Witches Abroad

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Witches Abroad
Written by: Terry Pratchett
Central Theme: Happy endings rarely are, and Good Is Not Nice.
Synopsis: The witches of Lancre go up against their most powerful opponent yet: Narrative Causality.
Genre(s): Fantasy
Series: Discworld
Preceded by: Reaper Man
Followed by: Small Gods
First published: 1991
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The 12th Discworld novel and the second or third book in the "witches" theme (depending on if you count Equal Rites[1]). The title is a pune, or play on words, on the Shakespearean phrase 'witches abroad' (i.e., out on the prowl in archaic language) whereas here it's used in the modern sense - they're going to a foreign country.

Quoting the back cover blurb:

It seemed like an easy job... after all, how difficult can it be to make sure that a servant girl doesn't marry a prince?
But for the witches Granny Weatherwax, Nanny Ogg and Magrat Garlick, travelling to the distant city of Genua, things are never that simple. Servant girls have to marry the prince. That's what life is all about. You don't fight a Happy Ending.
At least, up until now...

Tropes used in Witches Abroad include:

"Every established kitchen has one ancient knife, its handle worn thin, its blade curved like a banana, and so inexplicably sharp that reaching into the drawer at night is like bobbing for apples in a piranha tank."

  • All Crimes Are Equal: In Lilith's Genua, thieves are beheaded on the first offence.
  • All Girls Want Bad Boys: the descriptions of Greebo's human form indicate that a certain amount of badness becomes utterly irresistible.
    • Given where female gazes tend to wander, it's a large amount.
  • Baleful Polymorph: Lily turning the footmen, who we spent a while getting to know and sympathize with, into beetles. And stepping on them.
  • Ballroom Blitz
  • Bested At Bowling: Granny wins back all their money (and more) from some card shark riverboat gamblers via the astute application of 'headology'. She also uses a little magic - not so that she wins, but so that she doesn't lose (smashing a mirror, making an ace fall out of a man's sleeve).
  • The Big Bad Wolf: The main villain warps reality so it'd be like fairy tales. This includes making a wolf think he's a person. The wolf suffers horribly, stuck between species, and begs for a Mercy Kill.
  • Blessed with Suck: Old Mother Dismass has Second Sight, which means she can see clearly into the future and the past. Just not in the present, and randomly has conversations a few months in advance. This makes her something of a near-Bursar levels of Cloudcuckoolander at times.
  • Cannot Tell a Joke: Granny completely and repeatedly failing to tell the alligator sandwich joke, with such punchlines as "And don't take too long about it".
    • Since Granny is pretty low on the list of characters you'd expect to tell a funny joke, the alligator sandwich joke(s) being So Bad It's Good is expectable.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Early in the book Magrat explains a bit about the judo-like martial arts she's studying; namely that it's based around using your enemy's power against them. While the other witches don't seem impressed by it at the time, during the climax, Granny defeats Mrs Gogol, who is threatening her with a Voodoo Doll, by thrusting her hand into a blazing torch up to the elbow, causing the doll to burst into flames while her arm is unscathed. Even for Granny, this is a Crowning Moment of Awesome. She even glances at Magrat before doing so as a subtle acknowledgement.
  • Cinderella Circumstances: Ella, of course.
  • Continuity Nod: This isn't the first time Death has received a compliment on the quality of his "mask". In The Light Fantastic he was at a (different) party when he is summoned by the wizards, and comments that it's going to go downhill at midnight, because:

Death: That's when they think I'll be taking my mask off.

  • Cornered Rattlesnake: Magrat, at the climax. To quote the relevant passage, "the trouble with small furry animals in a corner is that, just occasionally, one of them’s a mongoose."
  • Dances and Balls
  • Dangerously Genre Savvy: Lily is very familiar with the way stories work, and she's not afraid to abuse that knowledge.
  • Deconstruction: Of the happy ending and several fairy tales.
  • Devour the Dragon: Lily eventually feels that she needs her magic for more important things than keeping the Duc human.
  • Dystopian Edict: Everyone in Genua has to abide by fairy tale prototypes.
  • Esoteric Happy Ending: Many of Lily's 'stories' end this way... at least, the ones that have happy endings...
  • Even Evil Has Standards: It's mentioned that the Assassins' Guild has pulled out of Genua under Lily's rule because "some things sicken even jackals".
    • Baron Saturday invokes this, too. He never denies having been, at times, a cruel ruler, but he never forced the people to act happy about it.
  • Everything's Better with Princesses: Ella.
    • Emberella.
  • Evil Counterpart: Lilith to Granny Weatherwax
  • Evil Is Hammy: Subverted, to Granny's immense rage. Lily spent her whole life convinced that she was the good sister who was putting the needs of others over her own, and, so convinced of her own martyrdom, thus made herself a very understated and sinister foe. To Granny, who knew for a fact who was the good sister and who was the bad, this is almost a greater sin than any of Lily's actual wrongdoing, because Granny would have at least enjoyed it, making whole banquets of her surroundings and being bad enough to even top the legendary Black Aliss, who (when in Lily's role) could keep multiple stories going at once in the same place.
  • Fairy Godmother: Played with in several ways.
  • Fantasy Counterpart Culture: Genua is New Orleans + Disneyworld with a slight dusting of 18th century Revolutionary France, but en route they also pass through areas based on Spain (the Running of the Bulls, or the Thing With the Bulls here) and the Hammer Horror version of Transylvania - what would later be named as Überwald. According to Terry Pratchett:

"...Genua is a 'sort of' New Orleans with a 'sort of' Magic Kingdom grafted on top of it. It had its genesis some years ago when I drove from Orlando to New Orleans and formed some opinions about both places: in one, you go there and Fun is manufactured and presented to you, in the other you just eat and drink a lot and fun happens."

  • Fantasy Kitchen Sink: The Discworld itself is already one, but under Lilith, Genua is a Fairytale Kitchen Sink.
  • Foolish Sibling, Responsible Sibling: Granny Weatherwax wanted to be the irresponsible evil one, but because her elder sister, Lilly, beat her to the punch on that she felt forced to be the responsible good one. When both sisters are witches you can see how this complicates family relationships.
  • Fun with Foreign Languages: The travel segments, which consist of Nanny speaking in "Foreign" (e.g. "Garkon? Mucho vino aveck zei, grassy ass.")
  • The Girl Who Fits This Slipper: Parodied of course. The shoe fits Nanny just as well.
  • The Glorious War of Sisterly Rivalry: Taken to its most extreme.
  • God Save Us From the Queen: Lilith.
  • Going to See the Elephant: Mentioned by name as the last line in the book: "Foreign" is a odd place where they do things wrong, speak funny lingo and eat strange food, so our heroes can't wait to get back home. Still, in the end, they take the time to enjoy the sights: "But they went the long way round, and saw the elephant."
  • The Good Guys Always Win: Invoked. Lily is confident of her victory because she knows good always triumphs over wickedness; unfortunately for her, it turns out she's the bad one.
  • Hall of Mirrors: Played with.
  • Hannibal Lecture / World of Cardboard Speech: Granny to Lillith at the same time (pointing out why Lillith isn't suited to be evil and why Granny would be much better, but doesn't.
  • Happiness Is Mandatory: Lillith turns Genua into a sparkling clean city full of smiling citizens by dint of torture and execution.
  • Happy Ending: Heavily subverted, with Lily murdering and ruining people's lives to get to what the stories demand. Then played straight, releasing the city from her grip lets everyone relax and party.
  • Hollywood Voodoo: Semi-averted; the version here is well-researched but, like most Discworld things, a hodgepodge and mixture of real world examples.
  • Humanity Ensues: Greebo, and the mice which are transformed into footmen. Also Emberella's "evil stepsisters," which Lilith made from snakes, and an unfortunate wolf which was sort of turned into a grandmother...
    • Inverted by Granny, who has been known to make people who cross her think they're frogs.
  • Human Resources: Stories use people to perpetuate themselves. Anybody who fits a certain set of characteristics may find themselves absorbed into a story and forced to act in whatever role is given to them, even if it ends with them being devoured by a wolf or marrying a frog.
  • Instant Awesome, Just Add Ninja: Magrat can't quite get this one to work, somehow. And the other two keep snarking at her lovingly memorized Ice Cream Koans, too.
  • Instant Waking Skills: Thanks to her strong sense of self, Granny Weatherwax can skip all the little questions most people have to ask themselves on waking up (like "Who am I?" and "Where am I?") and get right to the actual getting out of bed.
  • Insult Misfire:

Lily: Look at the three of you. Bursting with inefficient good intentions. The maiden, the mother and the crone.

Nanny Ogg: Who are you calling a maiden?

Magrat: Who are you calling a mother?

Granny glowered briefly like the person who has discovered there is only one straw left and everyone else has drawn a long one.

Nanny: Hotel Nova Cancies. That means New, er, Cancies in foreign.

  • Nonsense Classification: The dwarf classification of rocks starts out well, but goes a bit weird near the end: "igneous rock, sedimentary rock, metamorphic rock, rock underfoot, rock dropping on your helmet from above, and rock which looked interesting and which they could have sworn they left here yesterday".
  • Not So Different
  • Our Zombies Are Different: Baron Saturday.
  • Palantir Ploy: Lilith can use her magic mirrors to scry through any reflective surface in the world. Subverted, as her inability to find what she wants to look at through any method other than manually scrolling through all available reflective surfaces makes it a bit Awesome but Impractical.
  • Prince Charming: Subverted hard with the Duc, despite Lily trying to make him seem that way.
  • Public Execution: Some countries cut off a thief's hand so he won't steal again. Lady Lilith cuts off his head so he won't think about stealing again. This is also a good example of the reaction of the public showing the nature of the society; after years of Lilith's rule, the public don't react at all, they just have a dead-eyed stare.
  • Reality Ensues: Whenever a story comes to an end or is somehow subverted, everything then proceeds as it normally would.
  • Reptiles Are Abhorrent
  • Reverse Headology: Desiderata orders Magrat to keep Granny and Nanny out of the whole business, just to make absolutely sure they'll come along without hesitation.
  • Shout-Out: The early part of the witches' journey is a parody of The Lord of the Rings and derivative works, with the 'invisible dwarf runes' on the door in the mountains ("I can't see 'em" "That's how you know you've got your money's worth, with invisible runes") and, most notably, the boat passage on the underground river - at one point a slimy creature on a raft appears and says "'Ullo... it'sss my birthday..."
    • The "invisible runes" part even includes "She struck the door and spake thusly: "Open up, you little sods!"
    • Mrs. Gogol's hut can move about on duck feet, as a wetlands-adapted variant of Baba Yaga's chicken-legged hut in Russian folklore.
    • Nanny Ogg gets a house dropped on her head by a tornado, then dwarfs wander up and ask for her shoes, all while on a yellow brick road, a la The Wizard of Oz. Notably, Nanny Ogg is wearing red shoes, although they are not magical; their main quality is the ability to have a cart run over them and the feet inside to remain unscathed. Cover art also shows she has stripy stockings like the witch in the movie.

Nanny kicked her red boots together idly.
"Well, I suppose there's no place like home," she said.

  • El Spanish-O: Nanny's approach to foreign languages.
  • Stealth Pun: There's a couple of puns where the first two witches give an outright pun or Allusion but Nanny Ogg delivers the stealth pun.
    • When stuck in a The Wizard of Oz parody, the witches are calling out each other's behaviour.

"What some people need", said Magrat, [...], 'is a bit more heart."
"What some people need", said Granny Weatherwax, [...], "is a lot more brain."
What I need, thought Nanny Ogg fervently, is a drink. Dutch Courage - just what the Wizard gave the Lion in the book.

    • The three of them are deliberating on the idea of a transport system built on broomsticks. Their ideas for names are puns on well know real world airlines but Nanny Ogg gets cut off before she says her. However, note she is looking at Magrat and being rather coquettish. Consider Magrat's role in The Hecate Sisters trio. Virgin.
    • "Samedi Nuit Mort": Samedi = Saturday; Nuit = Night; Mort = Dead. Think Terry got a chuckle from Saturday Night Live?
  • Sunglasses at Night: The Duc, because on the Discworld one's true nature always shows through one's eyes, and he has the eyes of a frog.
  • Tautological Templar: Lady Lilith.
  • Title Drop:

"They must have witches here," said Magrat. "Everywhere has witches. You've got to have witches abroad. You find witches everywhere."

  • Toros Y Flamenco: One of the towns that they stop off at is a bit like Iberian-y, including the bull run. Well, until the witches get involved. Its a flower festival for subsequent years.
  • Tortured Abomination: The wolf, which was once a normal wolf but was twisted by Lilith's magic, making it intelligent, dangerous, and horrified by its own existence.
  • Totalitarian Utilitarian: Lily.
  • Trampled Underfoot: Deliberately invoked on some coachmen by Lily, who turns them into beetles and stomps on them for failing her. Also the fate of the Duc, when he reverts to frog form and fatally encounters Baron Saturday's descending foot.
  • Twice-Told Tale: Many of the jokes don't make sense if you don't know "Cinderella". Good thing everyone does, isn't it?
    • In a more meta interpretation of the trope, part of the book's theme is the idea that fairytale stories repeat themselves, wear a groove in the world and then subvert reality so that, for example, "it is now actually impossible for the third and youngest son of a king to set out on a quest that has claimed his two older brothers, and not succeed." Lily's power comes from manipulating the stories to her own ends.
      • Even when, as in the case of the stories she's using for her main plot, she's actually got at least one of them BACKWARDS.
  • Utopia Justifies the Means: Lilith feels fully justified in using totalitarian methods to create a fairy tale kingdom.
  • When the Clock Strikes Twelve: Subverted to hell when Nanny Ogg intentionally makes it strike a bit earlier than scheduled.
  • Woman in White: Lily, trying to invoke a trope. (And Granny, briefly, but she isn't happy about it.) Incidentally, this is perfectly indicative of Granny's speech, which fittingly blurs the line between a Hannibal Lecture and a Shut UP, Hannibal. Granny considers Lilith's greatest wrong against her to be saddling her with the role of good sister while she (Lilith) squanders her role as the evil one.
  1. Which this wiki does.