This book tells the story of myths invading Lancre, a small kingdom deep in the mountains. On the one hand, elves invade from a parallel dimension. On the other hand, Magrat embodies a fictional myth to defy the actions of the elves. On yet another hand, Shakespeare is being spoofed throughout.
In fact, the mere act of opening the box will determine the state of the cat, although in this case there were three determinate states the cat could be in: these being Alive, Dead, and Bloody Furious.
On the first hand, the theme is on the book cover. The elves are a kind of aristocracy—expectantly entitled, cruel but beautiful, and more powerful than normal people. Myth isn’t necessarily bad, it’s attractive. But when people subordinate themselves to myths of the past, they forget their own present and others’ futures. On the other side of myths being bad, having the aristocracy around to organize and lead some fighting can help: Magrat forgets too much of her earlier self while becoming a queen, but then is able to help when she remembers because she is a queen. Well, almost a queen.
Nanny Ogg looked under her bed in case there was a man there. Well, you never knew your luck.
But I think the more important theme lies in the myth-becoming-real. It allows Pratchett to play out how people typically deal with myth in their day to day life, or don’t as the case may be. For instance, Granny resists the myths because she can see the damage they have caused and will cause if allowed to reign again. However, at one point or another, all the people who can resist the myths are too tied up with their personal paramours to care or even notice—myths and shifts in cultural psychology are subtle things that are often missed. Yet, like the first-level analogy shows, myths are something to balance with reality, to banish when they’re dangerous and encourage when they’re beneficial. I think this is the main point of the novel.
Personal’s not the same as important. People just think it is.
On the third level, Shakespeare is both kind of silly (this book spoofs Midsummer Night’s Dream) and really important simultaneously. Quite like myths. He helps explain humans and their craziness, as well as making them laugh at the same time. I wonder if this book is Pratchett’s tribute to that most famous writer. So many parallels can be drawn between the two.
Verence would rather cut his own leg off than put a witch in prison, since it'd save trouble in the long run and probably be less painful.
Pratchett here combines all these aspects of examining myths into every facet, nook, and cranny of his book. The resolve argues that what we can do today is better than what we could have done back in mythic times, trying to drag people’s focus to the here and now instead of there and then. The whole well-focused affair comes off much like the strengths of Small Gods did: brilliantly.
It wasn't that Nanny Ogg sang badly. It was just that she could hit notes which, when amplified by a tin bath half full of water, ceased to be sound and became some sort of invasive presence.
Yet, where Small Gods kept the slapstick down and the philosophy more on the surface, here Pratchett subsumes the philosophy under the slapstick patina, as is typical of his other Witch tales so far. Pratfalls and Shakespearean parody run the show from start to finish, translated into the Discworld universe successfully. But the underlying philosophy is always there and always guiding the twists and turns in the plot.
Don't try the paranormal until you know what's normal.
That’s all I can say, I think. It’s somewhat more slapstick than Small Gods, but as deeply interesting philosophically or sociologically. And it’s a strong, strong novel that needs to not be ignored in the Pratchett cannon. Some Shakespearean love helps, I’m sure—but less than with Wyrd Sisters, his other Shakespearean tale.
You can’t say ‘if this didn’t happen then that would have happened’ because you don’t know everything that might have happened. You might think something’d be good, but for all you know it could have turned out horrible. You can’t say ‘If only I’d…’ because you could be wishing for anything. The point is, you’ll never know. You’ve gone past. So there’s no use thinking about it.