The book opens with the Granny Weatherwax, Nanny Ogg, Grammar Brevis and Old Mother Dismass, discussing the recent death of their colleague and fairy godmother Desiderata Hollow. There don’t seem to be enough Witches around today and it is not sure who is going to replace her. They many not be able to provide a successor but Granny and Nanny are both intend to get their hands on Desiderata’s wand, an item that should not fall into the wrong hands. That is to say, any hands but their own.
As it turns out, Desiderate has already made arrangements. The wand is delivered to Magrat Garlick, with a note containing some rather cryptic instructions on what to do with it. It seems that in the distant city of Genua a young girl is in dire need of a fairy godmother. Ironically, Magrat’s instructions are to prevent the girl from marrying the prince. Magrat is to go alone but of course she is unable to prevent Granny and Nanny from joining her. Magrat may not know why the girl is not to marry the prince, Granny has a pretty good idea however. Soon they are on their way to derail a fairytale. Or several of them.
Where the witches faced a number of famous plays in their previous appearance, Pratchett’s theme for this novel is obviously fairy tales. He works in more of them than the brothers Grim ever put on paper. Everything from little red riding hood to the wizard of Oz features in the story. The witches, Granny in particular, have their own ideas about the value of fairy tales and the power of stories. To put it in Granny’s words:
‘Listen, happy endings is fine if they turn out happy,’ said Granny, glaring at the sky. ‘But you can’t make ‘em for other people. Like the only way you could make a happy marriage is by cuttin’ their head off as soon as they say “I do”, yes? You can’t make happiness...’
Granny explaining things to Magrat.
Pratchett’s kind of humour is absolutely hilariously at times but over the series its become more subtle as well. There are number of memorable scenes in this book. The one that had me laughing hardest was Granny facing the card sharks on their trip downriver. Another one that is absolutely hilarious is Granny telling the woodcutter exactly how they are going to take care of an old lady living alone in the woods from now on. And what happens if they don't. Granny’s no nonsense Headology and Nanny’s permanent curiosity and optimism (and amazing tolerance for alcohol) work very well in this book.
I think Witches Abroad is a stronger book than the Witches previous adventure Wyrd Sisters. Perhaps this is because I don’t share the English literary world’s obsession with the plays of Shakespeare. My expectations about this book where not that high after the last witches book, but I must say Pratchett delivered a fine entry into the Discworld series. It's a good thing I have book number thirteen, Small Gods, already lying around somewhere near the top of the to be read pile.
Title: Witches Abroad
Author: Terry Pratchett
Publisher: Corgi Books
Format: Mass Market Paperback
First published: 1991