Over in the Ramtop mountains, there is the tiny kingdom of Lancre, which despite its size is home to many of the Discworld's most indomitable female characters. Magrat Garlick is not one of them, at least not at first. She's given to daydreaming and worrying and likes to believe the best of people; something I can certainly relate to. She’s constantly described as a "wet hen", which only serves to make her transformation all the more impressive. We see her grow as a witch, then become Queen of Lancre, and then a warrior defending her country against the Queen of the Elves. Channelling the warrior queen Ynci, Magrat dons some vintage armour and goes out to fight. As a daydreaming worrier myself, what I love most is the hint at the end of the story that Ynci never existed. All Magrat needed to become a kick-ass Warrior-Witch-Queen was a little self-confidence. And the power of cosplay, of course.
Every issue we write a letter to an author that has inspired and influenced us. For issue 5: Of Land, Sea and Sky, Michaela Gray writes to Terry Pratchett about his wonderful worlds, and the inspiring women who inhabit them.
It feels a little odd to call you by your first name like this when we’ve never met. I hope you don’t mind; I almost feel like I know you, since I’ve been reading Discworld novels since about the age of 11 (I’m now 32). The Discworld is such a vast yet richly detailed land, and that anomaly in fantasy literature – a place I would not only happily visit, but in which I would happily live. It is a place I have repeatedly returned to and sought solace in over the years, and each time it has felt like coming home.
But, although I may only visit the Discworld in my imagination, every part of it is full of truly inspiring women who have influenced me out here, in the real world. Unlike so many fantasy novels, women on the Discworld have their own agency. They are not confined to the stereotypical roles of princesses or whores, reduced to being able to use only their status or their looks to get ahead, nor are they defined by their relationships to the men around them. Or, if they are constrained by societal expectations, it's not long before they tell society exactly where it can put them.
Beyond the Ramtops is snowy Uberwald, home to Lady Margolotta. I love Margolotta because while she's not a main character at any point, and her motives can be quite ambiguous, she's the one person on the whole of the Discworld who is the intellectual equal to the Patrician, the wily but benevolent dictator of Ankh-Morpork. Margolotta is a vampire, but as a Black Ribboner who has sworn to abstain from human blood, she exercises iron self-control, instead focusing her cravings on power. She has fingers in so many political pies that she probably has to count them using extra hands supplied by her servant/surgeon Igor. With her pink, bat-embroidered jumpers, Margolotta has taught me not to judge by appearances, and that if I put my mind to it, I can accomplish pretty much anything.
Further on from Uberwald is Borogravia, quite possibly the country on Discworld I would least like to visit, or live near, given its propensity for waging war on its neighbours and the fact its laws are defined by its god, who keeps banning things such as the essential food group chocolate. This just makes me admire Polly Perks all the more. Polly doesn't let living in a backwards and frankly bonkers country get in the way of looking for her missing soldier brother and potentially losing the family business which she cannot inherit alone as a woman. She simply cuts off her hair to disguise herself as a boy and enlists. She ends up becoming a hell of a soldier too, famed for dealing with unwanted advances with
"Margolotta has taught me not to judge by appearances, and that if I put my mind to it, I can accomplish pretty much anything."
In the city of Ankh-Morpork, we have the not at all amusingly named dwarf Cheery Littlebottom, who bucks familial and cultural tradition by firstly having very little interest in gold, secondly joining the Night Watch as its forensics expert instead of going down the family mine, and thirdly by coming out as a female and asking to be called Cheri. In a culture where the very existence of women is not acknowledged in any way, this is mind-bogglingly brave. Cheri is an inspiration not just to those who fear disappointment and rejection if they reveal their gender identity or sexual orientation to their loved ones, but to anyone who, like me, has chosen to deviate from their family's traditions.
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the application of her knee to the offending groin, and is promoted to sergeant even after her secret is discovered. Sometimes, life forces us to take paths we would otherwise not have taken, and that's often when we find out who we really are.
These are just a few of the women you have written who have inspired me to tackle my own problems with the same humour, courage and tenacity they have all demonstrated, and they are the reason I will continue returning to the Discworld at every opportunity I get.
I like to imagine that when the time comes for me to leave this world, that I’ll be greeted by your imagining of Death as a kind of bony guy with a scythe, who is well-meaning if somewhat lacking in social skills and talks in capital letters. And when I ask him if, where I’m going, there will be Discworld novels, I like to think that he’ll turn to me and say, WOULD YOU LIKE THERE TO BE?
Thank you for teaching me to live, and not to be afraid of Death.