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Equal Rites is a comic fantasy novel by Terry Pratchett. Published in 1987, it is the third novel in the Discworld series and the first in which the main character is not Rincewind. It introduces the character of Granny Weatherwax, who reappears in several later Discworld novels.



  • Bad Ass (Town at beginning of book)


  • Fantasy clichés
  • Feminism

Publication details[]

  • Year of release: 1987
  • Original publisher: Victor Gollancz

Plot summary[]

The wizard Drum Billet knows that he will soon die and travels to a place where an eighth son of an eighth son is about to be born. This signifies that the child is destined to become a wizard (on the Discworld, the number eight has many of the magical properties that are ascribed to seven in the real world), Billet wants to pass his wizard's staff on to his successor.

However, the newborn child is actually a girl, Esk (full name Eskarina Smith). Since Billet notices his mistake too late, the staff passes on to her. As Esk grows up, it becomes apparent that she has uncontrollable powers, and the local witch Granny Weatherwax decides to travel with her to the Unseen University in Ankh-Morpork to help her gain the knowledge required to properly manage her powers.

But a female wizard is something completely unheard of on the Discworld. Esk is unsuccessful in her first, direct, attempt to gain entry to the University, but Granny Weatherwax finds another way in; as a servant. While there, Esk witnesses the progress of an apprentice wizard named Simon, whom she had met earlier, on her way to Ankh-Morpork. Simon is a natural talent who invents a whole new way of looking at the universe that reduces it to component numbers. His magic, however, is so powerful that it causes a hole to be opened into the Dungeon Dimensions.

Eskarina and Simon discover the weakness of the creatures from the Dungeon Dimensions - if you can use magic, but don't, they become scared and weakened. They both manage to transport themselves back into the Discworld. Together they develop a new kind of magic, based on the notion that the greatest power is the ability not to use all the others.


A central theme of this book (also found in many of the other Discworld witch novels) is the contrast between, on one side the (female) witches or wiccans, who are in touch with nature, herbs and headology, and on the other side the (male) wizards who are very ceremonial and use elaborate, mathematics-like tools and rituals. This conflict closely mirrors the age old feud between occult practitioners in Roundworld as well as the rivalry in earlier times between the wise old women of the village and the medical men (and in modern times between herbalists/naturopaths and doctors). Pratchett's characters are very stereotypical of the various types of witches found at wiccan festivals.

Full cover art

Popular References[]

The character of Esk is supposedly based on Rhianna, Pratchett's daughter.

The line "Only dumb redheads in Fifties' sitcoms are wacky." is a reference to Lucille Ball of I Love Lucy fame.

The Cover: Pratchett commented that one thing which had tickled him about Josh Kirby's artwork for the Equal Rites cover was that it subliminally reflected the Freudian overtones of the book (references to "hot dreams", the angst of adolescence, things that might be called "magic" envy)... Kirby's artwork "coincidentally" draws Esk with the broom handle where a penis would be which is a traditional interpretation of the basis of the "witches flying around on broomsticks" myth.

Kirby caricatures himself as the pointy-eared wizard on the back cover -- anyone who has seen his picture in The Josh Kirby Posterbook can confirm this.

The Dedication: "Thanks to Neil Gaiman, who loaned us the last surviving copy of the Liber Paginarum Fulvarum, [...]" Neil Gaiman is the author of the acclaimed The Sandman comics series, as well as Terry's co-author on Good Omens. Liber Paginarum Fulvarum is a dog-Latin title that translates to Book of Yellow Pages, i.e. not the Book of the Dead, but rather the Phonebook of the Dead. The book appears in Good Omens as well as in The Sandman, where it is used in an attempt to summon Death (although the colourist didn't get the joke and simply coloured the pages brown). Pratchett, when asked about it in a Good Omens context said, "Liber Paginarum Fulvarum is a kind of shared gag. It's in the dedication of Equal Rites, too. Although I think we've got the shade of yellow wrong -- I think there's another Latin word for a kind of yellow which is closer to the Yellow Pages colour." The other word for yellow to which Pratchett is referring may possibly be 'gilvus', or 'croceus', or 'luteus'.

The search by the wizard Drum Billet for the child destined to become a wizard (the eighth son of an eighth son so that he can pass on his wizard's staff on to his successor has a parallel in Roundworld with the searches performed in Tibetan Buddhism to find a new Dalai Lama or Panchen Lama when the incumbent passes on.

Page 8 "[...] up here in the Ramtop Mountains [...]" RAMTOP was the name of a system variable in the old Sinclair Spectrum computers.

Page 45 "I've seen the thundergods a few times,' said Granny, 'and Hoki, of course." The name Hoki derives from 'hokey' in combination with the Norse god Loki. The actual description of Hoki is more closely related to Pan, however.

Page 73 "According to the standard poetic instructions one should move through a fair like the white swan at evening moves o'er the bay, [...]" This line comes from the old Irish folk song popularized by Fairport Convention and also recorded by countless other artists from Van Morrison and the Chieftains, to Annie Briggs, to Loreena McKennitt.

She stepped away from me and she moved through the fair
And fondly I watched her move here and move there
And she made her way homeward with one star awake
As the swan in the evening moves over the lake.

Page 79 "'Gypsies always come here for the fair, [...]'" Someone on alt.fan.pratchett pointed out that in Roundworld, Gypsies were named because people thought they were Egyptians. Since the Discworld equivalent of Egypt is Djelibeybi, shouldn't Hilta Goatfounder have been talking about, say, 'Jellybabes'? Pratchett replied to this:

"Okay. Almost every word in the English language has a whole slew of historic associations. People on the Disc can't possibly speak 'English' but I have to write in English. Some carefully-positioned 'translations' like 'It's all Klatchian to me' can work, but if I went the whole hog and 'discworlded' every name and term, then the books would be even more impenetrable and would probably only be read by people who like learning Klingon. I do my best -- French fries can't exist on Discworld, for example -- but I think 'gypsies' is allowable."

Page 80 "If broomsticks were cars, this one would be a split-window Morris Minor."

A Morris Minor is a British car that non-Brits might be familiar with either through the video clip for Madness' song 'Driving in my car', or through the TV series Lovejoy. In that series, Lovejoy's car 'Miriam' is a Morris Minor. For the rest of you, and is descrbed as follows:

Imagine a curvaceous jelly-mould in the shape of a crouching rabbit, like Granny used to use. Turn it open-side-down and fit four wheels, near the corners. On the rabbit's back build a cabin, with picture windows and a windscreen in two parts at an angle to each other. Add turn indicators consisting of little arms which flip out of the body at roof level, just behind the doors. Furnish the cabin in a post-War austerity style, and power the result with a 1935 vintage 850cc straight four engine pulling about 30bhp.

In its day, in 1948, this was the height of desirability -- so much so that for its first few years it was only available for export. Even in the Nineties, a fair number of Moggies are still going, "strong" and, particularly the split-screen ones, are very definitely collectors' items.

Page 111 "Bel-Shamharoth, C'hulagen, the Insider -- the hideous old dark gods of the Necrotelicomnicom, [...]"

The Necrotelicomnicom is another reference to the Phonebook of the Dead (see the annotation for the dedication of Equal Rites), but is also a pun on the evil book of the dead Necronomicon, used by H. P. Lovecraft in his Cthulhu stories.

Bel-Shamharoth is an Elder God of the Discworld first introduced in 'The Sending of Eight' in The Colour of Magic. C'hulagen is obviously made up out of the same ingredients as C'thulhu, and the Insider refers to the unnamed narrator of Lovecraft's The Outsider.

Page 119 "The lodgings were [...] next to the [...] premises of a respectable dealer in stolen property because, as Granny had heard, good fences make good neighbours." this is a play on the common term for a dealer in stolen goods and the line from the Robert Frost poem, Mending a Wall which originated with the proverb which has been around for a couple of centuries in different forms. In Poor Richard's Almanack by Benjamin Franklin the line is: “Love your neighbor; yet don't pull down your hedge.”

Page 121 "Mrs Palm,' said Granny cautiously. 'Very respectable lady."  Rosie palm and her 5 daughters is a British euphemism for male masturbation.  Rosie is prominent figure in the series of novels.

Page 122 "'Yes, that's it,' said Treatle. 'Alma mater, gaudy armours eagle tour and so on.'"

Treatle refers here to the old student's (drinking) song 'Gaudeamus Igitur', written in 1781 by Christian Wilhelm Kindleben, a priest in Leipzig who got kicked out because of his student songs. The song is still in use at many universities and schools, where it gets sung during graduation ceremonies. The actual lyrics are:

Gaudeamus igitur, iuvenes dum sumus. Post iucundam iuventutem, Post molestam senectutem, Nos habebit humus, nos habebit humus.

Which roughly translates to:

Let us be merry, therefore, whilst we are young men.
After the joys of youth,
After the pain of old age,
The ground will have us, the ground will have us.

Page 132 The maid at Unseen University is called Ksandra, a play on the soothsayer Cassandra from Greek legend to whom the Gods gave the gift of prophesy and the curse that no one believed her, much like this Ksandra who no one can understand because she talks with her mouth full of clothes pegs.

Page 133 "'Hmm. Granpone the White. He's going to be Granpone the Grey if he doesn't take better care of his laundry.'" This is a Lord of the Rings reference. In Tolkien's series, wizards transform from one 'colour' to another (and in particular Gandalf the Grey becoming Gandalf the White). In one of Canadian author Eric Nicol's short stories, The White Knight, he plays with the concept of the pure good knight becoming embroiled in battle after battle until he loses his goodness and becomes the villain (black knight) progressing through stages of greyness along the way. It is unlikely that Pratchett is referencing Nichol but the general concept in all remains.

Page 143 "[...] the Creator hadn't really decided what he wanted and was, as it were, just idly messing around with the Pleistocene." This is a play on the geological era "Pleistocene" and "Plasticine" which is a brand name that has become a generic name for the modeling clay children play with.

Page 163 When Pratchett was asked if he had drawn inspiration for the duel between Granny Weatherwax and Archchancellor Cutangle from T. H. White's description of a similar duel in Arthur, The Once and Future King (also depicted as a very funny fragment in Disney's The Sword in the Stone, the animation film based on this book), he said:

"The magical duel in Equal Rites is certainly not lifted from T. H. White. Beware of secondary sources. Said duel (usually between a man and a woman, and often with nice Freudian touches to the things they turn into) has a much longer history; folkies out there will probably know it as the song 'The Two Magicians'."

Page 176 "'Million-to-one chances,' she said, 'crop up nine times out of ten.'"

The first mention of this particular running gag in the Discworld canon (to be featured most prominently in Guards! Guards!). This is not the earliest appearance in Terry's overall work, though: he also uses it on p. 46 of The Dark Side of the Sun. Douglas Adams uses a variation on this idea with his improbability drive in The Hitch hiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

Page 188 "[...] which by comparison made Gormenghast look like a toolshed on a railway allotment."

Gormenghast is the ancient, decaying castle from Mervyn Peake's Gormenghast trilogy. Pratchett was very familiar with these novels and referenced them in several novels as well as creating many similarities between Gormenghast and Lancre Castle as well as with .Djelibeybi.

Page 202 "'Like "red sky at night, the city's alight",' said Cutangle." This line plays on the weather forecasting folk saying: "Red sky at night, sailor's (or shepherd's) delight. Red sky in the morning, sailor's (or shepherd's) take warning".


  • For a long while, Esk would make no other appearances nor have mentions in any further novels until I Shall Wear Midnight, wherein she assists Tiffany Aching in hiding from the Cunning Man, and teaches her about his history.


  • Równoumagicznienie (Polish)
  • Magie de ambe sexe (Magic for both genders - Romanian)
  • Trollkarlens stav (Swedish)
  • Emantzipirana magiya (Bulgarian)
  • Das Erbe des Zauberers (German)
  • Čaroprávnost (Czech)

External links[]