Wyrd Sisters - Terry Pratchett (1980)

Pratchett is one of that rarified breed of writers, like Wodehouse, who are such singular stylists that all other facets of their work fade into pale insignificance in comparison. His most enduring creation is the Discworld, chronicled in more than thirty books and Lord only knows how many spin-offs and related projects. The Discworld is an eccentric (in many senses) fantasy world, people by a bizarre mix of incongruous characters. It is improbable, anachronistic and utterly charming. Pratchett's usual plan of attack is to take some work of fiction, or an entire genre, and recast it in his own inimitable style. Like few modern writers, but most older writers, his books work better the more familiar you are with literature in general.

Which brings us to Wyrd Sisters. The book is funny enough on its own, but if you know your Shakespeare, you catch the joke in the title and know some of what's to come. An impression confirmed when the book begins with this:

The night was as black as the inside of a cat. It
was the kind of night, you could believe, on which
gods moved men as though they were pawns on
the chessboard of fate. In the middle of this elemental
storm a fire gleamed among the dripping furze
bushes like the madness in a weasel's eye. It
illuminated three hunched figures. As the cauldron
bubbled an eldritch voice shrieked: "When shall
we three meet again?"

There was a pause.

Finally another voice said, in far more
ordinary tones: "Well, I can do next Tuesday."

With that we know that we are most definitely not in Macbeth, but the more you know about that play, the more in-jokes you get. If you don't think the above is even a little funny, then Pratchett may not be for you. If you do, then by all means give him a try. Wyrd Sisters is one of the best of the Discworld books, and is recommended on that account. It serves as a decent introduction to the series, which are so chaotic that reading them out of order is not a real problem. If one gets drawn in, then reading the first two books is probably a good idea; they are The Colour of Magic and The Light Fantastic.

Finally, let me add that Pratchett probably writes the funniest footnotes in fiction.

Overall Grade: A

(as a final note, there is an extensive wikipedia entry on Discworld.)

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