Witches Abroad occurs in Pratchett’s Discworld, which I’ve waxed on about before. (The link should give you a basic gist of Discworld.) One of Discworld’s reoccurring characters is Granny Weatherwax and her “coven”, but don’t tell her I called it that. Granny is a no-nonsense witch. She believes all a witch really needs is a good black peaked hat. A wart or two on the face helps, but the hat is where the real “magic” is. Granny doesn’t believe in using magic for most things in life; instead, she relies on what she calls “headology”, which is her version of psychology. She usually passes out colored water for those that are ill that seek her help; just knowing a witch gave them a remedy is enough to convince people to get well again. She hangs with Nanny Ogg and Magrat (nope, not a typo, much to Magrat’s chagrin). Nanny Ogg’s is a grandma that you could go down to the bar with on a Saturday night and pick up men. She’s the supreme matriarch of her family, but loves a good amount of alcohol and a bawdy song. She also has a rapscallion cat, named Greebo, who plays a small part in this story. Magrat can be seen as the traditional white witch of the bunch; she’s a hopeless optimist that believes magic can solve everything.
When a fairy godmother in the area dies, she sends her wand and her final instructions in the god mothering business to Magrat. She tells Magrat to get to the kingdom and stop the girl from marrying the prince. She also tells Magrat not to bring those other two old biddies (using “headology”, of course, because she knew it was the only way she could convince Granny and Nanny to go would be to tell them that they can’t). The three witches set out for their trip, arguing all along the way, of course. They find that they must stop the other fairy godmother who believes that all life should be a fairy tale. She currently ruling over the kingdom and has strict laws about how the citizens in fairy tales should behave. The castle cook must be fat and constantly covered in flour, for example.
The book dovetailed perfectly with my on-again-off-again book, My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me, a modern collection of short stories with a fairy tale vibe. Fairy tales have been having a comeback lately, with two Snow White movies due out soon and two TV shows. I love being an armchair sociologist, so I’ve been fascinated by the past recent years trying to figure out why something in our collective subconscious was drawn to superhero movies. And what is now pulling us towards fairy tales? The two genres do have their similarities, namely being a conflict between good vs. evil, but what has changed that makes us favor magic, which underlines most fairy tales, instead of strength, with physical strength underling most superhero movies? Or is the attraction because the two genres have been blending recently? Stills from the Kristen Stewart Snow White show the fairest of them all comes in armor. Thor in the new Avengers movie, while having the strength of a god and the body, still has a mythology background (yes, I think mythology can fit into the fairy tale genre quite easily). So far my only theory has been that those of us raised on Disney’s white-washed fairy tales are entering into that Holy Grail of demographics, the 18-34 age range, are meshing with the nostalgia trend (can we, collectively, all agree to let the 80’s lie in peace already?) to create a perfect storm for a fairy tale resurgence.