November Books 9) Lords and Ladies

9) Lords and Ladies, by Terry Pratchett

Idly looking through the Pratchett books available on Amazon, I thought to try and sort them by customer rating; and Guards! Guards! is top, followed by Lords and Ladies. Hmm, I thought, that’s one we seem to have on the shelves, but I haven’t read it. So I have read it. And it’s fine; would probably mean more to me if I knew Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream better, but very enjoyable none the less – coherent plot, credible characters (including the briefly but nicely sketched relationship between almost-newlyweds Magrat and Verence). Along with horrible combat between mortals and the sinister, powerful elves, there are some beautiful comedic moments like this description of Nanny Ogg’s preparations for her bath, and the neighbours’ defences against her singing in it:

        Three large black kettles steamed by her fireside. Beside them were half a dozen towels, the loofah, the pumice stone, the soap, the soap for when the first soap got lost, the ladle for fishing spiders out, the waterlogged rubber duck with the prolapsed squeaker, the bunion chisel, the big scrubbing brush, the small scrubbing brush, the scrubbing brush on a stick for difficult crevices, the banjo, the thing with the pipes and spigots that no one ever really knew the purpose of, and a bottle of Klatchian Nights bath essence, one drop of which could crinkle paint.
Bong clang slam…
        Everyone in Lancre had learned to recognize Nanny’s pre-ablutive activities, out of self-defense.
        “But it ain’t April!” neighbors told themselves, as they drew the curtains.
        In the house just up the hill from Nanny Ogg’s cottage Mrs. Skindle grabbed her husband’s arm.
        “The goat’s still outside!”
        “Are you mad? I ain’t going out there! Not now!”
        “You know what happened last time! It was paralyzed all down one side for three days, man, and we couldn’t get it down off the roof!”

As I mentioned earlier, however, I was really struck by the similarities with Neil Gaiman’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, collected in Dream Country (Sandman Vol 3). In Gaiman’s story (which won the World Fantasy Award, provoking a rule change so that comics could never win in that category again), Shakespeare premieres his play at the Long Man of Wilmington at the request of Morpheus/Dream, for an audience consisting of the real Titania, Oberon, and their subjects. Pratchett has a performance of a play by Rude Mechanicals opening a gateway for the elvish incursion into the Discworld and their attempt to take over Lancre. Gaiman’s story was published in September 1990; Lords and Ladies in 1992 (the same year as Small Gods which remains my favourite Discworld novel), and it’s difficult to imagine Pratchett not having read his friend’s award-winning story. I am not to accusing anyone of stealing ideas, but only noting that it’s not surprising that authors who know each other well are often drawn to the same topics. I have found a quote by Pratchett on Gaiman commenting that the two of them “share a similar conceptual universe – we’d both agree happily that he has the darker end of it”.

This also has one of the few Pratchett quotes in Thog’s Masterclass, with the anatomically improbable statement: “The bat burped. Granny genteelly covered her hand with her mouth.”

The Colour of Magic | The Light Fantastic | Equal Rites | Mort | Sourcery | Wyrd Sisters | Pyramids | Guards! Guards! | Eric | Moving Pictures | Reaper Man | Witches Abroad | Small Gods | Lords and Ladies | Men at Arms | Soul Music | Interesting Times | Maskerade | Feet of Clay | Hogfather | Jingo | The Last Continent | Carpe Jugulum | The Fifth Elephant | The Truth | Thief of Time | The Last Hero | The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents | Night Watch | The Wee Free Men | Monstrous Regiment | A Hat Full of Sky | Going Postal | Thud! | Wintersmith | Making Money | Unseen Academicals | I Shall Wear Midnight | Snuff | Raising Steam | The Shepherd’s Crown

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