Earlier this year, I said I was done with Terry Pratchett, though not in those exact words, and not with as great a deal of certainty. After Sedaris, I got the sense I was better off cutting ties when I found all but the rare book utterly lacking in humor; both Pratchett and Sedaris have it in them to be funny, yet them actually coaxing that ability out into the open is too big of an anomaly for me to see it as anything but an anomaly. Still, I couldn’t help feeling that I was missing something, that I just hadn’t read the right ones. When you have a friend telling you how wrong you are for not falling completely and hopelessly in love with Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series, that’s an easy feeling to get.
Well, since my choices were all failing me, I consulted said friend for a recommendation. Her pick was Wyrd Sisters, which I would have to put in an interlibrary loan request for if I wanted to read it. So I clicked “want to read” over on Goodreads and promptly forgot all about it, other books taking higher priority when it came to interlibrary loans. Two cannonballs later, though, and I’ve finally gotten around to it. In a word, it was… enjoyable. Not mind-changing, but… enjoyable. Like Hogfather, the only other Discworld book I’ve taken to,Wyrd Sisters never quite got over that hump stopping it from becoming one of my favorite works of humor. That is to say, I found it consistently amusing, and yet never hilarious. Overall the book was more of a success than, say, Christopher Moore’s Fluke; however, I don’t recall anything in Wyrd Sisters as riotously funny as Fluke‘s best moments, nothing hinting at a greater comedic talent.
At his best, Pratchett is a charming enough writer, and fellow, yet not a winning enough one to earn a spot even in my second tier of go-to authors, alongside Moore and Jeff Lindsay, two others who I admit aren’t by any means revolutionary, with some noteworthy exceptions (ex. A Dirty Job). Moore’s success rate, for instance, isn’t worlds better than Pratchett’s (8 for 13, with only 5 of those being great), but his highs still beat out Pratchett’s by a large margin. Unless you count Good Omens, which seems now like the happiest of all accidents, considering Pratchett and Gaiman both are first-rate teases that do just enough to get your hopes up. Maybe if Pratchett and Gaiman became primarily a two-man writing team, I’d be as enamored with them as everyone else is.
By himself, however, Pratchett will never earn his way into my good graces in the same way as other writers like Moore. I’ll probably now at least seek out the follow-ups to Wyrd Sisters, and perhaps take another recommendation or two from that friend of mine. But, besides that, Pratchett will continue to live alongside other authors who I’ve either given up on or know not to place much faith in.
Except I realize I have said very little, if anything, about the book itself in all this, so allow me to remedy that. Wyrd Sisters, like Moore’s Fool, takes great joy in fiddling around with the works of Shakespeare (something I too take great joy in, as I’ve said before), namely Macbeth. A king is murdered by the man who’s next in line, motivated by his more blood- and power-thirsty wife, and the events that follow seek to right this wrong, with the requisite number of references, such as numerous callbacks to “out, damn spot.” At the same time, though, theWyrd Sisters named in the title of the book, Pratchett’s three wizard “coven,” are the real focus, as this is their story arc. And, using them, Pratchett plays with our preconceived notions of what a witch is, does, and says just as much as he toys with Shakespeare. Things go about as you’d expect, given the ties to Shakespeare, but with Pratchett subverting expectations on an occasion or two.
So the scene Pratchett’s set is ripe for humor, which he capitalizes on more or less from start to finish. There are a couple hiccups where a joke misses, except they’re so infrequent that they’re barely worth mentioning. With Wyrd Sisters, Pratchett has managed to be about as good as I can imagine him ever being by himself, and for me that’s just not quite enough.
Travis Smith’s blog, containing this review, as well as others, photography, and more, can be found here.