Discworld: Equal Rites

Equal Rites is the third Discworld novel. This was the first to demonstrate the series was not simply about Rincewind, instead shifting to new locations and a new set of characters. It is the first book in the "witches series", although the setting is only half-formed. Pratchett himself noted later on that the Granny Weatherwax that features here is a much more limited character than the one that appears in fully crafted form by Lords and Ladies.

The plot begins with a dying wizard who wants to bestow his staff and power upon a suitable baby — an eighth son of an eighth son. However, due to some confusion, he does so to the eighth child of an eighth son, who happens to be a girl who is given the name Eskarina. The book centres around Eskarina being brought up and trained by Granny Weatherwax the witch, and muses on the difference between wizard magic and witch magic (broadly speaking, out of the sky and all mythic grandeur vs. out of the earth and to do with people). After failing to raise her as a witch because of the constant interventions of the sentient staff, Granny decides to take her to Unseen University in Ankh-Morpork to see what the wizards make of her. An up-and-coming (if gangly and clumsy) wizard genius named Simon provides added spin to Esk's quest to figure out just what kind of magic she's part of.

Because of the book's feminist slant and the fact that the name Terry can be unisex, a lot of female authors praised the book while assuming Terry Pratchett was a woman (this was, of course, before he was a near-household name), which is why copies these days usually have his photo on the back.

Preceded by The Light Fantastic, followed by Mort. The next book in the Witches series is Wyrd Sisters.


Equal Rites provides examples of the following tropes:

  • Achievements in Ignorance: Esk is able to teleport something without a "counter-weight" because no-one's ever told her this is impossible. This later undergoes a minor retcon where another character states it is possible to do this, just very risky.
  • Animal Reaction Shot: The goats that watch the wizard. And then watch — well, nothing — go up the road.
  • Baleful Polymorph: Esk turns her teasing brother Gulta into a pig.
  • Brick Joke: The mirror scene sets up one which comes to fruition in Witches Abroad.
  • The Call Left A Message: Drum Billet's staff. Also his giving into Reality after opting out and choosing reincarnation as an apple tree.
  • Cannot Tell a Lie: The Zoons, a river-trading people who are mostly physically incapable of lying, except for their political leaders who are specially trained and known as Liars. It's noted that the first lie they ever achieved was "Actually, my grandfather is quite tall", and the current Liar attained his position with the bold claim that his grandfather was seventeen feet tall.
  • Curse: Granny puts this into its correct context for witches. they don't do it, but when they need not to do it most, they don't do it by halves.
  • Cut Lex Luthor a Check: It's mentioned that highway bandits spend so much time and money setting up ambushing than they would be better off getting a legitimate job.
  • Did You Just Punch Out Cthulhu?: for the second time already, it's established that it's actually fairly easy to punch out Cthulhu. Until Cthulhu starts menacing your friends.
  • Droste Image: Simon conjures an image of the Discworld to demonstrate his talent upon arrival at UU. It expands to show a tiny image of himself, which is conjuring a tiny image of the Discworld, which contains a tiny image of himself, etc.
  • Editorial Synaesthesia: When Borrowing (a light form of possession) the minds of different animals, their minds are described in these terms. Predator minds are purple arrowheads, herbivore minds are coiled silver springs, and human minds are complicated silver clouds.
  • Eldritch Abomination: The Things from the Dungeon Dimensions. Subverted in that they are actually quite weak when attacked in their own dimension, being cobbled together out of parts from random creatures. This may explain how Rincewind survived there after being transported to the Dungeon Dimensions at the end of Sourcery. whilst his stay there might variably have been three days or seventeen years (good cases can be made for both), he had both a brick-in-a-sock and the Luggage to defend him.
  • Empathic Weapon: Esk's staff. The link is strong enough that what one feels, the other feels (First, when the staff is put into the fire. Second, when Esk is in the Dungeon Dimensions).
  • Epic Fail: Drum Billet and Mr. Smith committing one of these is what kicks off the book, particularly in the latter's refusal to let Granny get a word in edgewise about Eskarina's gender.
  • Feminist Fantasy: The book was serialised on the BBC's feminist-leaning Woman's Hour on radio. For quite some time afterwards, the author received fan-mail addressed to Ms. Terri Pratchett, Ms. Teresa Pratchett or simply Ms. Pratchett, from fans who simply assumed a woman had written the book and who even when informed of the error, simply refused to believe a mere man could have written such a book with such strong female characters.
  • Genius Loci: The building of Unseen University itself has become partly alive and self-aware due to being exposed to so much magic. Granny is even able to Borrow its mind. The forest around Granny's cottage is also mentioned to have a collective "mind" of sorts.
  • Getting Crap Past the Radar: This exchange:
    Treatle: It will all become clear to you when you grow up. Itís an amusing idea, of course, a nice play on words. A female wizard! You might as well invent a male witch!
    Esk: Warlocksnote  (Note that this echoes a very similar conversation earlier in the book between Granny Weatherwax and Esk).
    • And this one:
    Mrs. Whitlow: I started as a maid.
    Granny: We all did.
    • At one point, Granny is mixing a potion for the wife of a glassblower she refers to as "Mr. Once-A-Fortnight." The instructions she sends include wearing loose clothing and making absolutely sure that no one will visit.
  • Heavy Mithril: The Steeleye Span track The Two Magicians influenced this book. Its themes of magical war between a Witch and a Wizard are echoed both in the chauvinism expressed by Wizards towards Witches, and more directly in the magical fight between Granny Weatherwax and the Arch-Chancellor.
    • The Steeleye Span track may not have been the direct influence; it in turn was probably based on much older myth and legend, as was TH White's depiction of a duel of this kind between Merlyn and Madame Mim.
  • I Have Brothers: Esk is blessed with seven and the onset of magic allows her to win the war of sibling rivalry.
  • Inn Security: The proprietors of the Fiddler's Riddle invite Esk to stay with them gratis, but only so they can try to steal her staff. Luckily, although Esk isn't world-wise enough to discern their bad intentions, the staff itself isn't having any of it.
  • Logic Bomb: the best way to defeat the Things from the Dungeon Dimensions is to not use magic (though only if you're capable to use it). Magic only makes them stronger, but they cannot comprehend a wizard who is able to use magic but DOESN'T.
  • Lovely Assistant: Referenced, the members of the Guild of Conjurers are accompanied by "sad thin women in spangly tights" (as in The Amazing Bunko and Doris).
  • Magical Seventh Son: Except, of course, that on Discworld, the magical number is eight. And Eskarina is the eighth child, not the eighth son, which isn't supposed to work, but somehow it does. Women are supposed to be witches, not wizards, but Eskarina is simply too wizardy.
  • The Mind Is a Plaything of the Body: Played for horror when Eskarina tries to stay in the body of an eagle for too long.
  • Monster Shaped Mountain: The Paps of Scilla, a mountain on the caravan-route from Zemphis to Ankh-Morpork, has stirred a lot of speculation about the lady in question, because it has eight peaks.
  • Painting the Medium:
    Esk gazed down defiantly. Granny glared up sternly. Their wills clashed like cymbals and the air between them thickened. But Granny had spent a lifetime bending recalcitrant creatures to her bidding and, while Esk was a surprisingly strong opponent, it was obvious that she would give in before the end of the paragraph.
  • Paper-Thin Disguise: All it takes for Esk's wizard staff to go unrecognized in a University full of wizards is a bunch of straw tied on one end so it can pass for a broom. Never mind the crawling sigils on its shaft.
  • Power Incontinence: Esk's lack of proper training in her wizard's magic causes it to start leaking out whenever she gets emotional.
  • Readings Are Off the Scale: When Esk is in the Dungeon Dimensions and the staff (standing upright in the river) empathically feels this, it grows impossibly cold, freezing the river — but the water immediately around the staff is so cold that it actually anti-boils.
  • Retcon: Blink and you'll miss it, but this is actually the first book to refer to the leader of Unseen University as the Archchancellor — in The Light Fantastic Galder Weatherwax was just described as the Chancellor. Later books retconned the Archchancellor title as always being there.
  • Shapeshifter Showdown: The duel between Cutangle and Granny, inspired by those in the Arthurian Mythos (and perhaps best known to modern eyes through Disney's The Sword in the Stone) which illustrates the difference between wizard and witch magic, Cutangle turning into powerful things and Granny into more modest things that restrain them through subtlety.
  • Shout-Out: The other worlds that the Things are trying to break into include a flat world with a World Tree, another flat world with the Midgard Serpent (also referenced in The Colour of Magic) and a round world which is, of course, implied to be ours.
  • The Talk: Averted constantly. Either Esk is dense or really good at faking.
  • Talking in Your Dreams: Esk does this when assailed at night by Dungeon Dimension things. They inflict a sadistic dream on her - about Wizardry refusing to admit a female - knowing the result is going to be a delicious explosion of raw angry magic.
  • Thanks for the Mammary: Cutangle accidentally grabs Granny Weatherwax in this fashion while riding behind her on a broomstick. He apologizes profusely. And then, after some thought, she reminds him that he really ought to move his hands elsewhere.
  • Training the Gift of Magic: A major driving factor in the plot. As Esk's unique talent for wizard magic emerges, Granny Weatherwax first trains her in witchcraft as a good enough way to help her control it, and then has to take her to Unseen University for actual wizard training.
  • Un Equal Rites: Trope Namer.
  • Watch Out for That Tree!: Granny imposes this trope on a hungry bear, making it walk headfirst into a tree and knock itself out.
  • Wild Magic: Esk is not too good at casting magic directly, but her staff radiates with magic and causes rather... random phenomena.
  • Wizard Duel: Wizard-vs.-witch duel in this case. It was interrupted by the arrival of the Things from the Dungeon Dimensions.
  • Women Are Wiser: Granny Weatherwax thinks Witch magic is better. Her characterization implies that she believes women to be more "in tune" than men (a wizard wouldn't "borrow" a creature because it simply wouldn't occur to him to ask nicely and share rather than sneak in and dominate), suggesting she has a less than stellar opinion of men in general. Apparently her biggest reasons to dislike wizards is that "they think their magic is the only one worth using."