Apr 6, 2010

[Books] Equal Rites

Equal RitesWhen one explores the earlier works of an author you like, the results are generally mixed / unpredictable. I mean let's face it - a lot of times we encounter new authors because of a book that becomes majorly popular but such books are rarely their first ventures into the writing world. Their prior books eventually see the light of day as publishers try to find new ways to make money off the writer but we're all still happy about it since we get to learn more of the author's writing style.

I enjoy such ventures into the "past", a it were. I've learned how to approach such books long ago - it usually involves a lot more patience and a certain mindset of openness. After all, this is not necessarily exactly the same author you met in his more recent books. This could have taken place decades ago and he or she was in a completely different set of circumstances and a different mode of thinking, so to speak. At times it'll feel like he or she is a completely different author.

But the adventure is comparing and contrasting the older style with the new, seeing the similarities and trying to postulate how the author of before became the man or woman he or she is today.

Equal Rites is the third novel in the Discworld series by Terry Pratchett and it introduces one of the key characters of the series. It's a shorter book compared to most of the more "current" Discworld books, but it manages to capture a key aspect of the world and it helps shapes things in the future.

In the Discworld, the 8th son of an 8th son is fated to become a wizard, a fact that the wizard Drum Billet counts on as he nears death. As he bestows his staff on the 8th offspring of an 8th son only to discover too late that it's a daughter and not a son. His staff now passes on to her and young Eskarina "Esk" Smith is fated to inherit the powers of the wizard.

As she grows up, her magical abilities begin to manifest and this is detected by a local witch known as Granny Weatherwax. She then decides that the best thing to do is to bring Esk to the Unseen University in Ankh-Morpork so she can learn to be a proper wizard. However there has never been such a thing as a female wizard in the history of the Disc and naturally the discover of such a magic wielder remains something hard to stomach by the rather chauvinist society of wizards.

So as you can see, the title is a clever pun of the term Equal Rights, given the book does somewhat cover the concept of equality of the sexes, however this time in terms of the magic world. And it's not just about breaking social conventions, but pretty much the perceived "rules" of magical succession in the Discworld given the staff still recognized the transfer of power even though Esk was a girl.

Of course this book introduced the amazingly complex and fun to follow character of Granny Weatherwax, probably the most powerful witch on the face of the Disc. I've always enjoyed reading about her given she has a refreshingly practical take on things and yet her use of "magic" is often subtle. As a rule of thumb, there's a bigger likelihood that she'll think or talk her way out of a problem rather than trying more overt displays of magic. I guess this is the part of her that appeals to me most - it's a pretty kickass way of dealing with the problems of the world and one that non-physical folks like myself can relate to.

The book itself is novel in itself and one can clearly detect that Pratchett is still defining many of the rules of the Discworld. Further exploring the magical side of things is something common in many of the early Discworld novels but this one finally steps away from just the wizarding world and into the more "natural" realms of magic. Plus the interactions between Granny Weatherwax and Esk are just hilarious at some points and they're more than worth things.

Equal Rites is a great first story for Granny Weatherwax and it sets the stage for all the successive novels involving the Witches of Lancre. I gets 3.5 intelligent magical staffs out of a possible 5.

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