By: Terry Pratchett
Every world has its rules- even a flat one carried by four elephants riding on a giant turtle. That’s why a dying wizard is searching for an eighth son of an eighth son to bestow his wizardly powers upon before meeting Death in six minutes. Unfortunately it is quickly discovered- though not quite quickly enough-that the newborn babe the wizard anoints just before bidding the Discworld adieu is, in reality, a girl! What’s done cannot be undone- despite old Granny Weatherwax’s attempts to bring the child into the witchy fold- and little Esk is now a wizard, through and through. And she’s destined to bring chaos and confusion to the all-male faculty of Ankh-Morpork’s Unseen University…who are already fairly addled to begin with.
In the third installment of the Discworld series, we are treated to an all new cast of characters with only two, Death and the Unseen University librarian, making a reapearance. Sadly Death makes only the briefest of cameos, but of course I was still happy to see him!
As you may know, Sir Terry Pratchett usually has a moral to his writing whether that’s a list of smaller messages or one overarching theme. In Equal Rites, he focuses on highlighting gender prejudices from the perspective of both men and women. Through the humor of satire, he demonstrates how arbitrary rules get perpetuated for generations though no one can explain why they exist. If you’ve ever looked at someone and said “You shouldn’t do that, that’s a man’s job” or “Real men don’t do that, that’s for women” then you unfortunately are someone guilty of perpetuating stereotypes. I can also guarantee that if that individual responded by asking you why those rules exist, you wouldn’t be able to come up with a good answer.
Growing up, I always challenged gender norms because no one was ever able to give me a satisfying reason as to why they applied to me. Every time someone told me that I should let a man do something, I would do it on my own out of spite. In my experience, the only consequences for my complete disregard for stupid rules were my increased self-reliance/independence and that I became more aggressivley outspoken. Such traits are not generally seen as positive for women, so it’s nice to read about a character that I identify with. Esk is only eight-years-old but she’s proven to be stubborn, headstrong, and powerful in every way. I didn’t learn how to be fierce until I was much older, so I love it when young girls learn how to take the world by storm before the world gets a chance to beat the spirit out of them.
That being said, I’ve had my own fair share of prejudices against men simply because they weren’t women. Sometimes the world makes us defensive or tries to get everyone to fit into a box. It’s us against them. It’s black or white. The world is so much easier when it’s not in color, but that’s not the way the world really works. As it is in life, Equal Rites expresses how women can be as dismissive of men as men can be of women. The main thread of the story is how historically only women can be witches and only men can be wizards. You can’t have a male witch and women can’t attend Unseen University. Witches describe wizard magic as all about math, words, and showing off versus a woman’s magic which is used to help families and understand the psychology of people. The men view witch magic as humble and necessary but not nearly as important as their own. Both sides make sure the other group is firmly removed from joining their way of life, and they would have been content to stay that way had Esk not come along to challenge their beliefs. Changing hearts and minds does not happen overnight but as long as it happens, that’s what counts.
My favorite quote:
“She was already learning that if you ignore the rules people will, half the time, quietly rewrite them so that they don’t apply to you.”
Three books down, thirty-eight more to go! Looking forward to Mort because Death plays a huge role!
Overall rating: 5