Equal Rites

(This is the third entry in the Terry Pratchett Project. Here are the First and Second.)

Terry Prachett’s first three Discworld books can be summed up in a speech he gave at NovaCon 15, in 1985. The big takeaway from this speech was that he wanted to shake up the fantasy fiction genre, because it had become the story equivalent to paint by numbers, where authors simply had to fill in these pictures with established notions of dragons, magic, and heroes. While he was tinkering with these cliches to discover ways he could either take them literally to the point of absurdity or flip them on their head, he discovered that there was an ingrained sexism to how magic was allowed to be performed between men and women.

Equal Rites features Eskerina, the first female wizard on Discworld, who is the eighth daughter of an eighth son and is granted a magic staff by a dying wizard. Esk is only nine years old and spends the length of this novel learning about the world and asking questions the people around her can’t answer about why women can’t be wizards.

The first two books inverted the power fantasy of the genre by giving us protagonists that were cowards and tourists. This book inverts the power fantasy by having Esk live in the shadow of it. Esk is constantly told what she can’t do and the ways she’s limited by her sex because of the traditions of society.

“And why do you want to go to Ankh, my dear?” Asked Treatle.

“I thought I might seek my fortune,” muttered Esk, “But I think perhaps girls don’t have fortunes to seek.” (Page 122)

If Esk had simply been born male, the entire story would have played out like a traditional power fantasy. That’s kind of the point. She would’ve been a young boy, granted fantastical magic, and been accepted into Unseen University. There is a boy named Simon in this novel who is basically that, he’s a young boy who happens to be recruited by Treatle, Vice Chancellor of Unseen University. Treatle is the central gatekeeper in this novel. He is the wizard who travels halfway around the world to seek out Simon, but offhandedly tells Eskerina her dreams of being a wizard are silly and impossible.

Even though Simon has a stutter and difficulty communicating his ideas, operates in a place of relative obscurity, and has no real pedigree, none of this is a barrier for him to be chosen. And while it is great to increase accessibility for a boy who can’t communicate well, contrast this to the way the University rejects Esk, who is likely every bit as amazing, unique, and important. She finds herself often disregarded and ridiculed on the sole basis of her sex. She must at all times put in vast amounts of work, under suspicion and scrutiny, while experiencing offhanded and sexist rejection. She has to fight for herself and make her own way through the entirety of the novel. In this regard her story isn’t a power fantasy, but it is empowering.

Pratchett wrote a number of books for children, including his first published book, Carpet People. He wanted to tell stories that everyone could take something meaningful from, regardless of their age. The problem with power-fantasy fiction is we as people often don’t have real power or magic. We don’t have some enchanted sword or wand that can make our problems go away. While it can be fun to imagine we do, once the book we are reading is finished, we must deal with our life. Much of what Esk learns isn’t mystical magic, but the power of knowledge. The power to stand up for yourself. The power to question authority and established rules to make change.

While undertaking this project to read each Discworld book and understand it through the lens of an activist, I have felt that the biggest change Pratchett makes to fantasy fiction isn’t subverting expectations, cliches, or tropes. It is more that his literature is designed around meaningfully encouraging action. The people who do not get much out of Pratchett are the ones who aren’t looking to change. They are the ones who are looking to be passive tourists in the world Pratchett created. While this can still be very enjoyable, it’s similar to enjoying the box cover art of a video game, but never actually playing it.

For this book, Equal Rites, I’ll be exploring how Pratchett frames witch and wizard magic, the antagonist of this book, the dubious canon of the Discworld series, and the real gutpunch of the novel.

The first thing to make clear is there isn’t necessarily a consensus of what it means to be a witch. There is a historical look at classic witching such as when the broomsticks hit the mythos. There are ways we can look at witches or witchcraft through the evolution in storytelling, the persecution of women by religious entities or sexism, or modern occult practices of paganism or spirituality. It would be a worthy pursuit to untangle and intersect this, but Pratchett isn’t really honing in on any specific history or connotation of Witchcraft, so much as the trope of how we traditionally portray female magic users in fiction.

“Sorceress? Just a better class of witch. Enchantress? Just a witch with good legs. The fantasy world, in fact, is overdue for a visit from the Equal Opportunities people 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.” (NovaCon Speech)

While Pratchett seems to be challenging these conceits by introducing a female wizard, he doesn’t actually challenge the gender essentialism of magic to a significant degree. What he does instead is try to achieve gender equality by empowering what he considers to more female magic. He does this by introducing the single most important and powerful witch of the entire Discworld series, Granny Esmeralda Weatherwax. While I don’t yet know very much about her, her reputation within our Roundworld very much precedes her.

She doesn’t seem to be fully formed within her debut book, where she often is at the mercy of the story and used to justify the traditional nature of magic being limited by sex.

“Now you listen to me, Gordo Smith!” Granny said. “Female wizards aren’t right! It’s the wrong kind of magic for women, this is wizard magic, it’s all books and stars and jommetry. She’d never grasp it. Whoever heard of a female wizard?” (Page 10)

“Women have never been wizards. It’s against nature. You might as well say that witches can be men…if women were meant to be wizards they’d be able to grow long white beards and Esk is not going to be a wizard, is that quite clear, wizardry is not the way to use magic, do you hear, it’s nothing but lights and fire and meddling with power and she’ll be having no part of it and good night to you.” (Page 34)

At the beginning of the book Granny serves to uphold the traditionally defined gender roles of magic. Similar to how we as a society perform gender as a social construct, she goes to great lengths to stop wizard magic from ever entering Esk’s life. If Esk could not possibly be a wizard, then Granny would not have to do anything to stop it from happening. If it was true that women couldn’t have what we consider wizard, or male, magic, then why go through the effort of hiding Esk’s staff? Why do everything she could to stop Esk from having access to any wizard magic? While she insists that her position is the natural and innate order of the world, she does everything in her power to maintain that order. If it was truly natural, she wouldn’t have to.

Granny eventually reluctantly decides that Esk needs to be trained in magic, but that she will teach her witch’s magic. Granny explains to Esk that magic is magic, but the way that wizards access it is more like hard alcohol compared to a chill cider. Wizards, in this regard, use high concentrations of magic to forcibly change the world by their desires, whereas witches gently guide the world to their desires with magic. If witches do magic correctly, it is like they’ve done nothing at all.

Granny teaches Esk about magic in the stylings of Karate Kid: There was cleaning the kitchen table and Basic Herbalism. There was mucking out the goats and The Uses of Fungi. There was doing the washing and The Summoning of the Small Gods. And there was tending the big copper still in the scullery and The Theory and Practice of Distillation.

Esk complains this knowledge is all practical knowledge and Granny explains part of magic is simply, “Knowing things that other people don’t know.” Granny asks what magic is involved in a witch’s hat and Esk identifies that the magic comes from individuals seeing that hat and believing the person is a witch. If a person is believed to be a witch, then they gain a trust from people that they will have answers to problems or the ability to use magic to treat various issues that come up. Essentially, the Thomas Theorem at play. This sociological phenomenon is classified within this book as a kind of magic called Headology. This could also be considered a kind of Chaos Magic, which is a practical system of magic that understands the impact of our belief on the world.

Esk continues trying to understand the practical differences between wizards and witches. She sees wizards as powerful, complex and mysterious magic users who nearly all have beards and are men. She sees witches as cunning, old, or trying to look old, doing slightly suspicious, homely and organic magics, and some of them have beards and all are women.

In the story proper we see witch magic primarily related to sexual health. In the first city Granny and Esk arrive at they meet Hilta, who primarily sells potions involving sex: Tiger Oil, Maiden’s Prayer, and Husband Helper. Hilta comes off as a magic world equivalent of planned parenthood. And the idea of witches being midwives is often explored in the book. This directly ties this idea of magic, or the usefulness of women, being in their ability to reproduce and take care of children. This is said directly by the first real wizard that Esk encounters.

“Of course women can’t be wizards. It is self-evident, child,” stated Treatle.

“Why not? What’s so self-evident?” ask Esk.

From long white hair to curly boots, Treatle was a wizard’s wizard. He had the appropriate long bushy eyebrows, spangled robe and patriarchal beard that was only slightly spoiled by the yellow nicotine stains (wizards are celibate but, nevertheless, enjoy a good cigar).

“It will all become clear to you when you grow up,’ he said. ‘It’s an amusing idea, of course, a nice play on words. A female wizard! You might as well invent a male witch! Now I do happen to have a great respect for witches. I happen to believe that witchcraft is a fine career, for a woman. A very noble calling. Very useful in rural districts for, for people who are — having babies, and so forth. However, witches are not wizards. Witchcraft is Nature’s way of allowing women access to the magical fluxes, but you must remember it is not high magic. It’s good for helping people get through life and have babies, but women can be a little unsettling at times. A little too excitable. High magic requires great clarity of thought, you see, and women’s talents do not lie in that direction. Their brains tend to overheat. I am sorry to say there is only one door into wizardry and that is the main gate of Unseen University and no woman has ever passed through it.’ (Page 122)

Treatle is described as not being malicious to children and the passage is intended to be read as someone who isn’t trying to hurt Esk’s feelings. The condescending sexism that we read within that passage is simply the natural working order of reality, in Treatle’s understanding of it. It isn’t that he hates women, he actually believes he respects them, but he categorically sees women and the magic they’re able to practice as inferior. This creates a situation in which he can feel noble or righteous about a belief that is objectively discriminatory for a minority group. He is less likely to question this belief, because he doesn’t believe it is based in hate. He believes it is based in the way the world works, not realizing he is fundamentally wrong about this — not realizing he has fundamental biases, beliefs, and/or stereotypes that have been socially conditioned for likely his whole life.

Esk runs away from this encounter with a great deal of indignation. She wants to be a wizard, she knows she’s a wizard, but to hear Treatle talk she’d rather be the best witch in the world simply to spite him and show him witch magic isn’t inferior. She can’t decide what she wants and declares she will be both a witch and a wizard. In our modern age we’d call this magically fluid or perhaps bimagic.

There is a point in the book where Esk needs to get her wizard staff to her by magic. She didn’t want it to travel to her, but rather teleport right next to her.

“She knew she could do this by imagining a world where it was in her hand. A tiny change, an infinitesimal alteration to the Way Things Were. If Esk had been properly trained in wizardry she would have known that this was impossible. Esk, of course, had not been trained, and it is well known that a vital ingredient of success is not knowing that what you’re attempting can’t be done. A person ignorant of the possibility of failure can be a half-brick in the path of the bicycle of history.” (Page 107)

This passage is absolutely the entire point of the book. If we cannot transcend tradition, then we cannot change the Way Things Are. It is through Esk’s perseverance and questioning of the status quo that she is made a wizard, as the wizards have no real reason to say no beyond the lore that has guided them to this point. The fate of wizard and witch’s magic wasn’t the will of the world or the natural order, it was simply something reinforced and performed unquestioningly by the people who lived in that world.

The final conflict of the book involves Esk and Simon facing off against magic eaters, horrors of the dungeon dimension that were empowered by people’s imagination and, by extension, magic. The way Esk found to defeat these creatures was being able to use magic, but choosing not to. The point I believe Prachett is making is that we’re able to use imagination to create all kinds of ideas about the world and how it works. However, the things we find in this world are only as powerful as the belief we put into them. The fears we have or the prejudices we hold can only be as powerful as how much we invest in them. We can choose to stop imagining the worst. We can choose to come to better ideas.

The answer that Esk ultimately comes to is that magic isn’t about sex or gender. That witchcraft and wizard magic are things everyone should learn regardless of circumstance. That wizards need to have a heart and witches need to have a head. Which is a pretty uninspiring take. The question amounts to if witch magic or wizard magic is better and the answer is both are equally important and both should be practiced. However, the sexism that we still see present is this belief that while magic is equal and that we should strive for gender equality, it is still men who need to learn empathy or emotions and it is still women who need to learn logic and reason as the default.

Pratchett is still at this time seeing sex as a binary of men and women, where there are intrinsic properties associated with these sexes. He is not looking at this framework disrespectfully, much like Treatle, he simply still has unconscious biases related to sex based on the social conditioning of his life. Namely, that there can only be males and females and that, based on these properties of sex, some intrinstic roles must exist that are expressed within gender. Once you take into account non-binary identity, intersex possibility, and the complete spectrum that is biology, trying to find any real meaning or use within a binary system is always going to be flawed. There are so many cultures that have historically included non-binary or third gender roles as a natural part of human expression. And I can’t exactly fault Pratchett for not getting any of this, because to this day most people really struggle with the idea that sex is a social construct.

While this ending may have been a novel approach to topics of sexism in fantasy fiction from British Authors in 1987, even in that era his central conceit isn’t new to feminism. As far back as 1915, we were introduced to Herland by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. This book featured a functional utopia of only women and served as a criticism to the limitations of sexism within contemporary society. Prior to this, Gilman wrote The Yellow Wallpaper, which even a hundred years ago showed the brutal reality of the limitations that sexism put on women and the objective harm they experienced because of it, especially as it relates to healthcare. The 1990s saw third wave feminism and books like Gender Trouble (1990) and Gender Outlaw (1994) starting to have serious conversations about gender roles and the performative nature of them. But I don’t expect Prachett to have been following cutting edge feminism that was often taking place within academia and not extremely accessible to folks. So, I want to focus more on the literary and fantasy feminists that he would’ve likely read.

One interesting thing is that Pratchett directly mentions Ursula Le Guin within his 1985 essay as being responsible for defining a good deal of the common use tropes of fantasy fiction. However, Ursula Le Guin wrote The Left Hand of Darkness in 1969, which featured a planet of individuals that routinely changed sex as the norm. While Le Guin didn’t write that with a modern understanding of sex or gender it does serve to question the instrinctic properties we put on people due to a binary sex of male or female. She describes writing the book as trying to create a society without all of the values we put into men and women and see what happens. Le Guin’s novel does open up a wider possibility of expression, more androgony, or non-binary roles. Had this been a book that Prachett read previously? Had Prachett really sought out feminist authors before writing this book?

The conclusion that he came to in 1987 isn’t especially profound, even for the time. However, being a cisgender male writer tackling feminist issues at that time definitely was. He wasn’t coming to new answers, he wasn’t coming to the best answers of the time, but he was giving readers who had little experience with feminism some idea about it. I was, however, surprised that this book wasn’t more critical, based on the speech at NovaCon and a passage from The Light Fantastic:

“Unseen University had never admitted women, muttering something about problems with the plumbing but the real reason was an unspoken dread that if women were allowed to mess around with magic they would probably be embarrassingly good at it…” (Page 83)

In many ways Esk isn’t good at wizard magic in this book and never really learned how to use the magic either. While exceptionally powerful, she has no control over it, which is a central conflict to the novel. Her becoming a wizard is done while she’s unconscious and because of Granny, rather than necessarily her own actions. She’s made a wizard in spite of the situation, rather than because of it. It is placed on her, instead of earned. One could look at this even more critically for the implications it could hold, but I don’t think that is worth the time. I feel ultimately Pratchett was wading through this topic in kneehigh boots and not really swimming to the deepest depths.

I think with everything Pratchett said, a more effective novel would’ve been one where Esk disguised herself as a boy to get inside of Unseen University. Where she learned both from Granny and from the headmasters of the school about both magic systems. Where she learned about how wizards and other boys talked about girls and treated them. Where we get a class on witchcraft theory by the wizards which is obviously propaganda from what Esk knows of Granny’s teachings. Where she eventually outs herself, to the dismay of the school and against the lore, but already exists as a self-evident wizard, and is too much proof to the contrary for her expulsion to be anything but sexism. All the big points of the book could have been approximately the same, but just through that narrative framework rather than a huge trek across the world. It could have even mirrored reality where, after this reveal, you have other wizards coming forth and admitting that they were assigned female at birth. It could have been discovered that some famous magic book was actually written by a woman, using a male pen name.

I’m very interested to see how Pratchett’s understanding of gender develops, because I know that his final book includes the first male witch of the series. I know that effectively the story I’m asking for kind of happens with the Dwarfs in general. Aside from the specific ways that Pratchett frames gender within magic, there is another conceit about magic that is addressed within the book, primarily through the antagonist.

In The Light Fantastic, the Dungeon Dimension broke into the mind of Trymon the Wizard and nearly destroyed the world. In Equal Rites the main antagonist is again the Dungeon Dimension.This is a place that has been previously described as being full of unimaginable horrors that are all too easy to imagine. Its presence is often felt with an uncanny, bone chilling, insect-like chittering noise. The intent of the monsters who occupy this space is not described as evil or malicious, but rather more sterile and uncaring except for a single driving desire to eradicate life.

The creatures of the Dungeon Dimension are drawn towards magic, and through magic are able to cross the boundaries between our worlds that have the thickness of a shadow. They don’t typically last very long in the Discworld, because they’re effectively ideas given flesh and they don’t have much experience with the whole living thing. What one needs to understand is that within the Discworld, magic is fundamentally imagination. The Dungeon Dimension is therefore the imagined horrors in our own mind

“They’re sort of — reflections of us,” said Esk. “You can’t beat your reflections, they’ll always be as strong as you are. That’s why they draw nearer to you when you start using magic. And they don’t get tired. They feed off magic, so you can’t beat them with magic. No, the thing is . . . well, not using magic because you can’t, that’s no use at all. But not using magic because you can, that really upsets them. They hate the idea. If people stopped using magic they’d die.” (Page 231)

This quote describes the way to defeat the main antagonist in the novel, but Pratchett has a deeper meaning with this. We can use imagination to overcome incredible obstacles or dream up hope and resiliency when life doesn’t offer us either. Imagination is a powerful tool for us to understand things like morality, justice, and love. However, imagination can also be how we justify despair, anxiety, or hopelessness. Imagination can be funneled through propaganda to inhumane and horrific ends. The point Prachett is making here is about fantasy itself.

When we explore fantasy, the stories we tell are “Sort of — reflections of us”. When we imagine our biases or prejudice into these stories, when they become interwoven into our lore, they become harmful. The entire intention of this book was to deconstruct the sexism built into fantasy fiction. When Eskerina explains this to Simon, explains that they need to choose to not use magic, she is saying that we need to not buy into things that are harmful. Simon asks if “this is what they meant by sourcery”. The implication being the source magic, the source imagination, or the very tropes and cliches of the stories we use.

Pratchett was a phenomenal storyteller and I think he really understood the impact of stories and oral tradition that has always been interwoven with humanity. The stories we used to share around campfires were how we communicate values and continue the identity of our culture. Stories represented our zeitgeist, and the heroes and who got to be heroes were prevalent in that construction. If the only stories we told were stories of men being heroes or glorified, then what message are we sending women? If our stories of women are only involved with ideas of nurturing or motherhood, then where do we leave men who want to be nurturing parents or women who don’t?

One of the most powerful displays of the abject harm that biased storytelling has is seen in American History X. This is a movie about racism and explores some of the horrifying and dehumanizing reality therein. Towards the very end of the movie a scene shows a family dinner and the seeds of racism being planted by the actions and words of the father. It showed how uncomfortable the kids were with it, but how they were being slowly conditioned to accept and perform racism. While American History X and the works of Charlotte Perkins Gilman, like The Yellow Wallpaper, showcase very extreme and obvious examples of racism and sexism respectively, in reality our biases are often much more subtle, harder to detect, and therefore harder to challenge.

There are two general concepts explored in the previous books about the Law of Conservation of Reality and Dead Men’s Pointy Shoes. The first says that magic is not free and great effort must be put into casting spells that change the fabric of reality. The second is that advancement at the Unseen University is typically done by killing those above you. This book seems to abandon both of these concepts, as Eskerina is able to effectively use magic without any consequence. While this could be argued to be done through her staff, there really doesn’t seem to be any limit to the way she can just change reality at a whim. The University also seems to be a bit less bloodthirsty than before. This could be a natural consequence of every headmaster dying in the previous book and a new generation of wizards understanding that constantly trying to outplay or kill each other was perhaps not the wisest path forward.

What does stay is the notion of the possibility matrix that is spoken about in The Colour of Magic and used to describe how one could imagine dragons existing. Simon, the boy mage genius, explains that the world is effectively just imagination, which is consistent with how magic has been represented before. Unfortunately it looks like most of this book basically doesn’t impact Discworld in any meaningful way as Esk, Simon, and the conclusions of this book about letting women into Unseen University never really shows up in any future books. I know Esk will be mentioned again and have a cameo, but this story may as well not have happened for the greater continuity of the series. When asked about this, Pratchett apparently joked that shops selling fake beards were becoming all the rage and implying that there were female wizards, they were just looking/acting the part. Not really unlike how he’d portray dwarfs in future books.

Another canonical inconsistency we find is how Granny Weatherwax is portrayed within this book, compared to her appearances later within the series. While so much of what makes her the matriarchal badass we know and love is present, she’s often forced to say and do so many things completely out of her future character. She’s also inconsistent within this book itself, where towards the end Granny talks about sending letters to the Unseen University trying to get admitted into the school, and it really just doesn’t make any sense for her general character and how she was even written into this story. If she had written letters to the Unseen University, it would follow that she would know their address, but at the beginning of the book a big plot point is that she doesn’t. And I’m not trying to be pedantic about continuity errors, but this is a demonstration of character inconsistency.

At the end of the book Granny accepts a chair position for Unseen University and is basically going on a date with Archchancellor Cutangle. And while we’re supposed to understand that Granny has changed because of operating in the big city, including adding more colors than black to her wardrobe and opening her eyes to being less traditional than before, this doesn’t really check with the character. A strong independent woman with her force of will and understanding of the ways of people and magic isn’t someone who is going to suddenly be swayed by city life into a new desire to date men.

She isn’t some repressed woman set in her ways due to lack of experience of the world, who just needed the right man to come along. She clearly has seen and understood the world exactly as it is and her personality and desires are who she chooses to be. This makes the scenes in the second half of the book come off as extremely forced and just a way to neatly tie the story to an end as Granny represents a tokenized ideal of changing witchcraft and the Archchancellor represents the tokenized ideal of changing wizardry, their dating being a merely symbolic merging of these ideas.

There is a grand magic battle between her and the Archchancellor earlier in the book, which is supposed to allude to the song The Two Magicians, that likewise feels completely out of place. Granny as a character would never intentionally get into a direct confrontation of slinging magic. And while that song has undertones of sexual pursuit, even potentially assault, and is being used not only as an homage here but to illustrate that witch magic isn’t inferior in power, it is again so completely out of Granny’s character. There is one scene, however, where she absolutely cuts to the core.

This book’s protagonist Eskerina was loosely intended to be based on Terry Prachett’s daughter Rhianna. I’m not sure if this is necessarily fair, because I don’t think he could ever really have a character that was supposed to be a one for one representation of his daughter. At the same time, having a daughter, I think that was always something he thought about in the context of being a good father and writing something his kids could be proud to read. I think it’d be impossible to write about a young girl, while you were raising a young girl, and not draw on your own experiences.

As I was reading this book I was getting grumpy, because I didn’t find it particularly engaging. It took me a while to work through and really understand the subtext of what Pratchett was saying. However, even while in a foul mood, I came across a scene that floored me. It was a scene featuring Granny Weatherwax and Archchancellor Cutangle attempting to locate Eskerina’s staff in the ocean. It was an object of power that had the best chance at saving Esk, who was currently comatose with her mind trapped in the Dungeon Dimension.

Earlier in the novel Esk had thrown away the staff, after it had attacked Simon. She was frustrated with magic, she was afraid of what it could do, and was trying to run away from all of her problems. The staff had a will of its own and they found it hovering in a large section of frozen ocean. The staff was clearly sulking after having been abandoned. Granny goes up to it and says this:

“So you were thrown away,” snapped Granny. “So what? She’s hardly more than a child, and children throw us all away sooner or later. Is this loyal service? Have you no shame, lying around sulking when you could be of some use at last?” (Page 217)

And that line, “Children throw us all away sooner or later” is probably worth the entire novel. Ernest Hemingway once said, “The writer’s job is to tell the truth, all you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.” And that line slaps. No matter how much we love children, how much we want to keep them safe or tell them about the world, they’re going to move on from us. We’re going to make mistakes, we’re going to hurt them, they’re going to hurt us, but as parents we need to be stronger than all of that. We need to always be there for them, no matter what’s going on for us.

I don’t know if this line reflects Pratchett’s own fears, but I know this line is full of the truth and I know Pratchett understood the value and magic of words.

“Writing was only the words that people said, squeezed between layers of paper until they were fossilized. And the words people said were just shadows of real things. But some things were too big to be really trapped in words, and even the words were too powerful to be completely tamed by writing.” (Page 166)

At the end of the day, I think this novel is a good step towards gender equality and presents a number of interesting philosophical ideas that I believe Pratchett will really refine as the books go on. As mentioned with previous essays in this project, there are so many good parts that I’m not mentioning, because I’m not trying to give a one by one account of everything he does in his books. I’m really focusing on the things that are impactful to me as a writer and an activist and despite the word count on these essays, I’m also trying to be succinct. The problem is that his books are so incredibly layered, an essay to do them real justice would likely be longer than the book they’re examining.

I look forward to doing more work on comparing and contrasting these novels as he starts to really build on the foundation he has been creating in these first few books. (Page 134)

“I just had a picture of how I wanted things to be, and, and I, sort of — went into the picture” Esk described how magic worked for her. (Page 150)

“I don’t think there’s ever been a lady wizard before,’ said Cutangle. “I rather think it might be against the lore. Wouldn’t you rather be a witch? I understand it’s a fine career for girls.”

“I still want to be a wizard,” said Esk

Words failed Cutangle. “Well, you can’t,” He said. “The very idea!”

“Why not?” she asked.

“Because,” He said slowly and deliberately, “because . . . the whole idea is completely laughable, that’s why. And it’s absolutely against the lore!”

“But I can do wizard magic!” said Esk, the faintest suggestion of tremble in her voice.

“No you can’t,” He hissed. “Because you are not a wizard. Women aren’t wizards, do I make myself clear?” (Page 168 — Simon)

“Mutability of the possibility matrix”. Sometimes he seemed to be saying that nothing existed unless people thought it did, and the world was really only there at all because people kept on imagining it. But then he seemed to be saying that there were lots of worlds, all nearly the same and all sort of occupying the same place but all separated by the thickness of a shadow, so that everything that ever could happen would have somewhere to happen in.“ (Page 228)


Written by: Faye Seidler
Editing by: Shane Thielges



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Faye Seidler

I write essays on literature, pop culture, and video games. I mostly deconstruct and do comparative analysis on many topics in both a serious and goofy way.