“It’s not staying in the same place that’s the problem,” said Nanny, “it’s not letting your mind wander.”― Terry Pratchett, Witches Abroad
I am a bit slow to get up my May reading but here it is at last, only two books completed.
With the lockdown and restriction on movement driving me a bit batty I thought it was the perfect time to re-read a fantasy journey and Witches Abroad has been on my list to re-read for awhile, this seemed like a perfect time.
Okay so a little background to the joy that is Discworld. Terry Pratchett created an alternative fantasy world that is both absurd but also has clear parallels with our own world allowing him to satirise much of what is familiar to us. One element that makes Disworld so enduring is the quality of the characterisation and Pratchett creates wonderful characters. Male fantasy authors are not always good at creating wonderful female characters but Pratchett is definitely the exception, he has over the course of his career and the creation of the Discworld universe created some wonderful empowered and empowering female characters, like Tiffany or Susan. Pratchett’s wonderful women begin with his witches and while stereotype plays a part they are wonderful characters.
Following the motif of the triple goddess Pratchett has created his own maiden, mother, crone with his witches, Magrat, (the maiden), genial Nanny Ogg, (mother) and cantankerous Granny Weatherwax, (crone) together they form the Lancre coven. In Witches Abroad the trio sets out to fix some fairy tale nonsense, they might not be the fairy godmothers you want but they are the fairy godmothers we need. The novel involves a journey across the Disworld encountering a vampire terrorised village, a running of the bulls, voodoo and a New Orleans Mardi gras type of event, just to list a few highlights, Discworld might be a fantasy world but it has some very familiar elements.
Pratchett loves to riff on the familiar, including stories and this book like much of his work is peppered with metafictive references, essentially this is a re-telling of Cinderella but other stories get a mention too, there is even a Wizard of Oz moment. Pratchett is very aware of the power of stories: “People think that stories are shaped by people. In fact, it’s the other way around.”
I won’t bore everyone with too much detail but I will just add that Witches Abroad also features my favourite literary cat; Greebo, Nanny Ogg’s terrifying tom cat. Pratchett was a great cat lover but he had no illusions about their nature: “This is Greebo. Between you and me, he’s a fiend from hell.” “Well, he’s a cat,” said Mrs. Gogol, generously. “It’s only to be expected.”
Discworld is wise beyond anything you would expect but it is also very funny which is why it is one of my go to choices when I need a relaxing read to drag me out of the doldrums. I guess this one can count towards the Turtle Recall (Discworld), challenge hosted by Annemieke at A Dance with Books.
Just in case anyone is wondering, you don’t have to read the Discworld series from the beginning, in fact I strongly advise against starting with the first book, each book can stand alone.
My only other read for the month of May was Common Ground by Rob Cowen, an amazing piece of nature writing. Cowen moves to Yorkshire at a time of personal turbulence, he loses his job, his partner is expecting their first child and Cowen seeks comfort in the edge land that surrounds his home, what results is a beautiful piece of writing that encapsulates observation, history and philosophy, in regards to our relationship to the natural world and our relationship to the land. Cowen takes that border land so familiar to urbanisation and transforms it into something timeless and magical. Cowan evokes race memory, both human and animal to create something eloquent and magical. This is eloquent writing that takes both imagination and empathy:
“This margin is a cascade of nettles lit with the occasional autumnal golds and scarlets of dying willowherb and bramble leaves. Brittle thistles erupt with tufts of down the colour of dirty silk. a bird I can’t discern – a goldfinch – squawks a note from high up in the pines. Things crackle, click and stir in the undergrowth. It’s a blessed place especially now as it gets the last of the streaming sun. With evening falling the light appears to slip down the gradient of the field and puddle at my feet. But there is also a strangemess here, a keen sense of what lies beneath. a thinness in the fabric. This is a margin within a margin. And as the string becomes a burn in my palm, an odd air of melancholy materialises; I can feel an emotional transference every bit as real a the histamine swelling my skin. There is a very clear sense of someone else being here before, someone else seeing the same views over the field and, behind, down the steep side of the gorge to the Nidd;someone else seeing the lengthening of their shadow and the lowering sun flashing along, thesame river gorge through the trees. It’s moments like these that make you think places have a memory of their own.
It’s hardly a theory, more a feeling born of so long spent outside, but what if landscapes somehow become repositories of personal and collective memory? What if traces are imprinted or stored in an imperceptible or intangible way, and the land itself retains the culture of a place? Then, what if when a certain set of stimuli is triggered, a kind of molecular union occurs between that place and a person whereby memories and experiences are passed on like the string of a mettle? You may laugh all over-active imagination, but it feels like as I sit and look out tonight from the edge of the wood – the sense of a presence, an emptiness and sadness, not of my making but occupying the ground, as if time is flicking back and forth and beyond worlds. long since committed, buried ,forgotten, are leaning into mine.” (270)
This won’t be a book for every reader but if you love a slow, eloquent read this might be a book for you. This one very definitely conforms to the nature genre with it’s intense, close observation combined with empathetic imaginings, a Gaia read.