For our twelfth episode we’re joined by editor and bookseller Jackie Tang of Neighbourhood Books in Northcote as we discuss Witches Abroad! The twelfth Discworld novel, published in 1991, Witches Abroad is the second to star the Lancre witches, who return only two books later for Lords and Ladies.
Witch Desiderata Hollow has died and passed on her fairy godmother wand to Magrat Garlick, the youngest of the Lancre witches, along with a note telling her to go to the distant kingdom of Genua to stop a servant girl from marrying a prince – without Granny Weatherwax. Which of course means Granny – and Nanny Ogg – are definitely coming. As they make their way across the Disc by broomstick and riverboat, experiencing all that travel has to offer, they find themselves increasingly drawn into warped stories – and Granny may not be letting on all that she knows about what they’ll face when they arrive…
As well as providing an extended parody of the English travelling abroad, Witches Abroad is mostly about stories – where they come from, how they influence us, and what they really mean when you stop to think about them. As well as traditional fairytales, Pratchett lampoons everything from The Wizard of Oz to Disney princesses and even Middle Earth. So what did you think of Witches Abroad? Use the hashtag #Pratchat12 on social media to join the conversation.
In our next episode we’ll be going back amongst the Nomes for book two of the Bromeliad – Diggers! As usual we’d love to get your questions for the podcast; send them in via social media using the hashtag #Pratchat13.
Show Notes and Errata:
- “Voodoo” is a popular culture distillation of several religions, but especially Haitian and Louisiana Vodun, themselves derived from West African Vodun and influenced by many other traditions, including Christianity. Some rituals involve summoning spirits known as lwa or loa, intermediaries between the physical world and the creator deity (Bondye, Mawu or others depending on the tradition). Famous loa include Baron Samedi, a loa of the dead, and Papa Legba, who exists at the crossroads between the material and spiritual worlds.
- Nikolai Vasilievich Gogol was a 19th century Russian writer. His works are social commentary, mostly in the form of farce and satire. The Government Inspector is his best known novel, but he is mostly remembered for his many short stories including Diary of a Madman, The Nose, The Overcoat and The Tale of How Ivan Ivanovich Quarreled with Ivan Nikiforovich. (His name is pronounced GO-gl, which is more or less the only way we don’t try to say Mrs Gogol’s name during the podcast.)
- Of the Discworld books we’ve covered so far, Wyrd Sisters, Sourcery and Moving Pictures all begin with a death. Pyramids, Men at Arms and Reaper Man all have deaths close to the beginning that are vital (if you’ll excuse the term) to their plots.
- The prose poem Desiderata was written by American writer Max Ehrman in 1927, though it didn’t become widely known until the early 1970s. You’ve almost certainly read or heard at least one of the verses. The poem’s copyright status has been a matter of contention over the years, in part because it was printed unattributed in a church leaflet accompanied by the church’s founding date, leading some to believe it was much older and therefore in the public domain. As a result the Annotated Pratchett File has a copyright notice asserting Erhman’s authorship rather than any quotes, but by contrast you can read the whole thing on Wikipedia. The word “Desiderata” is Latin, the plural form of “desideratum”: a thing wished for, or – you guessed it – desirable. It is indeed the source of the English word “desire”.
- We ruined our browser history so you wouldn’t have to: Echidna penises are indeed unusual. They are very long for their body size, and with not three but four prongs, more like those seen in reptiles than other mammals. They only use two of the prongs at a time, though. (Hedgehog penises are less weird, but also quite long for their tiny size.)
- Shrek (2001) is a DreamWorks animated film, loosely based on the 1990 picture book by William Steig. The title character is an ugly green ogre who sets out to rescue Princess Fiona from a dragon for Lord Farquaad, so that he will stop exiling fairytale creatures from the kingdom of Duloc in Shrek’s swamp. A bit like Lily, Farquaad is obsessed with making his kingdom “the fairest of them all”, but he has a hatred for fairytale creatures (the reasons for which are explored in the Broadway musical adaptation of the film). Shrek was massively popular and has spawned three sequels, a spin-off, numerous short films and two television series. A fourth sequel is in development.
- Lawrence Sterne, 18th century English novelist and clergyman, is best known as the author of The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman. His other novel is the travelogue mentioned by Jackie, A Sentimental Journey Through France and Italy.
- Ravenloft is a gothic horror themed plane of existence known as “the Demiplane of Dread”, consisting of various separate “Domains of Dread”, each ruled by a “Dreadlord” (okay, we get it, it’s full of dread) and inspired by different horror stories. The Dracula inspired one is Barovia, a village in an isolated valley. It shares much of its DNA with Überwald and the village visited by the witches in Witches Abroad. The domains are influenced by the mysterious, unseen “Dark Powers”.
- Nanny’s “die flabberghast” is a reference to Die Fledermaus (“the bat”), a famous operetta by Austrian composer Johann Strauss. The opera relates the story of a Viennese man, Gabriel von Eisenstein, who is persuaded to avoid a minor prison sentence for a day to attend a masked ball. This is a plot by Gabriel’s friend Falke, who has also secretly invited Gabriel’s maid, his wife, and the governor of the prison where Eisenstein should be. Falke wants to pay Gabriel back for a prank in which, after a previous ball, he left a drunk Falke in the middle of town in his bat costume, causing him much ridicule – hence the title of the operetta, which is sometimes called The Revenge of the Bat in English. Die Fledermaus is also a character in the animated TV version of superhero parody The Tick; a parody of Batman, Fledermaus has a similar costume (except with a more realistic, ghost bat inspired face – weird nose, huge ears etc) and no superpowers, but is supremely vain and cowardly.
- Maverick is a 1994 film, based on a 1950s television series, starring Mel Gibson as Bret Maverick, a con man participating in a high-stakes poker game aboard a riverboat. It also starred James Garner (who played the title role in the original series), Jodie Foster and Alfred Molina, and was the second-last film for famous B-movie star Doug McClure, who appeared alongside many other old school Western actors.
- Mahjong is a Chinese game, usually for four players, which uses a set of 144 or more tiles. Most of the tiles are “simples”, numbered 1 to 9 in three suits: dots (or circles), bamboo, and characters (or wan). There are also a smaller number of “honours” tiles – winds and dragons – and eight unique bonus tiles, the flowers and/or seasons. The tiles begin the game organised into face-down stacks, and based on a dice roll players begin with thirteen randomly selected tiles. During the game, players take turns to discard a tile they do not want and draw one from a wall. To win, a player must collect and declare (by calling “Mahjong”) a named sets of tiles which meets a minimum number of points, decided by the players in advance. Players can also steal a discarded tile to form a smaller set which allows them to take their turn early, possibly forcing one or more other players to lose a turn. The winner’s points are tallied over multiple games, usually sixteen for four players, and the player with the highest score at the end of the games wins.
- For more about the practice of painting lawns green – and the politics of lawn management in places like Los Angeles – we recommend Lawn Order, an episode of the podcast 99% Invisible.
- The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was written by L Frank Baum in 1900. It was a massive success and Baum went on to write thirteen sequels, the last one being Glinda of Oz in 1920. As Liz mentions, in the first book visitors are made to wear green-tinted glasses – only the external walls are actually green. Later books however describe the city as green without any mention of the glasses.
- The television series Once Upon A Time (2011-2018) and comic book series Fables (2002-2015) are both based on the premise that fairytale characters and creatures are stranded in the real world. In Once Upon A Time, the characters are exiled to the American town of Storybrooke as part of a plot by the evil queen Regina, aided by Rumpelstiltskin. The town’s residents cannot remember who they are, or notice that they have lived unchanging lives without aging for nearly three decades, but the daughter of Snow White and Prince Charming escaped the curse and may be able to undo it. In Fables, the characters flee their home realms to a burrough of New York they nickname Fabletown to escape a mysterious and powerful evil force known as “the Adversary”. Those who can pose as humans, while those who cannot – talking animals and monsters – are forced to live on a remote farm in upstate New York, protected by magic. Rivalries and politics have not been left behind, however, and must often be solved by sheriff “Bigby” Wolf and deputy mayor Snow White.
- Danish author Hans Christian Andersen (1805-1875) is best remembered for writing nearly four thousand fairytales (!), including The Emperor’s New Clothes, The Little Mermaid, The Ugly Duckling and loads more you have definitely heard. He was also famously played by Danny Kaye in the not-at-all biographical musical film, Hans Christian Andersen, in 1952.
- “Moistened bint” is how Dennis, the anarcho-communist peasant, refers to the Lady in the Lake, aka one of the “strange women lying in ponds distributing swords”, in the 1975 comedy film Monty Python and the Holy Grail. (We’ve mentioned it before, and probably will again.) Also, in case you haven’t seen it: 8-year-old Saga Vanacek recently pulled a 1,500 year old sword out of a lake. Like the rest of the Internet, we hope she will be our new King now.
- The late Anthony Bourdain was a beloved American celebrity chef, author and documentarian, well known for his various television shows in which he travelled the world sampling all kinds of local cuisines. He frequently spotlighted foods and cooks ignored by other such programs, including immigrants and street food vendors, so we’re confident he would have ignored the banquet halls of Lily’s palace and headed straight for Mrs Pleasant’s kitchen or the market where Mrs Gogol’s tent was pitched.
- “When I say run” is an oft-repeated line of the Doctor across most of their incarnations. The earliest version is perhaps from the Second Doctor’s first story, 1966’s The Power of the Daleks, in which he says to his companion Ben Jackson: “When I say run, run like a rabbit…RUN!” We found a YouTube compilation of every instance of the Doctor telling people to run, but be warned it – it runs for twenty minutes!
- A “bodice ripper” is a romance novel with sex scenes, set in an historical period. It’s a much-beloved genre which continues to enjoy great success, and not just with famous pulp romance publishing house Mills & Boon. If you’re keen to investigate further, we suggest hitting up the web site Smart Bitches, Trashy Books for reviews. SBTB uses a comprehensive system of tags, and Greebo-as-sexy-corsair fans might enjoy the “Fantasy/Fairytale Romance” genre, “Pirate” archetype and/or “Were/Shifter” theme.
- Andrew Lloyd-Weber’s 1981 musical Cats was adapted from T. S. Elliot’s 1939 poetry collection, Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats. No, we don’t know why he did that either. In the musical, a tribe of cats called the Jellicles meet for their annual Ball, at which their leader, Old Deuteronomy, will name one of them to ascend to the heaven like “Heaviside layer” and be reborn. He is briefly kidnapped, but otherwise the entire musical consists of the cats breaking the fourth wall to explain their ways to the humans watching. It’s as weird as it sounds, but it’s also the fourth-longest running musical ever to appear on Broadway and the sixth-longest in the West End, and continues to be produced around the world.
- Red Dwarf is a British sit-com created by Doug Naylor and Rob Grant which premiered on the BBC in 1988. It follows the adventures of David Lister (played by Craig Charles), a 22nd century slob working in the lowest-ranking job aboard the mining spaceship Red Dwarf. When he brings a cat on board against regulations, he is placed in stasis as punishment, and is thus the only survivor of a major radiation leak. He is awakened three million years later by the ship’s computer to discover an entire humanoid civilisation had evolved from his cat, leaving behind a single survivor known only as “Cat”: a vain creature obsessed with fashion, sleep and sex. Cat, played by Danny John-Jules, is one of only two characters to appear in every episode of the show, which after a long hiatus returned in 2009 on UK digital channel Dave. A thirteenth series is coming in 2019.
- There are videos of cats eating sushi, but really, you should definitely look at pictures of cats dressed up as if they are sushi.
- In the French folktale “Bluebeard” (not “Bluebeard’s Bride”, though see below) a young woman is married to a wealthy widowed nobleman and given free run of his enormous mansion – except for one room which she must never enter. She eventually does look in the room while Bluebeard is away, only to discover he had murdered his previous wives. Bluebeard knows thanks to a magical key and returns, but the bride is saved by her brothers who show up and kill him, leaving her to inherit his fortune. The story lends its name to the ATU 312 classification of folk tales, described as “the brother rescues his sister”. Bluebeard also appears as a major character in the comic Fables, where he is depicted as a pirate. The roleplaying game Bluebeard’s Bride from Magpie Games explores the tale further by having the players collectively play the bride, wandering through Bluebeard’s house alone.
- The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) is a popular though heavily criticised personality test based largely on Carl Jung’s ideas of dominant psychological functions. It uses a series of questions to sort a person into one of sixteen personality types organised along four axes: extroversion/introversion, thinking/feeling, sensing/intuition and judging/perceiving. The test was created during World War II by mother and daughter Katharine Cook Briggs and Isabel Briggs Myers, self-taught psychometrists who initially used it to help place women in appropriate jobs as they entered the wartime workforce. After several earlier versions, the first “MBTI Manual” was published in 1962 and became heavily used in the corporate world, though it is not widely accepted in psychological circles. It’s enduring legacy is that we all have that one friend obsessed with sorting everyone they know into their Myers-Briggs type.
- The name Lily takes in Genua is “Lady Lilith de Tempscire”, taken from the French temps, weather, and scire, beeswax or candlewax. In the course of looking this up, we discovered that the French use a different word for the kind of wax you use on skis: fart. It’s probably just as well that modern skis are made from materials that do not generally require waxing to achieve good speed on snow.
- Remus Lupin is the third of the ill-fated Defence Against the Dark Arts tutors at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry to appear in the Harry Potter books and films. His name is something of a spoiler alert: Remus is one of the two twins of Roman myth who were raised by wolves, the other being Romulus, the founder of Rome (from whom it supposedly takes its name). Lupin is another form of the Latin word lupine, which as we’ve previously discussed means wolf. You’ll never guess what dark secret Remus Lupin is hiding…though as far as we can tell, he’s always had that name, despite not being born with his…affliction.
- For more on Hyacinth Bucket, see the show notes for our previous episode.
- We talk more about the time-skip in Lancre in episode four.
- Let Them Eat Cake was a 1999 BBC sit-com starring Jennifer Saunders as Colombine, the Comtesse de Vache, a scheming noblewoman in pre-revolutionary France, and Dawn French as her loyal and nymphomaniacal servant, Lisette. It ran for one series of six episodes, and is rare in being a series which starred Saunders and French, but was not created or written by them.
- Ares, Greek god of war, was one of the most prominent antagonists featured in the television Xenaverse of Xena: Warrior Princess and its predecessor, Hercules: The Legendary Journeys. He was played by New Zealand actor Kevin Smith, who sadly passed away in 2002. Google him in his usual Ares gear and we think you’ll agree he’s a perfect for for Greebo, though makeup and costume would need to give him some scars and scuff up his leather.
- The Craft is a 1996 supernatural horror movie about four high school girls who form a coven, two of whom are played by Fairuza Balk (whose first film role was as Dorothy in Return to Oz) and Neve Campbell (best known for her starring role in the television drama Party of Five). They gain the ability to cast all manner of spells through the worship of a god named “Manon”, blending old-school Puritan ideas of Satanic witchcraft with more modern Wicca. Magrat clearly hasn’t seen the film, or she wouldn’t be so keen on using magic to fix all of her problems! A remake was announced in 2016, but has so far failed to materialise.