no condition can the two ever mix.
Pratchett delves into the arbitrary gender roles that society assigns us from birth. It’s a familiar topic and one that I can always get behind, so I found myself a lot more invested in the main characters’ plights this time around. Eskarina (our accidental wizard girl), though young and naïve, is determined to prove that she can be a wizard. With her intelligence and spirit, it’s impossible not to root for her.
“Why was it that when she heard Granny ramble on about witchcraft she longed for the cutting magic of wizardry, but whenever she heard Treatle speak in his high-pitched voice she would fight to the death for witchcraft? She’d be both or none at all. And the more they intended to stop her, the more she wanted it.”
Also, I loved the whole “staves are for wizards (who are boys) and brooms are for witches (who are girls),” thing the story kept harping on about because, really, they’re both just long sticks of wood, so the idea of gender-coding them is absurd–which is exactly what Pratchett was going for.
I also really liked his explanation of the law of magic and the hierarchy of magic users and how some categories of users are seen as superior to others–like how magicians are lower than wizards but still better thought of than “conjurers.” It’s fun stuff.
Oh, and Granny Weatherwax? I’ve heard a lot about you. A lot of good things ending in multiple exclamation marks. And you know what? They were right. I really like you. I know you’re not much of a book person and think stories should be approached with a boatload of skepticism, but I think we can still get along. I love your practicality and your explanation of “headology” and the idea that, sometimes, real magic is what we believe it to be. So yeah, I’m very much looking forward to getting to know you better.
Overall, Equal Rites was a fun, light read that charmed my pants off and I’m giving it FOUR elephants-riding-turtles out of five.