Terry Pratchett, renowned for writing hilarious stuff (particularly the Discworld books) has sadly passed away.
As a sort of In Memoriam thing, I thought it might be cool to talk about some of his characters, particularly the girls and women given the venue. Here are some thoughts I have as someone who’s read several (but not nearly all) of his books (and loved them, overall). It’s been a while since I cracked one open, so I won’t remember everything, but I’ll try to get the ball rolling. Spoiler warning for the discussion to follow. I’m only going to talk Discworld, but comments can mention other Pratchett works, of course.
The first characters to come to my mind were, unsurprisingly, the witches of Lancre (partly because I’ve been thinking about Shakespeare lately, and Macbeth in particular): Granny Weatherwax, Nanny Ogg, Magrat, and Agnes. Granny, of course, is THE tough ol’ biddy, applying the sheer force of stubbornness and headology and witchiness to every problem and villain that gets in her way. She’s got some concerns about going bad on account of a troubled family history, but stays resolved that she’s going to be a good witch, and she does. She has plenty of awesome moments, but the two that come to mind for me are:
1) When she figures out that the way to Borrow bees (for those who don’t know, Borrowing basically means passive, temporary possession, riding along in an animal’s body for a little while to use its senses) is to borrow the whole swarm, because they’re hive creatures. That’s pretty freaking awesome, in my book.
2) When she tells a group of vampires that, “I ain’t been vampired. You’ve been Weatherwaxed,” shortly after one of them bites her and subsequently starts to crave tea, thus scaring the crap out of them.
Nanny Ogg, mother of her own small tribe whom she rules with love and the comedic kind of absolute authority, is less of a favorite for me, I admit, probably because she’s usually along more for comic relief than day-saving, although she always contributes something. I do appreciate her love for bawdy songs and the fact that she’s a woman who continues living her life, rather than stopping due to age, though.
Magrat is the sort of character that a lesser writer wouldn’t have been able to succeed with, I think. She’s overshadowed by her older and more strong-willed peers, fairly naïve, and has a tendency to just go with the flow of what other people say at times. Despite that, Magrat still gets her moments. I remember strongly (and fondly) one passage, I think from one of the first two books about the witches, that says something like, “Granny knew that it didn’t matter which plants went into a potion she gave someone, and that made her a better witch. But Magrat knew that it did matter, and that made her a better doctor.” I can’t recall the exact wording, but I thought it was a nice articulation of the idea that the two of them could look at the world in different ways and each be “right”, to an extent. I read that one pretty young, I think, so it’s stuck with me.
Agnes is recruited to replace Magrat when she quits full-time witching, and if I’m honest I can’t recall many awesome things that she does. She can sing in harmony with herself, which is extremely awesome, but that’s an ability rather than an action. I do recall that in her first major appearance she unfairly misses a career in the theater and is justifiably unhappy over it, despite the fact that the culture of the place is crazy and she probably wouldn’t be happy there in the long run anyway, which struck me as both realistic and perfectly justified.
Moving on from them, I’m just going to mention one more, possibly my favorite Pratchett character: Polly, from Monstrous Regiment. I like Polly a lot, partly because she grows into a leader over the course of the book, and partly because at the end of it she goes back into the military, complete with skirt, learning the good/useful lessons from her teacher, Sergeant Jackrum, but not emulating her in every way. In a culture that is rife with women pretending to be men to join the army, it’s nice to end the book on the note of Polly going back in as HERSELF. She also welcomes Maladicta, who rejoins with her, pulls a recruit up short in classic drill sergeant fashion when he’s not taking her seriously, and tells another young woman that she can choose to join as herself or pretend to be a man, implying that Polly will have her back either way. Because she rules extremely hard. Oh, and it’s indicated that between leaving the army and deciding to rejoin she’s been training so that she’s now a genuine badass, more capable than ever before of doing violence to persons who need it. And, of course, she once kneed a prince in the fracas because he was a jerk who had it coming. YES. Polly starts the book just trying to find her brother (partly from concern for him and partly due to male-inheritance law stuff that could be problematic for the whole family, if I remember right) but by the end of it she has a real loyalty to the other women in her squad and she sets out on a more ambitious attempt to actually make things better in her country. Because she’s so cool that lesser goals are no longer difficult enough for her to bother pursuing, presumably. Part of what I like about that novel is that it has a “band of brothers coming together” flavor, except that the the enlisted are all actually sisters.
What other women and girls did Pratchett write that people remember? I gushed, but I don’t think there’s anything wrong with mentioning flaws, as well. Anyone else have some favorites? Not-so-favorites? Characters he seemed to stumble over?