"As the cauldron bubbled, an eldritch voice shrieked, 'When shall we three meet again?'...
Another voice said, in far more ordinary tones, 'Well, I can do next Tuesday.'"
The sixth novel in the Discworld
series and the first to feature the three witches (Granny Weatherwax appeared earlier in Equal Rites
). Largely a homage to/parody of Macbeth
and William Shakespeare
in general, and early modern theater practices in even-more-general.
King Verence of Lancre is murdered by his scheming cousin Leonal Felmet at the insistance of Felmet's ambitious and domineering wife
. While Death informs Verence that he's due to become a ghost, a soldier loyal to the old king manages to get Verence's infant son and the royal crown of Lancre into the hands of a trio of witches: Magrat Garlick, a naive and romantic young Granola Girl
; Gytha "Nanny" Ogg, a likeable and sociable matriarch who's smarter than she lets on; and Esmeralda "Granny" Weatherwax, the stern, sinister, but ultimately benevolent
witch among witches.
After some debate, the trio leave the child (given the name "Tomjon") and the crown (secretly snuck into a box of prop crowns) in the care of a band of traveling players (who come complete with a Shakespeare analogue
in the form of Hwel the dwarf).
As time passes, Felmet's rule stirs a growing amount of unrest in the kingdom, but Granny adamantly refuses to "meddle" in things... until a paranoid Felmet sets his sights on eliminating the perceived threat of Lancre's population of witches.
Preceded by Sourcery
, followed by Pyramids
. Preceded in the Witches series by Equal Rites
, followed by Witches Abroad
- Animated Adaptation: Cosgrove Hall produced two six-episode animated TV series based on this book and Soul Music, with Christopher Lee providing the voice of Death. Both series were largely faithful to the books, keeping the plots and most of the dialogue intact, though there were of course differences. In the case of Wyrd Sisters a few minor characters were dropped, and some characters had slightly different personalities (most notably the Fool, who, while he's still Obfuscating Stupidity and keeping his head down, has a more genuinely cheerful demeanor and seems slightly more enthusiastic about his job).
- They also changed the time-jump to 18 years, rendering Tomjon 21 rather than 18 at the climax.
- Ax-Crazy: "The duke's mind ticked like a clock, and, like a clock, it regularly went cuckoo."
- Bad Bad Acting: Granny Weatherwax, Magarat, and Nanny Ogg while trying to guide Hwel and Tom-John to Lancre; the coven posing as wood-gatherers.
- The Animated Adaptation really sells it, and makes each witch a different kind of bad actor: Granny speaks in a stilted way and slips in and out of character depending on how annoyed she gets. Magrat stumbles over her lines, speaks in monotone and over-uses the word "lawks." Nanny doesn't even try to be a convincing wood-gatherer; she just comes walking out of the bushes carrying a single twig that she casually throws away.
- Bedsheet Ghost: Played with near the end, when Felmet cracks completely and attempts to commit suicide with what turns out to be a retractable prop dagger, then drapes a bedsheet over himself and attempts to haunt the castle, ignoring anyone who attempts to point out that he isn't actually dead.
- Boarding School of Horrors: The Fool remembers the Fools' Guild school as this. Especially since it was next door to a school that wasn't one...the Assassin school.
- Boisterous Bruiser: King Verence was quite vivacious in life, as remarked upon by a fellow ghost. Naturally, this subdues somewhat after he's freed from the vices of the flesh.
- Buffy Speak: Granny Weatherwax is a repeat offender throughout the series, which makes more sense when you consider the provided definition "highly intelligent, but not highly educated." The early pages of this installment in particular gives us this little gem:
Granny: Things that try to look like things often do look more like things than things.
- Catch the Conscience: Used as a direct parody of Hamlet. The witches think this is why Tomjon and his strolling players are putting on a play about the old king's death. It isn't; they've been hired to do a propaganda piece that says Verence was a tyrant whose death was an accident. The witches then alter the play to do this themselves. Rather than feeling guilty, the Duke finally loses all connection to reality, but this still leads to a confession of sorts, so it's a result.
- Cats Are Mean: The Fool was entirely justified in wearing chainmail to deal with Greebo.
- Charm Person: Vitoller has a weak version thanks to his acting skill, which manages to catch Granny offguard after she thinks she has the high hand after he loses the Staring Contest.
- Tomjon has a stronger version due to Magrat's gift.
- Could Say It But: When Magrat attepts to pump the Fool for information about the play, he informs her that he's been forbidden to tell the witches about it — then proceeds to outline in great detail precisely what he's not allowed to tell her.
- Deadpan Snarker: Duke Felmet tries, occasionally, to be this, but finds it hard to do when his subjects are largely made up of people who Do Not Understand Sarcasm.
"I'm not sure I made your orders clear, sergeant," said the duke, in snake tones.
"I mean, it is possible I may have confused you. I meant to say 'Bring me a witch, in chains if necessary,' but perhaps what I really said was 'Go and have a cup of tea.' Was this in fact the case?"
The sergeant wrinkled his forehead. Sarcasm had not hitherto entered his life. His experience of people being annoyed with him generally involved shouting and occasional bits of wood.
"No, sir," he said.
- The Coroner Doth Protest Too Much: The Felmets claim that Verence died of natural causes. Absolutely everyone in the kingdom knows they're pulling this, but in Lancre they actually do consider assassination to count as natural causes for a king so they don't care.
- The ones that do protest find out that falling onto one's own dagger can be contagious.
- Deconstruction: Besides the obvious one of Shakespeare, there are also lesser ones. For example, the witches all give Tomjon gifts to help him in life, similar to the fairies in Sleeping Beauty: Magrat "he will make friends easily", Nanny "a bloody good memory" and Granny "let him be whatever he thinks he is". These gifts make him an excellent actor and help him succeed in life, but in the end, mean that he wants to be an actor, not a king.
- Died Happily Ever After: Felmet seems pretty thrilled to spend eternity (or thereabouts) as a ghost. Go figure.
- Disneyfication: Mild version with the Animated Adaptation, which removes most of the swear words (such as "bloody," "bugger" and "hell"), the Duke's repeated attempts to clean his hands of blood have been reduced to one vague reference early on when Lady Felmet tells him to "stop rubbing your hands!", and nothing is said of the Vitollers' deceased child. On the other hand, the plot stays intact, murder and all, and almost all Nanny Ogg's innuendoes (as well as Magrat's naivety about sex) are kept.
- Disney Villain Death: Lord Felmet
- Dramatic Thunder: The play that's put on at the climax calls for a lot of Thunderous Underlining, and when someone breaks the thunder sound effect just before the final act Hwel is driven to raging at the heavens... at which point, a real thunderstorm rolls in and provides appropriate Underlining for the rest of the performance.
- Drives Like Crazy: When it comes to flying a broomstick, Granny Weatherwax likes going in a straight line, not caring about the birds, other witches, and the occasional mountain in between point A and B.
- Early-Bird Cameo: C.M.O.T. Dibbler is first introduced in Guards! Guards!, but the concept behind his character is first described here, when it's noted that men selling sausages in buns seem to magically appear to accompany a spontaneous crowd, and the narration suggests that they can do this because their carts include a small gas-powered time machine.
Annoyed customer: Five copper pieces for a sausage in a bun?!
- Chrysophrase the Troll is name-dropped for the second rime in the Discworld continuity. In the Animated Adaptation, he appears on-screen for a few scenes to personally threaten... errr, negotiate with Vitoller about paying back the money he borrowed.
- Early Installment Weirdness: Granny, while much evolved from her initial appearance in Equal Rites is still a far cry from the indomitable and unshakeable Iron Lady seen in later books. Additionally, as the Discworld was still more of a standard fantasy setting at this stage, especially Ankh-Morpork, the Fools Guild is a training school for classic court jesters rather than the school for modern circus clowns it becomes from Men at Arms on. Also, this is the only time Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg have a fight—in later books Nanny is the peacemaker who knows how to work her way around Esme Weatherwax without being confrontational and Granny usually fights with the younger witches such as Magrat and Tiffany.
- Evil Eye Shadow: It's the Trope Namer, though This Index Is Not an Example; Magrat is a very nice witch whose eyeshadow just looks creepy.
- Expy: Hwel is William Shakespeare.
- Many of the characters, in fact, are heavily based on Shakespearian characters.
- Fertile Feet: Sort of; Magrat is able to get through a castle door by causing the wood to remember when it was a living tree and to sprout.
- Fingore: See 'Out Damn Spot' below.
- First Kiss: And what a first kiss! It lasted fifteen years.
- Fisher King: In a way; the kingdom has a connection to the king, and while it doesn't care if he's a good or bad man, it does expect him to care about it.
- Foreshadowing: The twist at the end is actually mentioned in the beginning: "You'd have to be a born fool to be a king." The twist to the twist may also be alluded to, if you allow that the ghost's subplot adds elements of Hamlet-parody to the book. Felmet tells the Fool "I am not thy nuncle"... which is true, because the Fool isn't Verence I's son after all. Granted, Felmet was Verence I's cousin rather than his brother, but his usurping counterpart in Hamlet is the prince's uncle.
- Friend to All Living Things: Magrat, although that hasn't helped her find a reliable familiar.
- Gainaxing: Nanny Ogg in the animated adaptation, though it's more prominent in some scenes than others. Given that Nanny Ogg is not ecactly young, slim or pretty, it's definitely not intended as Fanservice (but does rather fit her character).
- Genius Loci: The kingdom of Lancre is alive and aware. It is seen as capable of communicating (in a manner) through the native wildlife, and grows irate under the reign of a monarch who doesn't care for it.
- Genre Savvy: After Tomjon's players have twice been directed back onto the road to Lancre by "humble wood-gatherers" (Granny and Magrat), the third time they get lost he simply stops the carts and waits for yet another (Nanny) to "wander" by.
- Ghostly Goals: King Verence I remains a ghost only until Duke Felmet is killed in turn, and is shown happily fading away in the Animated Adaptation.
- Goggles Do Nothing: In the Animated Adaptation, this appears to be the case with Granny Weatherwax, of all people, who has a pair of goggles fastened to her hat for no apparent reason. Later on, it turns out that they do have a purpose; she wears them to protect her eyes when she goes broomstick flying.
- Happily Adopted: Tomjon. Even after discovering that the Vitollers aren't his birth parents he never stops thinking of them as his parents, and he makes it clear that his loyalties lie with them.
- Happily Married: The Vitollers though the loss of their daughter makes it a rather bittersweet kind of happy
- Haunted Castle: Lancre Castle is full of ghosts. Including the ghosts of animals that were prepared for dinner in the castle kitchen. Played with, too: When Nanny Ogg brings a pebble from the castle home so that she can talk to Verence's ghost (who is bound to the castle), all the other ghosts wanted a change of scenery, too. The castle suddenly becomes nice and quiet, while Nanny's cottage is packed with ghosts, including a screaming lady in a chariot zooming through the wash room and the analogues to the Princes in the Tower toddling around in her hall.
- Head Pet: Greebo hitches a ride on the head of the Fool, who very prudently was wearing a helmet and a chainmail wimple at the time.
- The Hecate Sisters: Where the title comes from.
- Heel Realization:
- Subverted when Granny tried to force one with magic, Lady Felmet already knew what she was and was proud of it, resulting in an Ignored Epiphany.
- The RPG adaptation lets players use that spell, basically forcing a fear roll upon the victim - but if they are truly evil, they snap back usually laughing, and the caster must make a fear roll!
- Helping Granny Cross the Street: Some Genre Savvy (if not particularly region-savvy) actors keep offering to help the Witches cross the river, even though there isn't one nearby.
- Hidden Backup Prince
- Ignored Epiphany: Lady Felmet—see the entry for Heel Realization.
- I Have to Wash My Hair: A running gag between Magrat and the Fool. She does like him, and is just Playing Hard to Get — until they have a serious falling-out, and then she lets him know that henceforth she'll be washing her hair whenever he might want to see her.
- Later, when she seems to have been too successful in pushing the Fool away, Magrat bursts into tears when Nanny remarks that her hair doesn't look like it's been washed in weeks.
- The Jester: Who ends up becoming King of Lancre.
- Karmic Death: How Lady Felmet meets her end. Sure, you may be more ruthless and evil than the rest, but you were a LOT safer from the angry kingdom in your nice warm cell.
- Lady Macbeth: Lady Felmet, for obvious reasons.
- Large Ham: Vitoller, of course.
- Last Villain Stand: When Lady Felmet is confronted by the beasts of Lancre, she charges despite having no chance to survive.
- Literal Genie: Kinda-sorta. Since Granny's spell had to be completed before the first rooster crowed, Nanny compensated by stationing her minions by every single rooster in the kingdom to make sure they shut up. Fortunately, it's a small kingdom. Also subverted when the demon they summon is completely unable to weasel out of answering their questions because Granny stuck with something like, "What the hell's going on?" Well, and because Granny Weatherwax is scary.
- Well, she's happy to play along with the first two questions, but by the third she has run out of patience.
- Loads and Loads of Characters: Although this is a feature of the entire series, Wyrd Sisters carries it to extremes, beginning with at least four separate storylines running together.
- Lovable Sex Maniac: Greebo, Nanny Ogg's cat, though only Nanny would consider him "lovable". Every cat currently living in Lancre is thought to have ancestry that can be traced to him. See also: Badass.
- Mind Rape: Granny Weatherwax tries her own version on Lady Felmet in Wyrd Sisters by showing her her true self. Unfortunately, Lady Felmet is fully aware, and proud, of just how evil and cruel she truly is. A moment later, Nanny Ogg defeats her by braining her with a cauldron while she's in the middle of a rant.
- Minion with an F in Evil: The Fool isn't happy working for Lord Felmet, but a fool must remain loyal to his master until death.
- Missing Mom: Tomjon's mother is never seen, and is only mentioned (very briefly) by Nanny Ogg at the end.
- Mobile Kiosk: The narrator speculated that hot-dog stalls incorporate small, gas-powered time machines, enabling them to appear out of nowhere whenever a crowd forms.
- Moses in the Bullrushes: Subverted. After the true heir to the throne of Lancre is revealed, everyone discovers he doesn't want to be king, and would rather be an actor, like his adopted father. Fortunately, an alternative heir is found when Magrat realizes he has a half-brother, who turns out to be the court jester. In a further subversion, Magrat later discovers that the half-blood was not because the king disported with the jester's wife; it was because while the king was out disporting himself with the peasants, the queen got lonely.
- Mundane Solution: Nanny knocking the Duchess out with a cauldron, particularly striking as it follows directly on from Granny's failed psychic attack (the Duchess was just too evil to care about the horrible truths Granny dragged to the surface of her mind).
- My Card: The thieves that rob the Fool in Ankh-Morpork have a business card, which they show Tomjon as he attempts to rescue the Fool.
- Nice Job Fixing It, Villain: Had Lord and Lady Felmet left the witches alone and not made them their enemies, they probably would have kept on ruling the kingdom.
- Noodle Implements: A footnote gives a very interesting list of items relating to the death of a previous King of Lancre. Which is based on the real life multiple attempts to kill Implacable Man Rasputin, along with some more relevant royal figures who met similar fates.
- Not in This for Your Revolution: Granny argues against interfering in the affairs of kings, even after being confronted by the entire kingdom of Lancre (not its people, the kingdom itself). She changes her mind after the people of Lancre, thanks to Felmet, have turned on the witches, making it personal for her.
- N-Word Privileges: "Lawn ornament" is generally a mortal insult to a dwarf, but it's a term of affection between best friends Vitoller and Hwell. Hwel isn't going to take it from anyone else, however: "Some things you earn."
- Obfuscating Stupidity: The Fool is a lot smarter than he looks, and puts in some effort to stop people noticing. He still slips up occasionally, like when he accidentally defines "Zen" while playing cards with the cook.
- Offered the Crown: How Verence becomes king. Though the witches made everyone else, including Verence, think he was a legitimate successor.
- Out, Damned Spot!: It is a Macbeth parody but with the other spouse. The Pratchett twist manages to be both darkly funny and rather deeply disturbing. His attempts to remove the blood get more and more outrageous: First it involves scrubbing too hard, then using sandpaper, then a wire brush, then a cheesegrater.
- Papa Wolf: Subverted, as the ghostly King Verence's attempt to charge to his son's rescue is balked by his inability to leave the castle.
- Paranoia Gambit:
Only once, in the entire history of witchery on the Ramtops, had a thief broken into a witch's cottage. The witch concerned visited the most terrible punishment on him.
She did nothing, although sometimes when she saw him in the village she'd smile in a faint, puzzled way. After three weeks of this the suspense was too much for him and he took his own life; in fact he took it all the way across the continent, where he became a reformed character and never went home again.
- Parody Magic Spell: "Owl hoot and glowworm glimmer. Stir, and then allow to simmer." (Also includes "tongue of boot".)
- Performance Anxiety: Death gets a case of stage fright and starts fumbling over the lines "he" is supposed to play when he turns up for real on the stage towards the climax at the book. It's explained this is because the circumstances means everyone is expecting to see him, and thus they can, and it's very unusual indeed for him to be seen by such a large crowd of living people.
- Photographic Memory: Nanny's gift gives Tomjon "a bloody good memory" for lines, although it's not clear whether it's photographic or not.
- Plato Is a Moron: Compared to the Patrician of Ankh-Morpork, Machiavelli couldn't have run a whelk stall.
- Plot-Relevant Age-Up: Inverted. After sending the baby King away, the witches end up magically shifting the entire kingdom 15 years into the future. From their perspective, he's turned 18 overnight, but he gets to grow up naturally.
- The Power of Acting: Vitoller's and, to an extent, Tomjon's, Charm Person abilities.
- Reality Is Unrealistic: The crown of Lancre, a simple gold coronet, was hidden in a box of stage props that included larger, more elaborate crowns of tinsel and glass. The real crown spent the next fifteen years ignored at the bottom of the box, because it looked so dull that the actors never used it. As anticipated by Granny, who earlier told Magrat "Things that try to look like things often do look more like things than things. Well-known fact."
- Red Herring: Felmet's hatred of trees, which even he doesn't seem to understand. This would appear to be setting up a reference to Macbeth's Dunsinane Forest moving, or possibly a Green Aesop, but never pans out.
- It's implied that he hates the trees because they're fortunate enough not to have a concept of marriage.
- It's also implied that the trees do exact their revenge (indirectly), by subtly channeling Lady Felmet into a clearing full of large animals (full of the kingdom's wrath), then cutting off her escape so that said animals can maul her to death.
- Rightful King Returns: Subverted
- Royal Blood: Subverted
- Running Gag: The "droit de seigneur".
- Also "Is this a dagger I see before me?"
- People knocking 'without'.
- Sad Clown: The Fool, and everybody else who studied in the Guild of Fools. On the Disc, there's absolutely no fun in being a clown. Made sadder to the Fools, and funnier to the readers, by the fact that the Assassins' Guild school is next door. And the Fools actually envy the Assassins. Even though there are much fewer of them at the end of the year.
- Slight case of weird synchronicity here. Verence The Fool is voiced in the adaptation by Les Dennis, a well-known British comedian of the old school whose early career was touched by tragedy (the death of his partner, Dustin Gee), and whose personal life imploded quite catastrophically in public. It says a lot for his strength of character that despite this, for him the show goes on.
- Serious Business: The Ankh-Morpork Fools' Guild in regards to comedy, to self-destructive extents.
- Shout-Out: The twins in the corridor are a reference to the Princes in the Tower, (allegedly) murdered by Richard III. (Not, as some readers seem to think, to The Shining).
- What Magrat says to a guard she's holding at knife-point bears more than a passing resemblance to something a certain Mr. Callahan would say
Magrat: You're wondering if I really would slit your throat. To tell the truth, I don't know either, but think of the fun we could have finding out.
- Show Within a Show: The whole climax revolves around this.
- Shut Up, Hannibal!: Near the end of the book, Duchess Felmet's rant about how the "good" people in Lancre are too afraid of her to do anything is interrupted by Nanny Ogg KO-ing her with a prop cauldron.
- Strange Minds Think Alike: The running gag about exercising the "droit de seigneur", with several characters wondering what it is, and most assuming it's some kind of hairy creature, leading Duke Felmet to wonder just where to get one, and what sort of exercise it means. Later on, the witches mention "that great hairy thing of [King Verence]".
"Ah," said Granny Weatherwax distantly. "His droit de seigneur."
- Tap on the Head: With a cauldron, no less.
- These Hands Have Killed: Felmet starts mutilating himself because he can't get the imaginary blood off his hands.
- Timey-Wimey Ball: Granny Weatherwax creates one around the kingdom to shift it 15 years into the future. This actually causes rather less disruption than you would expect, as Lancre is quite isolated and timekeeping in the various locations around the Disc isn't exactly a precise art.
- And, as Thief Of Time reveals, the timeline itself is basically held together with spit and good intentions. One wonders if the History Monks had to fix up these events in any capacity, or if they even noticed.
- More likely they were grateful, as running low on time is their more common problem and they can always find a use for a spare 15 years.
- Title Drop: Felmet's line after facing down Granny. "Get back to your cauldrons, wyrd sisters."
- Too Kinky to Torture: Nanny Ogg, sort of.
Duke Felmet: That, madam, is the Iron Maiden, and—
Nanny: Can I have a go in it?
- Uncanny Valley Makeup: Magrat wears this when she goes to rescue Nanny Ogg from Felmet's dungeons. A hapless guard finds himself resisting the urge to make a sign to "ward off the evil eyeshadow".
- Understatement: Nanny about the Duchess after knocking her out: "She does go on, doesn't she? She was a bit eccentric, if you ask me."
- The Unpronounceable: The demon the witches summon, WxrtHltl-jwlpklz ("Where were you when the vowels were handed out, behind the door?"). It's rather surprised when Granny (who can do anything she sets her mind to) pronounces it perfectly the first time.
- Unusually Uninteresting Sight: The people of Lancre are used to weird and portentous things happening, thanks to the high levels of magic in the Ramtop Mountains. When the portents stop happening, that's when people get worried...
- Victory Is Boring: Felmet has a minor case of this. Due to his guilt over murdering his cousin he believes someone should rise up against him in righteous anger... and is frustrated and disappointed when they don't. He seemed positively eager at the challenge the Witches presented.
- Villainous BSOD: Subverted. When Granny attempts to defeat the Duchess by pulling down the mental dividers that keep her from thinking about the horrors she's committed, she recovers almost immediately, announcing that she's perfectly fine with who she is, enjoys her work, and would happily do it all again given the chance.
- Villainous Valor: When the fleeing Lady Felmet is confronted by the massed forest animals of the kingdom, she pulls her knife and charges them head-on.
- We Want Our Jerk Back: Played with. It's established fairly early on that Verence I was well-endowed with the typical tropes of an evil king, despite not actually being a bad king at all, and rather beloved among his people: he enjoyed hunting people in the woods,note he burned down houses for no particular reason,note and exercised his Droit du Seigneur quite regularly.note Felmet does all these things too—well, except for the last one—but people disapprove of it far more. The witches decide it's simply that it felt more personal with Verence.
- Whole Plot Reference: Macbeth, obviously, and, to a lesser extent, Hamlet.
- Who's Your Daddy?: Hinted at with the Fool, but subverted. Tomjon is his brother, but King Verence I isn't their father. While the king was exercising his droit de seigneur, the queen got lonely, and had an affair with the Fool's father.
- Woodland Creatures: Collectively, they alert Granny to the crisis, and later give Lancre itself a Roaring Rampage of Revenge. Yes, even the rabbits.
- You Got Spunk: Invoked with Magrat and a castle guard... right before she knocks him unconscious.
"I like a girl with spirit," he said, incorrectly as it turned out.
- You Just Ruined the Shot: Granny repeatedly interrupts the play at the beginning (e.g. to accuse the murderer) based on her inability to distinguish it from reality. According to later books she will show up at every performance of any kind in Lancre from then on, just because she enjoys doing this. In later books it is also explained that it isn't because she doesn't understand fiction, but because she deeply dislikes it, and loves to bring out its inconsistencies and issues. All this because she knows that stories have real and serious power that she's bent to fight against.