The L-Space Web: Books: Synopses

Witches Abroad


Written by Ed

The fabric of reality is thin on the Discworld and can be easily shaped by such emotions as belief. Another example is the story: if the same events are told of and imagined and believed in enough then the shape of the story carves a groove into the fabric of reality, and the story starts to become real. For example, it is now impossible for a young prince to fail in a quest that has so far claimed his older brothers. Nine out of ten evil witches die by being thrown in an oven. This is called the theory of Narrative Causality.

Stories can be created and shaped by the magically inclined, and in the far away land of Genua Lilith de Tempscire, the evil witch of the tale, is turning the whole country into a giant fairy tale. Most of her plan involves a servant girl, Ella, marrying the Duc, the puppet ruler of the country. Lilith is Ella's fairy godmother, and is manipulating events so she and the Duc are married on Samedi Nuit Mort, the last night of the Mardi Gras festival. Lilith gets her power from mirrors, the theory being that if one mirror can steal a soul, then two mirrors facing each other can amplify power and reflect it back. It also gives her the ability to look out of any reflective surface.

Ella in fact has two godmothers, a good one and an evil one, so to speak. The other one is named Desiterata Hollow, who lives in the hilly and forested country of Lancre, on the other side of the Disc. Desiterata is a very old woman and is in fact dying. In her will she leaves her magic wand to Magrat Garlick, the youngest of a coven of three witches consisting also of the much married and easy going Nanny Ogg and the mighty Granny Weatherwax. Magrat is, as Granny puts it, a wet hen and so when Magrat receives instructions to travel to Genua and stop Ella marrying the Duc Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg set of with her.

 

The journey to Genua is eventful, with them first travelling through the Copperhead dwarf mines and meeting a Gollum-type creature and then almost dying in a waterfall.

They cross the boundary into the dark and gloomy country of Uberwald where Nanny's foul tomcat Greebo kills a vampire in bat form and frees a city of its tyranny.

They then travel along the Vieux River in a giant riverboat where Nanny gambles away all their provisions and Granny has to use magic to win them back. They leave the boat before the crooked gamblers can catch them.

They land in a foreign village where they almost get caught up in a traditional bull stampede.

Finally, they find the road to Genua. It soon becomes clear that Granny knows something secret, and they find evidence of other folktales littering the woody road. For example, there is a castle that has been asleep for the last ten years. They find an old grandmother living alone and end the horrific suffering of a wolf forced to partake in a grotesque Little Red Riding Hood parody. Magrat asked what the purposes of the stories are.

"Practice," Granny cryptically answers.

Lilith, watching their progress from her hall of mirrors, starts attacking them with stories. The Wizard Of Oz is used, with the farmhouse caught up in the whirlwind being aimed directly at Nanny Ogg. The willow reinforcing in her witches' hat saves her, however.

 

They finally arrive in Genua and after an argument they all go their separate ways. Granny finds out that it is illegal for a toy maker not to whistle while he works, and to be an innkeeper and not be jolly and red faced is a capital offence. She eventually meets up with Nanny Ogg and they meet Mrs Gogol, who leads them to her home in the swamps. Mrs Gogol is mentioned in Desiterata's notes as the voodoo woman who fights Lilith with swamp magic. She also lives with a zombie, Saturday, who does all her odd jobs. Mrs Gogol knows as much as Granny, however, and Granny is forced to admit that Lilith is in fact her sister.

Meanwhile, Magrat has found Ella in her home. She explains about Samedi Nuit Mort and the Duc, and as Nanny and Granny arrive the girl's minders-two sisters attack Magrat and Ella. Granny realises that the sisters are snakes given human form by Lilith and is able to use their ability to be distracted against them. Granny realises that Lilith is using the Cinderella story to bring Ella and the Duc together, and they set off to stop Ella going to the ball.

That night, Magrat breaks into the palace and destroys the dress Ella is supposed to wear. Meanwhile, Nanny Ogg gets the coachmen drunk. They then regroup and Magrat uses her wand to turn the ceremonial coach into a pumpkin. Lilith, however, simply turns the pumpkin back into the coach and turns some mice into coachmen and horses. The witches then fly on ahead and turn Greebo into a human, and send him to stop the coach. This he does by gleefully attacking the coachmen. At that moment, Mrs Gogol's huge and mysterious cockerel, Legba, arrives and guides Ella to the relative safety of the swamp. Ella realises that Lilith will come looking for her if she does not arrive at the ball and so Granny disguises Magrat as her and hypnotises her, giving her incredible confidence.

 

The witches arrive at the ball, tailed by Greebo, who is allowed in. While Magrat goes to dance with the Duc Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg go to explore, and find the Duc's bedroom. Instead of a bed, however, there is a pond-the Duc is really a frog given human form. The Duc's morphic field weakens while he sleeps, however, hence the need for the pond. Granny realises that as soon as Magrat kisses him, the spell will be complete and he will be permanently human, and Lilith will be free to rule in his name. The story is as much the Frog Prince as it is Cinderella. Granny realises that the spell she has cast on Magrat will wear off when the clock strikes midnight, or more accurately twelve. The witches race off to speed up the clock.

In the swamps, Mrs Gogol uses her power to turn Saturday into a super being. She, the zombie and Ella then set off for the ball.

Nanny Ogg, trailed by the amorous dwarf Casanunda, gets into the clock and speeds it up. The spell wears off and Magrat flees in embarrassment, losing one of her glass slippers on the way. Granny senses a weak pint in the story, and is able to smash the glass slipper before it can be collected. She has not tried hard enough, however, and the snake sisters catch Magrat and the other slipper is taken. Lilith is about to begin the search for Ella, to put the slipper on her, when Nanny Ogg realises that in real life more than one person would fit into the slipper. By chance, it fits her perfectly.

Angered that she cannot find Ella that way, Lilith has the witches thrown in the dungeons but Casanunda soon rescues them. The snake sisters attack them but they are caught and killed by Greebo. Greebo then makes his way down to the kitchens, where Mrs Pleasant, the castle cook, gives him food.

Saturday arrives and challenges Lilith. The power he has been given renders him practically invincible and Lilith's magic has no effect. She draws in all her power, thus removing it from the Duc who is turned back into a frog and squashed by Saturday. At this moment, Greebo is also turned back into a cat.

Lilith flees. It is revealed that Saturday is the original ruler of Genua, and was killed by the Duc. Ella is his daughter, and therefore the rightful heir to the throne anyway. Mrs Gogol, Saturday's lover and mother of Ella, wants to put Saturday back on the throne but as he is technically dead this is seen as wrong. She disagrees and attacks Granny Weatherwax with her voodoo. Granny uses her more powerful headology to defeat her, however, and she returns to the swamp to make preparations for Ella' coronation. Saturday is finally claimed by Death.

 

The witches follow Lilith into her mirror room, where she states that she will simply start the story again. Granny smashes one of the mirrors, thus breaking the balance. Lilith leaps towards the mirror and escapes inside it. Granny reaches out to her and loses her mind inside as well.

In the mirror universe, Granny and Lilith are both confronted by endless reflections. Death tells them that they are both alive and dead, and can only escape when they find the one version of themselves that is real. Granny simply looks down at herself and says,

"This one."

Lilith, whose whole life has consisted of reflections, is unable to choose and is doomed to spend the rest of time trapped. Granny returns to the world and escapes before the crack returns to the second mirror and destroys the mirror room.

The witches stay for the coronation and the end of Mardi Gras, and then return home. An impromptu airborne discussion has them decide to see the world on the way.


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