Wyrd Sisters

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
Wyrd Sisters
Written by: Terry Pratchett
Central Theme:
Genre(s): Fantasy
Series: Discworld
Preceded by: Sourcery
Followed by: Pyramids
First published: 1988
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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 the Discworld series and the first to feature the three witches (Granny Weatherwax appeared earlier in Equal Rites), Wyrd Sisters is largely a homage to/parody of Macbeth and Shakespeare in general, and early modern theatre 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.

Tropes used in Wyrd Sisters include:
  • 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).
  • Ax Crazy: "The duke's mind ticked like a clock, and, like a clock, it regularly went cuckoo."
  • Blood on These Hands
  • Body Horror: Self-inflicted by Felmet on his hand.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Disney Villain Death: Lord Felmet
  • Died Happily Ever After: Felmet seems pretty thrilled to spend eternity (or thereabouts) as a ghost. Go figure.
  • 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?!
Dibbler: Well, there's the transport fuel, overhead, etcetera... I, I mean, I'm, I'm cuttin' me own throat!

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 twins from The Shining 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 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
  • 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 to 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 "loveable". 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 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.
  • 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:

'What's a Zen?' [the cook] said.
The Fool's bells tinkled as he sorted through his cards. Without thinking, he said:
'Oh, a sub-sect of the Turnwise Klatch philosophical system of Sumtin, noted for its simple austerity and the offer of personal tranquillity and wholeness achieved through meditation and breathing techniques; an interesting aspect is the asking of apparently nonsensical questions in order to widen the doors of perception.'
'How's that again?' said the cook suspiciously.
The Fool hesitated with a card in his hand, suppressed his panic and thought quickly.
'I'faith, nuncle,' he squeaked, 'thou't more full of questions than a martlebury is of mizzensails.' The cook relaxed.
'Well, okay,' he said, not entirely satisfied.
The Fool lost the next three hands, just to be on the safe side.

  • Offered the Crown: How Verence becomes king. Though the witches made everyone else, including Verence, think he was a legitimate successor.
  • Out, Damned Spot!: Well, it is a Macbeth parody, although it's the other spouse. The Pratchett twist manages to be both darkly funny and rather deeply disturbing, though- the reason the blood won't come out is because Felmet is scrubbing too hard. Like, way, way too hard.
  • 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."
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
    • 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.
  • 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 signeur", 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 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Whole-Plot Reference: Macbeth, obviously.
  • 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.