In the middle of this elemental storm a fire gleamed among the dripping furze bushes like the madness in a weasel’s eye. It illuminated three hunched figures. As the cauldron bubbled an eldritch voice shrieked: ‘When shall we three meet again?’
There was a pause.
Finally another voice said, in far more ordinary tones: ‘Well, I can do next Tuesday’.
-Wyrd Sisters, Terry Pratchett
In Terry Pratchett’s Wyrd Sisters, readers visit the Discworld once again, this time for a remaking of MacBeth from the witches’ point of view. If Shakespeare is turning in his grave, it’s surely from convulsions of laughter. Not that the book purports in any way to retell Shakespeare’s classic, but rather its plot mirrors that of a murderous king and queen who inherited the throne by a bloody act, and consequently even the land itself begins to rise up against them. Meanwhile, the three witches, who firmly believe that magic should never meddle in politics, find themselves embroiled in affairs of state despite their best efforts.
In stark contrast to the Weird Sisters of MacBeth, Granny Weatherwax, Nanny Ogg, and Magrat do not put political intrigue in motion with enigmatic predictions, but rather they are pulled along into affairs of state against their will. They firmly believe that magic has no place in the ruling of nations, yet their hands are forced and they find themselves caught up in a murder mystery, assaulted with propaganda, and given the dubious task of finding a new king for the unhappy kingdom.
There are too many references to Shakespeare’s plays not to notice. The guilty king thinks the trees of the forest are moving against him, and he compulsively washes his hands until they are raw and exposed. Word play jokes prevail throughout the narrative. The three main characters of the witches, though they may have started with MacBeth’s Weird Sisters, steal the show with their unique personalities and idiosyncrasies.
Granny Weatherwax, the lead witch in a coven that does not believe in having a leader, disapproves of a great many things and has strong opinions about everything. She is generally deferred to by the other two witches, Magrat Garlick and Granny Ogg. Granny Ogg, an older witch, also holds strong opinions but is of a less conservative nature than Granny. She rules a small empire of children and grandchildren, and constantly makes lewd insinuations to the coven’s youngest member, the impressionable and innocent Magrat.
Besides the witches themselves, this small kingdom of the Discworld is populated with a rich assortment of characters – from the king’s Fool all the way to Tomjon, the rightful heir to the throne. Each one comes with an engaging backstory. The story stands on its own, though characters from other books of the Discworld series do make appearances.
Wyrd Sisters is an odd mix of fairy tale, ghost story, magic, and humor. My only complaint might be that my ebook version had a few instances where the names of the witches were interchanged. This seems more like an editorial error rather than simply a formatting issue, because in each situation only one witch was present. Otherwise, this was one of the funniest things I’ve read in quite a while. The characters were wacky enough to get my attention, and the plot was dynamic enough to keep it. This thoroughly delightful tale should entertain readers of all ages with its quirky style and erudite humor.