I came belatedly to Terry Pratchett's Discworld series, very belatedly considering that this marvelous fantasy book series kicked off with The Colour of Magic in 1983 and is now up to 37 volumes. I have read a mere half dozen of them -- all in the last few weeks as an escape from my usual weightier fare and a world that seems to be stuck on bummer.
For the few folks out there who are not familiar with Discworld, it is a flat world balanced on the backs of four elephants that in turn stand on the back of an immense turtle, Great A'Tuin. The books are thinly veiled parodies of the works of J.R.R. Tolkein and H.P. Lovecraft, among others, and frequently satirize cultural and political issues.
Which brings me to Equal Rites (1987), the third Discworld book and to date my fave because of a lovely lyricism and powerful put down of the sexism that pervades fantasy fiction where wizards and such are almost invariably men and the magic they do is different and very awesomer than the magic done by women.
"The fantasy world, in fact, is overdue for a visit from the Equal Opportunities people," Pratchett has said, "because in the fantasy world magic done by women is usually of poor quality, third-rate, negative stuff, while the wizards are usually cerebral, clever, powerful, and wise."
Does this make Equal Rites a feminist book? I dunno, but Pratchett eviscerates the all-men-all-the-time mantra of most fantasy book authors (Ursula K. LeGuin being a conspicuous exception) with a good humor that chip-on-shoulder feminists certainly could learn from.
The plot of Equal Rites is simple:
A wizard knows that he will soon die and travels to a mountain village where an eighth son of an eighth son is about to be born, signifying that the child is destined to become a wizard. The aged man passes his staff of power on to his successor assuming in his own chauvinistic way that the successor is a male before it is discovered that she is . . . eek! a girl, one Eskarina Smith.
Now girls just aren't wizards, but Esk is already launched in that direction and it falls to the village witch, Granny Weatherwax, to make sure she gains the knowledge needed to properly manage her awesome powers.
No plot spoilers here, but I can safely declare that Gandalf should move over because here's a wizard we can all love.