Terry Pratchett,
Wyrd Sisters
(Victor Gollancz, 1988; Roc, 1990)

Being English probably gives Terry Pratchett license to muck about with Shakespeare. But let's give the author his due; sure, there are elements of Macbeth and a good bit of Hamlet to be found in the plot of Pratchett's Wyrd Sisters, but the bulk of this book is pure Discworld hilarity.

Wyrd Sisters focuses its attentions on the three witches Granny Weatherwax, Nanny Ogg and Magrat Garlick, the latter of whom has learned too much of her witchery in the sorts of books advertisted, in this world, anyway, in the back of supermarket tabloids. They are trying their hands at being a coven and it isn't going quite as planned. They've also vowed never to meddle in the affairs of the kingdom, but that vow proves to be fairly elastic when the kingdom starts meddling with them.

The novel also includes a king, who gets murdered right in the beginning but must loiter about his crumbling castle as a ghost -- much to his annoyance. There's a son, too, but this one isn't much like the tormented and indecisive Danish prince of Shakespeare; rather, Tomjon is a good bit younger and, because of various circumstances better left unexplained, is living with a troupe of actors (a vocation for which he shows remarkable aptitude). There's also a duke, who will gladly kill a king for the crown but can't muster the backbone to talk back to his formidable wife. The duchess, the power behind, or rather in front of, the duke, is a no-nonsense sort of tyrant who rather enjoys torture and oppression on general principles.

There's a Fool, who hates to be funny but, nonetheless, capers and "nuncles" with a certain grim determination. Hwel is a dwarf who gave up the mines to be a playwright (and who certainly owes some of his inspiration to our very own Bard). And there's the kingdom itself, who, it turns out, doesn't like being ruled by someone who doesn't love and nurture it to the appropriate degree.

Wyrd Sisters deals much with the power of words to define reality -- and the fact that such a power doesn't always turn out the way someone planned.

But the words of this book surely did turn out as Pratchett intended, unless he was shooting for a somber and lackluster novel. Wyrd Sisters will keep you engrossed, and laughing, until the very last act.

[ by Tom Knapp ]



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