Equal Rites Review

06 Feb

So I just finished Terry Pratchett’s Equal Rites, and was both impressed and disappointed – a strange combination. In the end, upon careful consideration, I liked it more than I did The Colour of Magic, but less so than The Light Fantastic, Hogfather, and of course The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents. The title, of course, was very clever – I approved. So was the premise of the book – comparing witchcraft against wizardry as way of examining the masculine versus the feminine.

Of course, partly in a reflection of our own society, the two views were always opposing each other, and the men dominated – wizardry was more respected, and the wizards at Unseen University looked down upon witches. The manifestation of wizardry was also more “intellectual” (which has for longer been accessible to males due to restrictions on female admittance into universities), whereas witchcraft was more “practical” – calling to mind the image of a midwife.

Wizardry also was much more about manifesting power and calling things into being – which could be viewed as possibly seeing the creator as male, which is a traditional view held by many about our own possible creator – than witchcraft, which was primarily focused on working with what was already there. In other words, the men make things and the women use them; the men go out and accomplish things that women can use later for themselves.

Yet at the same time, wizards were less willing to help others, and mocked others with less ability – take Treatle’s admitting Esk into the University for (what seemed to me to be) the purpose of being laughed at by the other wizards – it doesn’t seem like the most kind thing to do. Witches made their living helping others.

Yet, both sides also displayed ignorance of the other and abhorred the other – wizards hated witchcraft, and witches (exemplified by Granny Weatherwax) hate wizardry. Wizards use too much math, and witches are useless – or so it is said.

The most striking thing to me – and the major reason I was disappointed in the end – was that Pratchett didn’t portray wizardry and witchcraft as equal. He held a philosophy of the two as separate and different ways of magic – by proxy extending this into the male and female as well. This is fine in and of itself, but if he was trying to be “separate but equal” (which we all know doesn’t work), then he failed. The wizards’ magic was portrayed as being more powerful; I was shocked and disappointed when Granny began teaching Esk how to use witchcraft, and most of what she taught her was not actually magic, but in fact was herbology and faking it (“headology”). To me, this just seemed to enforce the gender power disparity here – and then we of course have the fact that the story is the woman trying to break into the man’s world – but cast in such a light as to make it seem as if the man’s world (wizardry) was more desirable – and in fact, it seems to be. It may be covered up by the use of destiny and fate, but the fact that Granny and Esk eventually decided she should focus on wizardry rather than witchcraft to me just indicates that the gender relations are being reinforced.

The only indications of there being less gender disparity is the power dynamics between Arch-chancellor Cutangle and Granny Weatherwax – Cutangle is foppish and cowardly (reminds me of Rincewind in many ways), whereas Granny is forceful and active – and the duel between the pair of them, where it is hinted at that Granny is more powerful magically than Cutangle.

But in the end, the traits they exemplify reinforce their gender disparities – the realm of philosophical thought is dominated by Cutangle, and the realm of reason and practicality is dominated by Granny – the men do the creating and the women the working. Sound familiar?

Of course, in the end, this is just a fantasy book and maybe I’m overthinking it – besides, as it is a medievalesque fantasy novel, the gender differences should probably exist. What I object to is the portrayal of this difference more than anything. There are also other things he pokes fun at – sexuality (in the innuendos made above Esk’s head) and the stereotypes of witches and wizards, but in the end, as indicated by the title, it all comes down to gender (also interesting to note that the witches trademark is a broom – a useful tool for housework – while the wizard’s is a staff – useful for travelling and expanding one’s knowledge through experience. Also interesting that the idea of witch and wizard hats is similar).

On a parting note, I am finding the magic of Discworld inconsistent – it seems to have worked differently in each of the books I’ve read. In The Colour of Magic and The Light Fantastic, wizard magic seems much harder to cast than in the other books – but perhaps this will become clear.

Next on my list of things to read, in this order:

The Book of Thoth (Aleister Crowley)

Cryoburn (Lois McMaster Bujold)

Sourcery (Terry Pratchett)

Mort (Terry Pratchett)

Reaper Man (Terry Pratchett)

-Some H. P. Lovecraft short stories I haven’t read interspersed in there too.

Ta-ta for now!

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Posted by on February 6, 2011 in Readings


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