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Literature / Wyrd Sisters

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"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 Terry Pratchett’s 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 insistence 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.

Tropes featured:

  • Abusive Parents: Or grandparents, in this case. The Fool's grandfather was about as loving as a particularly sharp knife, beating young Verence just for making an unlicensed joke. Not surprising his actual son took off and hardly ever came back.
  • Adaptational Attractiveness: Magrat is noted in the book to be a beanpole of a girl with frizzy hair and a long, red nose. In the film, her hair behaves itself and she has a bigger bustline than "two peas on an ironing board." Her nose is rather large, but isn't constantly red.
  • Animate Inanimate Object: The standing stone slips away and hides when anyone comes too close or appears to take an interest in it.
  • Animated Adaptation: Cosgrove Hall produced three six-episode animated TV series based on this book, Reaper Man and Soul Music, with Christopher Lee providing the voice of Death. The 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.
    • While remaining faithful mostly to the text and dialogue, the series, particularly in the beginning, switches between scenes and cuts at a lightning pace, and gives the characters approximately half a second between lines. If the viewer is not familiar with the original material, this can make the series very hard to understand, and the jokes almost impossible to get.
  • Apathetic Citizens: Felmet finds to his annoyance that no one really minds that he's taken over. This is justified by Lancre's long history of kings and assassination: as Granny explains, assassination is just a natural cause for a leader.
  • Ax-Crazy: "The duke's mind ticked like a clock, and, like a clock, it regularly went cuckoo."
  • "Awkward Silence" Entrance: When Tomjon and Hwel enter the Mended Drum:
    Two hundred eyes watched the pair as they pushed their way through the crowd to the bar, a hundred mouths paused in the act of drinking, cursing or pleading, and ninety-nine brows crinkled with the effort of working out whether the newcomers fell into category A, people to be frightened of or B, people to frighten.
  • 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.
  • The Bard on Board: The plot is a wholesale Macbeth lift, but told from the point of view of three benevolent, if squabbling, witches. Many more Shakespeare references come thick and fast.
  • Batman Gambit: Granny uses headology for one early in the books, when the soldiers reach them and one of them, unimpressed, challenges her. After many provocations, as a lightning hits a rock next to where he was, he boasts about Granny missing, raises his sword, and falls dead when a fellow soldier stabs him in the back. Granny says he didn't know what she was aiming for.
    Granny Weatherwax: Mother of the night, indeed!
  • 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.
  • Bigger Is Better in Bed: When the witches are discussing what their gifts to Tomjon should be, it's heavily implied Nanny Ogg's first suggestion is to grant him a Gag Penis.
    "I know what he'll want," said Nanny. She made a suggestion, which was received in frozen silence.
    "I don't see what use that would be," said Magrat, eventually. "Wouldn't it be rather uncomfortable?"
    "He'll thank us when he grows up, you mark my words," said Nanny. "My first husband, he always said—"
    "Something a bit less physical is generally the style of things," interrupted Granny, glaring at Nanny Ogg.
  • Bloody Hallucinations of Guilt: Duke Felmet hallucinates King Verence's blood on his hands after murdering him, resorting to increasingly drastic measures to try and remove the blood including sandpaper and even a cheese grater.
  • 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 Assassins’ 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. This is also the exact thing that allowed him to remain fully aware as a ghost, where so many others became almost mindless after death.
  • Boring, but Practical: A theme of witches is that they don't need to use magic when something far more sensible will do. Case in point, even Magrat has a moment where she's arming up to lay siege to the castle, and looks over her selection of rune-inscribed knives... and instead picks the decidedly non-magical but very large and very sharp breadknife. Or at the end, when Granny's attempt to show Lady Felmet how evil she is fails, so Nanny Ogg just brains her with a cauldron.
  • Bread, Eggs, Breaded Eggs: When Mrs. Vitoller asks Granny and Nanny what the baby's name is, one says "Tom" and the other says "John." Then they look at each other and simultaneously say "Tomjon."
  • Brick Joke:
    • Trying to get into the castle, Granny Weatherwax pretends to be a humble apple seller, but notes it's only ever worked once in the history of witching. A few pages later, Magrat tries it herself.
    • Hwel tells the witches "Break a leg!" as he ushers them onto the stage, and Nanny Ogg, not realizing it's a theatrical tradition, snipes back "Break your own". A footnote near the end reveals that, indeed, he did suffer such an accidental injury.
  • 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.note 
  • Cathartic Chores: When Granny Weatherwax is stressed about the danger the kingdom is in. "It is at times like this that the mind finds the oddest jobs to do in order to avoid its primary purpose, i.e. thinking about things. If anyone had been watching they would have been amazed at the sheer dedication with which Granny tackled such tasks as cleaning the teapot stand, rooting ancient nuts out of the fruit bowl on the dresser, and levering fossilised bread crusts out of the cracks in the flagstones with the back of a teaspoon."
  • 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 mild 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 ("He will make friends easily.").
  • Continuity Nod:
  • 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.
  • Could Say It, But...: When Magrat attempts 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.
  • Covers Always Lie: The original ROC edition's cover depicted Greebo as a literal lynx rather than a gray tomcat nearly the size of a lynx.
  • Court Jester: The Fool is a classic jester who spends most of the book reluctantly advising the usurping Duke. He later becomes king himself, and is shown to be a kind Reasonable Authority Figure, and optimistic by Disc standards.
  • The Croc Is Ticking: Nanny Ogg, contemplating Magrat's crush on the Fool, remarks that the bells on his hat would make it easy for a woman to tell where he is.
  • Curse Cut Short: The animated adaptation includes this:
    Duke Felmet: Monarch of all I survey, and all I survey is trees. No blessed state of matrimony for them, selfish bas-
    Cook: *clears throat* Is everything to your liking, Majesty?
  • 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.
  • Deception Non-Compliance: Attempted but averted. Duke Felmet hires a playwright to write a play that shows him as being in the right, with his predecessor as an evil king and the machinations of the Lancre witches. He sends his jester (who knows the truth, as he saw Felmet murder the king) out to tell the playwright how it happened. While people note he talks with extreme reluctance and has a facial tic as if he's saying something he knows to be wrong, the play is written as demanded anyway.
  • 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
  • Doublethink: One particularly unfortunate guard faced with Magrat (and her make-up) claiming she's an apple seller manages to do this to himself. To whit: She's obviously a witch, not an apple seller, and witches aren't allowed in the castle. But apple sellers are, and she's saying she's an apple seller, and a witch wouldn't lie about that. So he lets her in.
  • 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. Hwel then wonders if it's too late to ask for a wind machine.
  • 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, or even 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. In the Animated Adaptation, Dibbler himself (or possibly his Lancrastian equivalent) actually does make a cameo appearance in this scene:
      Annoyed customer: Five copper pieces for a sausage in a bun?!
      Dibbler: Well, there's the transport fuel, overhead, etcetera... I, I mean, I'm, I'm cuttin' me own throat!
    • Chrysophrase the Troll is name-dropped for the second time 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 proper fight — in later books, it's mostly restricted to bickering, and Nanny is usually 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 Agnes. Lancre is also portrayed as having a functional, if small, military and palace staff, instead of it consisting almost entirely of Shawn Ogg
  • Eats Babies: The witches don't, of course, but the play accuses them of this, and even Nanny is fuming (perhaps especially Nanny, because she's the only one (at this point) who has her own children and grandchildren).
  • Emergency Refuelling: The completion of a very big magical spell involves a witch flying around the borders of the country of Lancre in a single night to delineate the area (the whole country) in which the spell will take effect. The problem is, there is no way a single broomstick can carry enough magic to do such a long flight in one go. After some creative thought, Granny Weatherwax stations the two other Witches of her depleted coven at strategic points. She links up with both, and they transfer the magic from their broomsticks to hers - effectively, as the book notes, the first ever attempt at in-flight refuelling of a broomstick.
  • Excessive Evil Eyeshadow: It's the Trope Namer, though This Index Is Not an Example; Magrat is a kind-hearted witch whose personal aesthetic is something of a Discworld hippie. But when she wants to look scary and "witchy," the cosmetics come out and take action...
    "You're not a witch, are you?" he said, fumbling awkwardly with his pike.
    "Of course not. Do I look like one?"
    The guard looked at her occult bangles, her lined cloak, her trembling hands and her face. The face was particularly worrying. Magrat had used a lot of powder to make her face pale and interesting. It combined with the lavishly applied mascara to give the guard the impression that he was looking at two flies that had crashed into a sugar bowl. He found his fingers wanted to make a sign to ward off the evil eyeshadow.
  • Evil Lawyer Joke: Members of the Thieves Guild who rob The Fool in Ankh-Morpork are horrified when they actually count how much money they have, saying only the Guild of Lawyers are allowed to take that much, and hurriedly return most of it.
  • Exact Words: Witches don't tell lies, but they don't have to be honest.
  • Exit, Pursued by a Bear: Lady Felmet is eventually killed off by a whole forest full of animals. Though she ran into them, rather than being pursued.
  • Expy:
    • Hwel is William Shakespeare himself.
    • Many of the characters are heavily based on characters from Shakespeare’s plays.
  • Failed Attempt at Drama: Many of Magrat's attempts to act stereotypically "witchy" are foiled by Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg being Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg, and therefore having none of it (as demonstrated by the page quote).
  • Fingore: See 'Out Damn Spot' below.
  • First Kiss: And what a first kiss! It lasted fifteen years.
  • Fisher King: In the late king's own words, "The land and the king are one". The land reacts in repulsion to how awful the Felmets are, though no serious changes happen due to the witches fixing things before that can happen.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • The twist at the end is actually mentioned in the beginning: "You'd have to be a born fool to be a king." Felmet later also says that Granny could strike him down and find someone to replace him with "but he would have to be a fool indeed". 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.
    • A more subtle bit of foreshadowing for the same twist occurs in the animated version, where Verence the Fool and Tomjon do resemble each other, King Verence looks next to nothing like the Fool. Indicating that if the Fool and Tomjon share a parent, it's not the king.
  • For Science!: Goodie Whemper (maysherestinpeace), Magrat's predecessor as a witch, was an analytical sort. She died via an experiment to determine how long a broom could remain in flight when you pull the bristles out one by one while it is in the air.
  • Friend to All Living Things: Magrat, although that hasn't helped her find a reliable familiar.
  • 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: Lancre has had a long history of kings getting killed, so nobody really cares when Felmet ascends the throne. Felmet is actually offended about this, and it leads to his growing resentment of his own kingdom, which causes the land itself to wake.
  • Ghostly Animals: The new ghost King Verence makes the mistake of visiting the kitchens where he sees the ghosts of all the animals whose meat had ever been prepared and cooked there:
    One day he'd given in...and had followed the smells of cooking into the big, hot, high domed cavern that served the castle as kitchen and abattoir. Funny thing, that. He'd never been down there since his childhood. Somehow kings and kitchens didn't go well together.
    It was full of ghosts.
    But they weren't human. They weren't even proto-human.
    They were stags. They were bullocks. They were rabbits, and pheasants, and partridges, and sheep, and pigs. There were even some round blobby things that looked unpleasantly like the ghosts of oysters. They were packed so tightly that in fact they merged and mingled, turning the kitchen into a silent, jostling nightmare of teeth and fur and horns, half-seen and misty. Several noticed him, and there was a weird blarting of noises that sounded far-off, tinny and unpleasantly out of register. Through them all the cook and his assistants wandered quite unconcernedly, making vegetarian sausages.
    Verence had stared for half a minute and then fled, wishing that he still had a real stomach so that he could stick his fingers down his throat for forty years and bring up everything he'd eaten.
  • 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.
  • Gory Discretion Shot: There's no actual description of Lord Felmet's mutilated hand, only of the disturbing array of tools he uses to try to scrub, file, or grate his murdered cousin's blood from it.
  • Green Thumb: 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.
  • 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
  • The Hat Makes the Man: The crown has absorbed the personalities of its past wearers, and when Granny tries it on out of curiosity she has a disturbing urge to start swanning around and chopping people's heads off. (The new king seems to be immune to the effect, though, judging by the sequels. Maybe you need to be magically sensitive, or maybe his personality's just so different that the crown has nothing to latch on to.)
  • 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 "sort of metal wimple" he'd found in the old castle armoury (probably a mail coif) 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: Actors keep offering to help the Witches cross the river, even though there isn't one nearby.
  • Hidden Backup Prince
  • Hidden Depths: The King just seems like some looney Lady Felmet is using to be The Woman Behind the Man, but when the witches try to intimidate him into giving up the throne, he spells out exactly why this won't work.
  • Ignored Epiphany: Lady Felmet — see the entry for Heel Realization.
  • I Have This Friend: Magrat asks the other witches about the Fool, then gets embarrassed and claims that one of the village girls was asking about him. Neither Nanny nor Granny are fooled for an instant.
  • 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.
  • I Need a Freaking Drink: A man is so upset by the lack of weirdness going on in Lancre he needs to have a stiff drink to unsteady his nerves.
  • Inevitably Broken Rule: It's a rule for witches not to meddle with politics. But Duke Felmet presses Granny Weatherwax's Berserk Button, she decides they have to break the rule and stop him. When Magrat gets confused about this, the following dialogue occurs:
    Magrat: I said, what about this rule about not meddling?
    Nanny Ogg: Ah, the thing is, as you progress in the Craft, you'll learn there is another rule. Esme obeyed it all her life.
    Magrat: And what's that?
    Nanny Ogg: When you break rules, break 'em good and hard.
  • Insistent Terminology: The Fool helps instruct Lady Felmet on how to use this. Don't see it at "cutting down all the stupid trees", but "landscaping developments." Don't see it as "burning people's houses down" but "urban renovation projects" (if people are inside, it's "aggressive urban renovation").
  • Just the First Citizen: Combined with Suspiciously Specific Denial here, as "Witches don't have leaders. Granny Weatherwax was the most highly respected of the leaders they didn't have."
  • 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 was happy to play along with the first two questions, but by the third she had run out of patience.)
  • Literal Metaphor: It is mentioned that Chrysoprase the troll has a habit of tearing off limbs from people who do not pay back their debts to him. This is immediately followed by saying someone owes him "an arm and a leg".
  • Living Crashpad: Magrat falls on "something soft" from a great height, which turns out to be the Fool.
  • Loophole Abuse:
    • Moving Lancre forward in time requires the witches to complete their spell by cock-crow. Knowing there's not enough time, Nanny Ogg quietly arranges for her many descendants to silence every rooster in the kingdom just long enough, without telling the other two.note 
    • The many ghosts haunting Lancre Castle are bound to the very stones of the castle and cannot leave it. Nanny Ogg gets the idea that if she takes a tiny piece of the castle along with her, maybe the king's ghost can follow in that. It works, though the other ghosts of the castle overheard this plan and stuffed themselves in there as well.
  • 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.
  • Love at First Sight: Between Magrat and the Fool, though it would be more accurate to describe it as very awkward attraction neither know how to handle at first sight. And it stays at that level almost to the end of the book.
  • Luvvies: In the Animated Adaptation, the demon starts off as a Guttural Growler but when this fails to impress the witches he lapses into a campy persona that resembles the British Always Camp actor stereotype.
  • Magic Cauldron: These inevitably feature due to its parallels with Macbeth, but because it's Discworld, it's not played straight. For example, when they need to summon a demon to extract some answers, the older witches reject Magrat's suggestion that a cauldron is necessary and decide that the big copper pot from Nanny Ogg's washhouse is good enough. As far as they're concerned, the traditional cauldron is just a symbol, not a requirement. Later, Nanny Ogg uses a prop cauldron as part of a Mundane Solution by knocking the Duchess on the head with it.
    • The opening scene has the witches gathered around a bubbling cauldron. It is filled with perfectly ordinary water, which they use to make tea.
  • Mind Rape: Granny Weatherwax tries her own version on Lady Felmet 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.
    • The Fool's mother is also absent from the story, with him having been raised by his grandfather after his father ran off.
  • Mobile Kiosk: The narrator speculates that hot-dog stalls incorporate small, gas-powered time machines, enabling them to appear out of nowhere whenever a crowd forms.
  • Mood-Swinger: As Felmet's Sanity Slippage progresses, he swings more and more between feeling on top of the world with diamond-hard certainty that he is control and has absolute power in the kingdom, and utter despair in the belief that everyone is conspiring against him. Including the trees.
  • Mood Whiplash: The first page has a paragraph-long description of a wild, epic storm sweeping across the hills and valleys, thunder rumbling and lightning flashing, as an eldritch voice shrieks "When shall we three meet again?!"...and then someone else replies, "in far more ordinary tones", "Well, I can do next Tuesday."
  • Mook–Face Turn: One of the three guardsmen sent after the baby is uncomfortable upon seeing the witches there, ends up stabbing his own boss, and is advised by Granny to flee the country and become a sailor.
  • Moses in the Bulrushes: 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).
    • Granny herself pulled out one earlier one, while trying to get pass two guards and one of them being unimpressed by witches. When he reaches for her, she just grabs his arm, twist it hard, and walks by.
  • 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.
  • My Master, Right or Wrong: Discussed. The land has had its share of kings, both good and bad, and the kingdom won't mind who's in charge as long as they covet and care for the kingdom, Magrat compares the land to a pet dog who is cared by a master and not caring what else the master is. Duke Felmet despises his throne for how small and umimportant Lancre is, and as a result the kingdom awakes in protest.
    • On a personal level, the Fool is bound by loyalty to the Duke and must follow him and his orders till one of them is dead.
  • 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.
  • Noodle Incident: Granny Weatherwax claims she hasn't been on speaking terms with Sister Rodley "ever since that business with the gibbet".
  • 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.
  • Odd Job Gods: A footnote mentions a Lancre exclusive god in Herne the Hunted, perpetually nervous god of all creatures whose lives end in a damp squeak.
  • Offered the Crown: How Verence (the fool, not the dead king) becomes king. Though the witches made everyone else, including Verence, think he was a legitimate successor.
  • Oh, My Gods!: As one or two points, Granny and Nanny swear by Hoki, a trickster god who got kicked off Dunmanifestin for being a pest and wound up buggering around Lancre.
  • Old Beggar Test: Parodied when the witches attempt to advise Tomjon and the troupe while disguised as innocent peasant women. Being the troupe know that if you meet a mysterious old woman in the road you have to share your lunch, or help her across the river, or bad fortune will attend you. There aren't any rivers handy, and Granny and Magrat both turn up their noses at the troupe's humble lunch, but Nanny Ogg shamelessly mooches food, drink, a smoke, and a lift into town.
  • 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. He also has a legendary knack for remembering poorly-chosen remarks.
  • 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.
  • Poke in the Third Eye: Zig-Zagged and Played for Laughs. The witches use magic to scry on Tomjon as he grows up. Unfortunately their crystal ball has poor reception, so Tomjon grows up experiencing scary dreams of witches arguing over a faulty crystal ball.
  • The Power of Acting: Vitoller's and, to an extent, Tomjon's, Charm Person abilities.
  • Reading the Stage Directions Out Loud: Challenged to prove that he was playing the female lead in the just-completed performance, Tomjon not only plays out her soliloquy in a perfect imitation of a young lady, but keeps on rattling off the script's stage directions and segues into the next character's lines.
  • Reality Is Unrealistic: Discussed. 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."note 
  • Red Eyes, Take Warning: When Verence mentions that he hates cats, Death's eyes shift from blue to red for a split-second.
  • 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.
    • Played with, but Death tells the king that only the close relatives and the psychically inclined could see or sense him. The fact that the Fool can looks like a hint of him being actually his son but the double twist in the end proves he was just a little psychically inclined.
  • Rhyming Wizardry: a pastiche of the "hubble bubble" scene from Macbeth (below). Granny Weatherwax, who thinks this sort of thing is unnecessary and dangerously wizard-like, isn't impressed by some of the rhymes.
    Granny: "Baboon hair and mandrake root", and if that's real mandrake I'm very surprised, "carrot juice and tongue of boot", I see, a little humour, I suppose...
  • 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 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.
  • Sanity Slippage: Felmet wasn't on particularly stable ground to begin with, and it gets worse and worse over the course of the story.
  • Scrubbing Off the Trauma: It is a Macbeth parody but with the other spouse. The Pratchett twist manages to be both darkly funny and rather deeply disturbing. Duke Felmet's attempts to remove the metaphorical blood of King Verence, who he murdered, off his hands get more and more outrageous: First it involves scrubbing too hard, then using sandpaper, then a wire brush, then a cheesegrater. By the climax, it's said to be not quite a hand any more.
  • Secret Test of Character: When the witches bring Tomjon to the Vitollers to raise in safety, the couple admit that their money is already stretched tight, but they'll do their best to look after him. On hearing this, Granny gives them a large bag of money she'd saved up to help them support him. When they comment that it would have been easier if she'd mentioned the money first, she clarifies that she needed to know that it wouldn't be just about the money before she'd trust Tomjon to them. "If I had to buy you, you wouldn't be worth the price"
  • 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.
    • Much of what comes out of Hwel's brain qualifies, from Charlie Chaplin, to Laurel and Hardy, to The Marx Brothers and even Patton.
    • On the other hand, Tomjon's declamations from Hwel's plays sound entirely faithful to Shakespeare, even as the rest of the novel satirizes the Bard's works. In Tomjon's performances, there are clear references to Romeo and Juliet and Falstaff.
    • "Greebo's grin gradually faded, until there was nothing left but the cat. This was nearly as spooky as the opposite way around."
    • Black Aliss was known for putting a castle to sleep for 100 years and living in a house made of gingerbread.
    • A castle is said to have been built by "an architect who had heard about Gormenghast but hadn't got the budget."
    • Apparently, witches tend to disguise themselves as apple-sellers, referencing Snow-White.
    • While possibly a coincidence, Tomjon's name neatly inverts that of another magically-gifted performer who'd featured in one of the few other comic-fantasy series then being published.
    • Further Shakespeare references come fast and thick:
  • 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.
  • Skyward Scream: A furious Granny yells "we're witches!" after nearly getting run over by a cart.
  • Small Role, Big Impact: An unnamed guardsman with no dialogue, sets off much of the plot when he witnesses the witches taking in the baby (and causing the death of his boss, when he threatened them) and flees back to the castle to tell Felmet before they can stop him.
  • Square Race, Round Class: Hwel is this; most dwarves are barely even literate in this book, although they were changed later but Hwel is essentially the Disc's equivalent of Shakespeare.
  • 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. (The problem being, of course, that what he does results in more and more blood.)
  • 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.note 
  • 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.
  • Unusual Animal Alliance: Lampshaded when the kingdom is suffering from the mismanagement of Duke Felmet and some Woodland Creatures (including rabbits, deer, foxes and wolves) show up on Granny Weatherwax's doorstep. She says this:
    All I know is, whenever this...whatever it is wears off, some of you little buggers are going to want to run really quickly.
  • 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...
    • When the Fool ends up with Greebo sitting on his head, all witnesses assume that this is just something one does when you're a professional jester.
  • 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.
    • When the witches inform the King there's a Hidden Backup Prince, his response is basically Bring It.
  • The Weird Sisters: The "coven" of the Lancre Witches, formed by Granny Weatherwax, Nanny Ogg and Magrat Garlick. The book also explains why three witches are required for a coven: Two witches get on each other's nerves; the third one can get them to make up, so they can all get on the nerves of everyone else. Any more than three witches and the result is "a bloody great row, usually".
  • Weirder Than Usual: When Granny asks the demon if something strange is at large in the kingdom, he has to clarify "You mean stranger than usual?"
  • 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 half-brother, but King Verence I isn't their father. While the king was exercising his Droit du Seigneur, the queen got lonely, and had an affair with the Fool's father.
  • The Wicked Stage: Spoofed when the town of Lancre has a law which says all undesirables such as actors must be outside the town boundaries by sunset. However it doesn't say they have to stay there, and everyone is fine with them popping back in after sunset to go down the pub.
  • Wicked Witch: Granny is closest to fitting the image of the Wicked Witch, as she wears all black and is thin with a long nose, and frequently very harsh on people. She even laments how her good health has kept her from developing other stereotypical characteristics such as warts, a hunchback or poor teeth. She's Good Is Not Nice incarnate, but being thought of as wicked witches by the Duke and eventually other people is one of the problems the witches run into. Also, Black Aliss most definitely was a Wicked Witch.
  • William Fakespeare: One of the characters is the dwarf playwright Hwel (a Welsh name that is pronounced like "Will"), who is hired to put on a Macbeth-like play as propaganda by the Evil Prince usurper-to-the-throne.
  • Woodland Creatures: Collectively, they alert Granny to the crisis, and later give Lancre itself a Roaring Rampage of Revenge. Yes, even the rabbits.
  • You Just Ruined the Shot: Granny repeatedly interrupts the play Early in the story (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.