Sometimes it’s just totally worth it to go back in time and read some of your childhood favorites. For anyone who isn’t living at the bottom of a bog, then you have at least heard of Terry Pratchett and picked up one of his books in a bookstore, been confused about where you should start his Discworld Series, then put the book back on its shelf. Lucky for me, I discovered the Discworld Emporium which breaks down each Discworld thread into something like chronological order. Before reading Equal Rites I’d read, Guards Guards!, Reaper Man, The Truth, Going Postal, Moving Pictures, Jingo, and The Color of Magic. (Now that I write them down I had no idea that I’d read so many over the years). Something that’s truly amazing about the Discworld Series is that none of them feel stale. None of them rehash old plot points or character development because they are all standalone novels as much as they are connected with each other.
So, Equal Rites. I picked this book up after reading a dialogue between Neal Gaiman and Kazuo Ishiguro about genre. Gaiman, who was a good friend of Sir Terry Pratchett’s and collaborated on books with him mentioned that Pratchett was frustrated by the confines of marketing in terms of “literature” versus “fantasy.”
“You know, you can do all you want, but you put in one fucking dragon and they call you a fantasy writer,” Gaiman recalls his friend’s frustration.
With this in mind, I picked up Equal Rites which is about witches, but it’s actually about women’s rights. It’s about institutions (or a specific institution) made by men for men that excludes and demeans the attempts of women to be a part of it. The university in Ankh-Morpork, Unseen University.
the book shows how the acts of women have always be placed aside from whatever men have deemed “acceptable” and or “worthy of academia” for no other reason than it’s “against the lore,” as many a wizard claims. “Against the lore,” meaning that it is not part of the status quo.
Given a change of scenery and era and, yes, genre, this story could also be told in the 19teens as fought for the right to vote and make their voices heard. Women were only granted the right to vote in 1920. Yeah. Not even 100 years ago. This story could also be told in the business sectors of our current day, or dare I say, in a Presidential Election.
Of course, any of these settings would quickly turn the book away from the humoristic and focus it on drama. Perhaps Pratchett’s stories only work so well and are digestible by the masses because of their “fantasy” status. Perhaps it is this status that enables him to address difficult subject matter without offending.
In the end, the curse of the genre is, perhaps, what makes this book succeed so easily. The subversion of tropes and finger pointing at the injustices the status quo produces is, sometimes, only heard when there are wizards and dragons involved.