The L-Space Web: Analysis

Bewitching Writing

An Analysis of Intertextual Resonance in the Witch-sequence of Terry Pratchett's Discworld

Written by Dorthe Andersen

Submitted to Aalborg University, Denmark in November 2006


The paper is a speciale from Aalborg University, Denmark (the final written assignment towards an MA degree in English). It investigates the form and function of intertextuality in the witch-sequence of Terry Pratchett's Discworld novels; Equal Rites, Wyrd Sisters, Witches Abroad, Lords and Ladies, Maskerade and Carpe Jugulum. It defines intertextuality and the forms it can take, and then analyses the novels in terms of these forms. The analysis leads to the conclusion that allusion and parody are the most used forms, even if pastiche, irony and satire are also considered. Four categories are found, to which the intertextuality refers; text (literary material), the formulaic (fixed elements in language or myth), human folly (human behaviour or history) and grand narratives (those themes which Lyotard found provided structure in lives, and which he declared dead).

The paper also focuses on the genre of fantasy and views the novels in relation to them. It is concluded that the novels constitute fantasy, even as Pratchett employs the trappings of the genre to redefine it, as well as postmodernism.

Contact Details

If you have any comments, please send them directly to Dorthe who welcomes all feedback.

Table Of Contents


"Now, how did I start out? It was to have fun with some of the cliches. It was as simple as that." (Pratchett in Young 2005)

Reading has always been my drug of choice, and since I happened on the works of Terry Pratchett I have not looked back. My feelings on said occasion can best be likened to Mr Groatberger's reaction upon reading Nanny Ogg's Joye of Snacks:

"A word caught his eye. He read it, and his eye was dragged to the end of the sentence. Then he read to the end of the page, doubling back a few times because he hadn't quite believed what he'd just read." (Maskerade, 15)

Terry Pratchett's writing is both complex and multi-layered. The storylines in the novels are themselves entertaining, yet beneath the surface various references to numerous other works throng. The books can be read by young and old alike, revealing different degrees of intricacy along the way. It is this jungle of multiple layers and meanings which caught my eye, and which I wish to investigate here. This web of hints, asides and references is called intertextuality. In fact Pratchett has provided a description of the concept:

"All books are tenuously connected through L-space and, therefore, the content of any book ever written or yet to be written may, in the right circumstances, be deduced from a sufficiently close study of books already in existence."(The Last Continent, 23)

On the Discworld books, especially magical ones, lead separate, secret lives, making the library a place you enter at your own risk. However, beyond the surface of mere shelving lies the L-space: All libraries everywhere are connected in L-space. All libraries. Everywhere. (Guards! Guards!, 171). This is where all books are connected, and libraries interact. This study then, is going to be an expedition into the perilous realm of L-space, pursuing the links from Pratchett's work to other texts, their functions and purposes.

Pratchett has stated that his reasons for writing originated in a wish to have fun with cliches, as the initial quote shows. As will become clear through the analysis, he employs both cliches, figures of speech and metaphors to good advantage in the stories. By rejuvenating the ways in which we regard these sometimes fixed images or myths, he manages to make his reader both laugh, cry (well, at least tears are involved) and reconsider previous assumptions about some of the thematic treads of the stories.

Terry Pratchett does not have a very high opinion of literary criticism, as evidenced in the Unseen University's library:

"[The Librarian] waited patiently as a herd of Critters crawled past, grazing on the contents of the choicer books and leaving behind them small piles of slim volumes of literary criticism." (Guards! Guards!, 191)

Perhaps this distaste is a result of experience, as his books, while widely popular among readers, have not received much critical acclaim in reviews and academia (Butler, James and Mendlesohn 2004:viii). This is the case for much fantasy writing, which has often been relegated to a secondary position within the world of literature. Recent years have seen a number of works on Pratchett, however, and it is to this body I dare make a contribution. Hopefully, the end result will provide evidence to the qualities and nuances of fantasy in general, and Pratchett in particular, so that I might be forgiven dragging the Discworld under the microscope of literary investigation.


The chief point of interest fuelling the investigations in this paper is intertextuality. However, that alone is an immense field and hence unmanageable. Therefore, the focus has been narrowed down to the point of interaction between the genre of fantasy and intertextuality. The fantastic, like any other genre, has its own characteristics and typical traits. I have chosen to look at a specific range of novels within the Discworld works of Terry Pratchett, a fantasy writer. His books utilize a lot of intertextuality, in different forms. The problem which this thesis seeks to solve, then, is this:

What form and function does intertextuality have in Terry Pratchett's work, and can a set of categories be made? In what ways does his use of intertextuality conform to the fantastic genre?

Terry Pratchett

This thesis is dedicated to investigating the works of Terry Pratchett. Who is he? Before diving into the wondrous world of his writing, an introduction is in place. The small author introductions given in the books are both annoyingly uninformative, and amusingly introductive to Pratchett's universe. The discerning reader may, of course, sieve some facts from the text:

"Terry Pratchett was born in 1948 and is still not dead. He started work as a journalist one day in 1965 and saw his first corpse three hours later, work experience meaning something in those days." (Maskerade, 1)

The information given here is correct, even as the tone introduces the playful atmosphere and attitude found in the Discworld. Terry Pratchett grew up in a small village in Buckinghamshire. He discovered fantasy and became a fan, inhaling magazines and books, and even attending several conventions. However, with an apprenticeship in journalism and life in general, he gave it up. Later, he got a job as a press secretary at a nuclear power plant (which he started right after the Three Mile Island incident in 1979) (Young 2005).

However, even with writing as a job he kept writing stories on the side. Writing has always been part of his life. [Pratchet] says writing is the most fun anyone can have by themselves. (Maskerade, 1). In fact he landed his very first publication at the tender age of 13 when he sold a story he had written as a class project.

"First story, first sale. I've always been a bit embarrassed about that. I'm sitting here on a stack of money in a big house so I can't really complain that I did things wrong, but I sometimes wish I'd done more between then and 1982 than write a novel every five years." (Pratchett in McCarty 2003)

Later, in 1971, his first novel was published. By 1983, when The Colour of Magic, his fourth novel, came out, he was able to become a full-time writer. This was the first Discworld novel, and to date the series has reached 30 volumes and is still counting. The novels constitute a series in as much as they take place in the same universe and are by the same author. However, it is not a typical series since the novels are not continuous instalments in a forth running narrative. Rather, they differ in terms of setting, cast and themes dealt with. At least as far as the early novels are concerned, they can generally be read in whichever order the reader manages to get hold of the books, whereas the later books tend to depend on the reader having some knowledge of previous occurrences. Viewed overall, a number of sub-series can be picked out, which deal with the same set of characters and are more or less chronological. Examples are the Watch-sequence, the Witch-sequence or that of the Wizards. Even this effort at categorisation is not complete, as some characters mix out of their sequence and so on. The only character to be met in every book is in fact Death (Butler 2001: 13).

Besides Discworld Pratchett has written some books for children and young adults, made forays into the arena of science fiction and collaborated on maps, guides, plays and other things. In truth a prolific writer.

According to Butler, in 2001 1% of all books sold in Britain were written by Terry Pratchett, as 10% of all sold books are fantasy, and Pratchett's writings in turn made up 10% of those (Butler 2001:7). With the arrival of J.K. Rowling and Harry Potter on the field, the ranking has changed a bit, but nothing can change Pratchett's popularity. The popularity pertains to his universe and unique writing style, which is characterised by humour and a playful approach to the accepted truths:

"[…] a lot of Discworld humor - in fact the basis of Discworld humor - is not 'wacky thinking' but entirely logical thinking." (Pratchett in Metherell-Smith and Andrews 1999)

McCarty characterizes Pratchett as writing […] on the funside of fantasy. (McCarty 2003). This may be true of the earlier novels, which largely explore specific genres or types. For example The Colour of Magic and Light Fantastic lean heavily on Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, or aspects thereof. However, as time progressed and the volumes piled up, the Discworld became increasingly crowded, to the extent that it was difficult to simply invent new characters and places without encountering some of the old ones. So, the themes dealt with and the plots used got more complicated. Also, there has been a development in the later novels towards a more complex nature: Well, not more complex. I would say darker. Like Carpe Jugulum was pretty damn dark. So was Jingo - I mean, people were dying. (Pratchett in Metherell-Smith and Andrews 1999). I stand corrected. The novels have taken up issues of a darker nature, such as the border between right and wrong, and the presence of evil. It remains to be seen whether this is a permanent turn, or if it is simply a twist in the labyrinthine development of the Discworld in general. However, I would hazard the guess that we will see more of this side in the future.

Choice of texts

Terry Pratchett has written a large number of novels. Even restricting the investigation to those concerned with the Discworld would leave us with a staggering range of materials. Even though the object of this investigation, the form and function of intertextuality, is valid for all his works, it is necessary to focus on a few works. To that effect I have selected the Witch-sequence, which constitutes the six Discworld novels Equal Rites, Wyrd Sisters, Witches Abroad, Lords and Ladies, Maskerade and Carpe Jugulum. The reason has partly been to get a reasonable amount of text, which is connected and at the same time avoid leaving parts of the sequence out. For the purpose of the investigation these six novels will suit as examples. Another time and space may hopefully allow a further investigation of these traits throughout the entire corpus.

However, for the purpose of the analysis performed here, even the six novels contain too much material. Since the analysis focuses on instances of intertextuality, the analysis will take up certain themes or issues, and leave the rest unattended. This is in some respects highly unsatisfactory, as there are innumerable avenues of interest and promise in the material. However, these reasons are the same which necessitates a tight focus. This is not the place nor the space for a broad analysis. For this reason, the analysis will chiefly look at Maskerade. Examples will be used from the other novels too, but not as extensively. This choice has been made in order to perform as much analysis as possible within one volume, in order to be able to draw conclusions and make links between the various sections in the analysis.

When quotes are made from the novels they will be referenced with title and page number alone.

The six novels chosen can be regarded as a microcosm of the entire Discworld series, in that they embody many of the features found throughout the series. In terms of the use and purpose of intertextuality, I moreover find that examples of the various uses can be found herein. In addition, the six novels exemplify the differences in the corpus across time, as they embody both the third and the twentythird volume. As Terry Pratchett continues to be a prolific writer, producing at lest one new volume each year, no doubt the future will bring new developments in both the Discworld and in its author's use of intertextuality. However, once again, these prospects must be left up to future investigation.

Methodological approaches

In order to reach an answer to the problem outlined above, this paper will perform an analysis of six Discworld novels by Terry Pratchett. Before that can be done, though, it is necessary to define the terms. The chapter Definitions gives an outline of research into the field of intertextuality and the various definitions of what it has been used to describe through time. This will be done using the works of Genette, Hutcheon and Allen among others. Following that, the chapter delves into the various forms intertextuality can take, and the functions and moods it can convey. This pertains to allusion, irony, satire, parody and pastiche, using Hutcheon, Dentith and Rose. These terms are then applied to the analysis performed in the next chapter; Analysis. This selects a number of avenues of interest, and performs an in-depth analysis of text examples from the corpus. The findings are identified in relation to the terms and definitions reached in the previous chapter. Chapter four; The Function and Purpose of Transtextuality, merges the findings from the analysis and orders them into a set of categories which details Pratchett's use of intertextuality and its functions. Finally, chapter five; The Fantastic Pratchett, gives an outline of the fantastic genre, employing the works of Jackson, Tolkien, Todorov and Armitt. Pratchett's use of intertextuality is then compared to the features of fantasy to see whether he conforms to the genre or recreates it.

The analysis is based on novels, and hence the material is available in written form from most bookshops. However, times now are not what they were when Charles Dickens wrote. The internet has arrived, and changed everything in its wake. It provides a forum where people can meet and share hobbies, have conversations and make their specific knowledge available to most of the world. This is true of the subculture of fantasy as well. There are numerous websites devoted solely to Terry Pratchett, his writings, conventions, merchandise and every other possible issue you can imagine. A Google search on Terry Pratchett provided 3.470.000 hits! (24.10.2006). What is more, Terry Pratchett uses the internet to engage with his fans, interacting in newsgroups and making interviews. The internet is part of his body of work, and should not be left out of any analysis. I have therefore chosen to incorporate interviews and statements by Pratchett where they might shed light on parts of my analysis. Additionally, I have consulted web-based sites such as The Oxford English Dictionary and Wikipedia. The latter is special in that anyone may post or amend an entry. In this way, the material available is very varied, but also incredibly up to date, which has been useful in such a fast-moving field as Pratchett's writings. In short, the internet and all that it contains cannot be excluded from a piece of work such as this. Making references to material from the internet makes for very long and ungainly intrusions in the text. I have valued ease of reading higher, and have therefore included the full references in the bibliography at the end. In the text proper I have used abbreviations, such as OED for The Oxford English Dictionary, and Wiki for Wikipedia, and have given a number for each reference which can be traced to the bibliography.

The full paper, 'Bewitching Writing', is available for download in Adobe Acrobat PDF format.
Get Acrobat Reader

Download full paper (590k)

This section of L-Space is maintained by esmi

The L-Space Web is a creation of The L-Space Librarians
This mirror site is maintained by Colm Buckley