In our seventeenth episode we join everyone’s favourite dysfunctional coven – and guest, writer Nadia Bailey – as we return to Lancre for the 1992 Discworld novel, Lords and Ladies!
The Lancre coven have returned from their trip abroad, but despite the impending royal wedding of Magrat and King Verence, all is not well in the Ramtops: it’s circle time, when the walls between worlds are thin, and in the witches’ absence someone has been toying with powers beyond their understanding. As usual Granny Weatherwax thinks she can sort everything out herself: facing down a young witch wannabe and keeping the Gentry at bay. But Granny is off her game. Is it the arrival of an old flame? Or is her time as a witch of Lancre nearly up? She’ll need Nanny and Magrat’s help to see off the threat of the Lords and Ladies…
Bringing us back to the witches after only one book away, Lords and Ladies is a particularly Pratchett take on the ancient Celtic stories that inspired modern ideas of fairies and elves. One of the few novels to cross the streams between the witches and wizards, it also gives us more of a glimpse into Esme Weatherwax’s past, hints at the future of witchcraft (and royalty) in Lancre, and introduces the infamous “Trousers of Time”. Is this your favourite witches novel? What do you think of the parallel universes, other dimensions and alternate timelines it describes? And is this the best take on elves since Tolkien? We’d love to hear from you! Use the hashtag #Pratchat17 on social media to join the conversation.
Don’t forget that you can see Liz and Ben at both Speculate 2019 on March 15 and 16, and at Nullus Anxietas 7, the Australian Discworld Convention, on April 13 and 14! Plus Ben’s new show, You Chose Poorly, plays at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival from April 1-7.
Next month, to tie in with our appearance at Speculate, we’ll be leaving the Discworld and blasting off into outer space as we discuss one of Pratchett’s early sci-fi novels, The Dark Side of the Sun, with writer Will Kostakis! We’ll likely be recording around the time of Speculate 2019, so get your questions in via social media before March 15th using the hashtag #Pratchat18.
Show Notes and Errata:
- Nadia Bailey is an author, journalist and critic whose work has appeared in The Australian, The Age, The Lifted Brow and many others. The Book of Barb, an unofficial celebration of the surprisingly popular supporting character from the first season of Netflix “kids on bikes” drama Stranger Things, was her first book; it was followed by The Stranger Things Field Guide in December 2018. In between Nadia wrote The World’s Best BFFs, a book of profiles of celebrity best friends. All three are published by Smith Street Books. You can find Nadia online at nadiabailey.com, and she tweets at @animalorchestra.
- There are two examples of Steven Moffat writing women who marry men who follow them around in Doctor Who – first in his most famous episode, Blink, and then in the Christmas special The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe. There are similar behaviours in his other work, going all the way back to Press Gang.
- We previously mentioned The Craft in our Witches Abroad episode, but it’s worth mentioning here that one of its stars, Fairuza Balk, made her major screen debut in another film referenced this episode: Return to Oz (see below).
- The Last Unicorn (1982) is an adaptation of the 1968 fantasy novel by American writer Peter S. Beagle, and has a pretty star-studded voice cast including René Auberjonois, Alan Arkin (who plays the incompetent magician Schmendrick), Jeff Bridges, Mia Farrow (who plays the titular unicorn), Angela Lansbury and Death himself, Christopher Lee! It has music written by Jimmy Webb, including songs performed by the band America.
- Narnia is a fantasy world invented by English writer C S Lewis in his Chronicles of Narnia books. The White Queen first appears in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (1950), where it is revealed she has trapped Narnia in an endless Winter. Her origins are explored in the prequel The Magician’s Nephew (1955).
- The Tuatha Dé Danann are the gods of ancient Celtic Ireland; they reside in Tír na nÓg, often translated into English as the “Otherworld”, which could be accessed (among other ways) via “passage tombs” under the earth – much like the Long Man’s barrow. They have some things in common with elves, but a closer analogue are the aos sí (“ays SHEE”) or Sidhe (“SHEE”, as popularised by William Butler Yeats and, much later, the fantasy roleplaying game Changeling: The Dreaming). The Sidhe appear in both Irish and Scottish mythology, and take many forms and roles – “banshee” is an English form of bean sidhe, for example. They are often said to live in another world (or underground in barrows, or across the sea – it’s mythology after all), but this is not usually considered to be Tír na nÓg.
- If the plot of Maurice Sendak’s award-winning Outside Over There (1981) sounds familiar, that might be because it served as partial inspiration for Jim Henson’s Labyrinth (1986) – Sendak is thanked in the credits. The book forms part of a “trilogy” following a child’s psychological development, following his better-known books In the Night Kitchen and Where the Wild Things Are.
- The very long dining table appears not only in Tim Burton’s Batman (1989) but also in a whole host of films, TV shows and other media. TV Tropes calls this cliche “table space“.
- This is indeed the first appearance of “millennium hand and shrimp”, later used by the beggar Foul Ole Ron (from Soul Music onwards) and bag lady Mrs Tachyon (in the Johnny Maxwell books). Terry apparently generated it using a gibberish computer program, into which he fed a Chinese takeaway menu and the lyrics of the They Might Be Giants song, “Particle Man”, one line of which is “Millennium hand and an aeon hand”. (Ben was very excited to discover while researching this episode that Terry, like Ben, was a big TMBG fan!)
- A lot has been written on mental health in academia; a good place to start if you’re interested might be this Guardian series on the subject, which spans three years.
- Howl’s Moving Castle, originally a 1986 fantasy novel by Diana Wynne Jones, was fairly loosely adapted into an animated film by Studio Ghibli in 2004. Both are wonderful.
- Return to Oz is a 1985 sequel to The Wizard of Oz, loosely adapting two of the later Oz books by Frank L Baum. As mentioned above it stars Fairuza Balk as Dorothy Gale, who after returning from her trip to Oz is seen as mad by her guardians and is sent for psychiatric treatment – including turn-of-the-century style electro-shock therapy. While it was not a big success at the time it has become a cult hit, in no small part because of its creepy imagery and for-the-time amazing practical and stop-motion effects. (The film also inspired the final track on the eponymous debut album, which uses Dorothy’s experiences as a metaphor to describe drug use in the queer community.)
- The “Jesus picture” meme is also known as “potato Jesus“, and you’ve almost certainly seen it.
- The game Jason Ogg plays with his Binky-iron horseshoe is not quoits, but…er…horseshoes. They both involve tossing a round object at a peg, but quoits is specifically played with circular “quoits”, these days usually made from rope or rubber.
- Sailor Moon is a Japanese manga aimed at teenage girls, which launched in 1991. It’s best known in English speaking countries via the 1995 anime adaptation, which ran for 200 episodes. It follows the adventures of Tokyo middle-school student Usagi Tsukino, who is given the power to transform into “Sailor Moon”, a soldier with magical powers who is destined to save the Earth. Sailor Moon’s main love interest is “Tuxedo Mask”, a hero whose disguise is…er…a tuxedo and a mask. However the high school student who transforms into him is for a long time unaware of his secret identity, so they can only meet when in costume. Sailor Moon remains hugely popular, especially in cosplay circles, where you will often see the whole gang of “sailor scouts”.
- If you’ve seen the 1987 film The Princess Bride (based on the 1973 novel by William Goldman), you can revisit the “to the pain” speech on YouTube here. It really is quite similar to the Elf Queen’s threat to Esme, but it’s worth noting that in the film the speech is given by the hero! (If you haven’t seen The Princess Bride, the scene is quite near the end of the film and is a bit of a spoiler.)
- The Doctor Who story with the Morris Dancers is 1971’s The Daemons, starring Jon Pertwee as the Third Doctor and Katy Manning as Jo Grant. It also features a white witch named Olive Hawthorne as a supporting character, and she has quite a few things in common with a certain ex-member of the Lancre coven…
- We previously mentioned Get Smart in our Guards! Guards! episode, but the specific running joke mentioned here is Agent 86, Maxwell Smart, encountering an enormous version of something and remarking: “Why, that’s the second biggest [thing] I’ve ever seen!” This joke is also used in one of Ben’s favourite videogames, The Secret of Monkey Island, in a scene he recently recreated in his Instagram feed.
- Titus Andronicus is one of Shakespeare’s lesser-known plays, often cited as his first tragedy. It’s a graphically violent story about (fictional) Roman general Titus, who angers the Goth queen Tamora, setting off a vicious cycle of revenge. If you’re going to look it up, we’d just like to give you a content warning for murder, torture, mutilation and rape. It’s…not gentle.
- The Tempest was one of Shakespeare’s last plays, and tells the story of the sorcerer Prospero and his daughter Miranda, who have lived on an isolated island ever since Prospero was deposed as the Duke of Milan. The play begins with a tempest summoned by Prospero to wreck a ship carrying he betrayers onto his island, but it’s not a revenge story; it’s usually classified these days as a romance.
- The club started by Reg Shoe for the “vitally challenged”, and first seen in Reaper Man, is the Fresh Start Club, not the “Second Chance Club” as Ben misremembers.
- Much Ado About Nothing is one of Shakespeare’s best-known comedies; while the central plot is serious – a villain slandering a young woman, Hero, to ruin her wedding to the dashing Claudio – it is feisty verbal fencers Benedick and Beatrice, who are tricked into revealing their mutual love, who always steal the show. Kenneth Branagh’s 1993 version starred him as Benedick and Emma Thompson – to whom he was still married at the time – as Beatrice, and is a traditional but wonderful adaptation with grand music and a cast including Denzel Washington, Imelda Staunton, Keanu Reeves, Robert Sean Leonard, Richard Briers, Michael Keaton, Ben Elton, Brian Blessed and – in her film debut – Kate Beckinsale. Joss Whedon’s black and white 2013 film has a contemporary setting and stars faces familiar to fans of Whedon’s work: Amy Acker and Alexis Denisof as Beatrice and Benedick, plus Nathan Fillion, Clark Gregg, Reed Diamond, Fran Kranz, Sean Maher, and Jillian Morgese.
- Sonic the Hedgehog is a blue, super-fast hedgehog and Sega’s biggest videogame franchise, starring in a tonne of games beginning with 1991’s Sonic the Hedgehog for the Sega Mega Drive (aka the Sega Genesis), and also appearing in a short-lived animated television series, also called Sonic the Hedgehog, which ran from 1993 to 1994. In case Liz’s pun on his name is too blue (sorry) for you, he was also briefly spoofed in one of Ben’s favourite childhood shows, Tony Robinson’s Maid Marian and Her Merry Men, as “Chronic the Hedgehog”.
- Pet Sematary is one of Steven King’s most famous novels, published in 1983. It involves an ancient burial ground, hidden behind the children’s “pet sematary”, where the dead don’t stay buried. It was adapted into a successful film in 1989, and a new adaptation comes out this year.
- The Milgram Experiment, named for psychologist Stanley Milgram, was a 1961 social experiment supposedly showing that ordinary people will obey an authority figure even when instructed to do things beyond their personal ethical boundaries. The experiment was considered unethical, and prompted significant changes in the way psychological testing was approved. In 2012 the validity of the original study was called into question when evidence was uncovered suggesting Milgram had manipulated or misrepresented the results.