Equal Rites is the third volume in the vast (sadly not vast enough) Discworld series by Terry Pratchett. A few weeks ago I combined a post reviewing the first two volumes, The Colour of Magic and The Light Fantastic, as my eight year old son had read them to me and I thought it might be interesting to look at them from the perspective of children reading something which is generally considered adult fiction.
He’s now reading Mort, which is the fourth book in the series, and I realised that I hadn’t reviewed his reading of the third book, Equal Rites yet.
Equal Rites is one of the books I had utterly forgotten about, I have to say. I feel a bit ashamed about this, as on re-reading it with him I was reminded of how very excellent it is. In fact, I’d say it holds up better over time than its prequels, and has much more to say to me now than it did when I was a teenager. I think this has a lot to do with my own stuff and my advanced age, mind you.
Equal Rites introduces us to one of my favourite characters on the Disc, Granny Weatherwax, a witch, matriarch and all round tough who lives in the remote Ramtop Mountains. There are a whole series of books in which Granny develops into a much more rounded, altogether more brilliant character than you experience in Equal Rites, but the seeds are well and truly sown here.
Granny’s job is to teach the local blacksmith’s daughter how to manage magic, as it turns out that she has inherited wizarding skills. This was entirely unintentional, as girls are not meant to be wizards, and who knows what will happen when a girl starts to do what a boy is supposed to? Granny is troubled by this. She knows how to teach witching, but wizarding is ‘apparently’ an entirely different kettle of fish. To Granny it seems unnatural, but she knows she cannot let Esk down and she is the only person in the entire Ramtops even remotely qualified to help.
Pratchett uses Esk’s innocence, youthful ignorance and questioning as a wonderful vehicle for looking at our understanding of how things divide up between the sexes and what we think is ‘normal’ in terms of gender.
The book is funny and witty and wise and reintroduced me to the things that has made me love Pratchett so dearly over the years.
That’s all well and good, but how did an eight year old boy cope with this?
Firstly, he found this much easier to read than the first two books, mostly because a lot of the scene setting and explanations that appear as footnotes in the first two books simply isn’t there, and he had grasped the basic principles of Disc geography and reality so things were not alien to him.
Secondly, he was much less afraid of big words and also big ideas that big words sometimes contain. He demonstrated that he is getting over his need to be ‘right’ about everything, and to ‘know’ everything, and is starting to question things and learning to explore what texts can offer readers. He is beginning to be aware that you can enjoy and understand texts on lots of different levels.
Thirdly, he loved the humour in this book as much as he did in the first two, although he missed the character of Rincewind quite a lot. The nice thing is that he has so many books to go at that he will revisit and meet characters again and again as the series progresses.
I think, in all honesty, I enjoyed this book more than he did, but he certainly didn’t exhibit any boredom or unwillingness to read, and we have had some magnificent conversations on the back of it, from how to shape shift into a bird, to what demons might lurk in the dungeon dimensions and back again.
As with the other books, this is not an easy read. It requires you to monitor your child’s reading closely if they are primary aged, because there are things in these books that really aren’t that suitable for a primary aged child to be reading without adult explanations. You must be comfortable with a fair amount of swearing, albeit only a liberal sprinkling of ‘bloody’, and ‘bugger’. You must be comfortable with sexual innuendos by the score, and willing to talk about things like quantum realities, and whatever else Pratchett’s far reaching gaze glances on.
These are ideal for teen/ya readers who are into fantasy books and looking for somewhere to start. They are funny, witty, wise and wonderful and will give you a life time of pleasure reading and re-reading them down the years.