Sunday, March 25, 2012

Wyrd Sisters

A friend of mine recommended Terry Pratchett to me - I've never read his books, but I'd recently seen Hogfather with a certain husband. The movie was half-really-good and half-really-terrible, made slightly more interesting because Lady Mary from Downton Abbey played the granddaughter of Death.  Anyway, Pratchett wrote the novel (or novels? I'm not sure) upon which it is based.

Wyrd Sisters (1988) takes place in Discworld, the universe Pratchett has created.  Discworld is like Earth with a sharp tilt - magic and sorcery and fairy tales are part of the reality.  It's sort of like a grown up Harry Potter (I suppose Discworld fans would want my head for that because it looks like he's been writing this series since the early 1980s...)  The best part about the book is that it takes it's cues from MacBeth - it's about a king who is killed by a Duke (a strategic move masterminded by his power-hungry wife), and nearby, three witches become involved in the political strategies in order to help protect the village and the local environment.  It also involves a little Hamlet as well, but that's more subtle.  It was all very amusing for a former Shakespeare scholar like me.  Why, I, myself (have I ever mentioned?) played one of the three witches in college in my Shakespearean drama course, part of my, career-wise, completely useless undergraduate degree in Theatre, but, I think, quite useful for like, life in general.  

All that sounds mildly stodgy and boring, but, let me assure you, it's very, very funny.  I think it's so hard to write truly humorous literature, but, I have to hand it to this guy, he's laugh-out-loud funny.  Incredible wit, and at the same time, a smart critique of story-telling and history.  Guided by his Fool, who is actually something of a genius, the Duke decides to literally re-write history by having a play written about what happened to the previous king.  Enter a band of actors (who are also building a theatre called The Dysc:  "It's got to be a name that means everything," he said. "Because there's everything inside it.  The whole world on the stage, don't you see?"*

I have to admit, some parts I did find slightly annoying - there were a few characters I didn't like, so I found myself skipping pages occasionally, but I absolutely loved the Shakespearian comparisons.  A running theme, for example, is that the Duke/King is forever trying to clean his hands of the blood from the murder.   "He'd scrubbed and scrubbed, but it seemed to have no effect. Eventually he'd gone down to the dungeons and borrowed one of the torturer's wire brushes, and scrubbed and scrubbed with that, too. That had no effect, either. It made it worse. The harder he scrubbed, the more blood there was. He was afraid he might go mad..."  Remember Lady MacBeth's famous "Out, damned spot!" scene?

If I had discovered this series when I was 15 or 16, I probably would have gone completely bananas.
All the Disc is but an Theater, he wrote, Ane alle men and wymmen are but Players.  He made the mistake of pausing, and another inspiration sleeted down, sending his train of thought off along an entirely new track.
   He looked at what he had written and added: Except Those who selle popcorn.
   After a While he crossed this out, and tried: Like unto thee Staje of a Theater ys this World, whereon alle Persons strut as Players.  This seemed a bit better.
  He thought for a bit, and continued conscientiously: Sometimes they walke on. Sometimes they walke off.  

* If you're not a theatre nerd, this is a delightful reference to The Globe theatre.  

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