My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I’m unashamedly a Terry Pratchett fan and, bar his initial prototype discworld novel from long ago, have never found any of his books to be anything other than wonderful. ‘Witches Abroad’ is no exception.
As Pratchett so often does, he starts with inverting an idea we all take for granted. Here, Cinderella mustn’t marry the Prince. Furthermore, the three witches – complete with pointy hats and brooms – who come to stop any chance of ‘happily ever after’ are actually the heroes of the piece. This, despite one – Granny Weatherwax – being a grumpy, selfish and mean-spirited character.
All this is amusing (and the author is never anything less than witty) but what raises the level (and what the author always succeeds in this with every novel too) is the deeper philosophy which accompanies the plot. Pratchett calls us to question the value of stories – even as he is writing one himself – and the consequences stories have in our lives. What does it mean to have a ‘happy ending’ and who gets to have one anyway? What is the responsibility of the one who creates a story? And what happens when that story takes over and is no longer subject to control?
In a post-modern world on the brink of environmental disaster while (at the time of writing) on the brink of economic disaster through a pandemic, there is an existential crisis being forced upon everyone, rich or poor. If Harari, in ‘Sapiens’ is right, -that we all live by stories, by myths, by lies that we all sign up to, to continue pretending they’re real – what happens when those stories go out of our control? The story of capitalism is doing exactly that right now as the unthinkable has occurred, industries en masse are sinking as one, and governments battle between saving lives or saving economies. You can have one or the other, it seems; you can’t have both.
Pratchett is a genius at making you face such deep conundrums, yet simultaneously giving you the escape from reality you probably sought from picking up a fantasy humour novel in the first place. You don’t come away feeling dejected or miserable, weighed down by the problems or impossibilities of the world. He always leaves us with a smile on our face, a feeling of contentedness and a sense of waving – not a ‘goodbye’ to the characters, but a ‘see you later’. These are characters we will see again, in passing or on their own stage, just as other beloved characters make an appearance in this book, at some point in the future. Personally, I can’t wait.
Social Entrepreneur, educationalist, bestselling author and journalist, D K Powell is the author of the bestselling collection of literary short stories “The Old Man on the Beach“. His first book, ‘Sonali’ is a photo-memoir journal of life in Bangladesh and has been highly praised by the Bangladeshi diaspora worldwide. Students learning the Bengali language have also valued the English/Bengali translations on every page. Listen to his life story in interview with the BBC here.
D K Powell is available to speak at events (see his TEDx talk here) and can be contacted at email@example.com. Alternatively, he is available for one-to-one mentoring and runs a course on the psychology of writing.
Ken writes for a number of publications around the world. Past reviewer for Paste magazine, The Doughnut, E2D and United Airways, and currently reviews for Lancashire Life magazine and Northern Arts Review.