I’m on a Pratchett kick right now, going through and reminding myself how much I adore the Discworld books.
I did a close-read for my MFA on “Lords and Ladies”, and even though my paper was based on how Pratchett expertly weaves Celtic folklore in with his parody of a “Midsummer’s Night’s Dream”, I found the things I really enjoy about Pratchett’s writing are his glorious, humorous, and bountiful asides.
“Lords and Ladies” follows Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg as they battle a mythical force threatening to invade Lancre with diabolical magic.
I seriously can’t give any more plot away without spoiling the whole thing, so I’ll just leave it there. But I can tell you all about the hysterical asides that make Pratchett’s writing so brilliant. From the Lancre Morris Men’s ‘stick and bucket dance’ to Shawn Ogg as Lancre’s only standing army, and a highway man’s mistaken run-in with a coach full of wizards, this book’s biggest asset is Pratchett’s world-building, plot-pointless asides!
My ultimate favorite is Nanny Ogg’s bathing regimes: this aside has literally nothing to do with the plot, and really doesn’t even build much in the way of character development since we’ve been with Nanny Ogg for four books by this point, and yet, it is one of the most funny and endearing passages (in my opinion) of the whole book.
In its entirety, here is Nanny Ogg and her bath:
Clang boinng clang ding…
The sound echoed around Lancre.
Grown men, digging in their gardens, flung down their spades and hurried for the safety of their cottages…
Clang boinng going ding…
Women appeared in doorways and yelled desperately for their children to come in at once…
…BANG buggerit Dong boinng…
Shutters thundered shut. Some men, watched by their frightened families, poured water on the fire and tried to stuff sacks up the chimney…
Nanny Ogg lived alone, because she said old people needed their pride and independence. Besides, Jason lived on one side, and he or his wife whatshername could easily be roused by means of a boot applied heavily to the wall, and Shawn lived on the other side and Nanny had got him to fix up a long length of string with some tins cans on it in case his presence was required. But this was only for emergencies, such as when she wanted a cup of tea or felt bored.
Bond drat clang…
Nanny Ogg had no bathroom but she did have a tin bath, which normally hung on a nail in the back of the privy. Now she was dragging it indoors. It was almost up the garden, after being bounced off various trees, walls, and garden gnomes on the way.
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 water-logged ruby duck with the prolapsed squeaker, the bunion chisel, the big scrubbing brush, the small scrubbing brush, and 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 would crinkle paint.
Bang 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 their 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 now! 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!”
Mr. Skindle poked his head out of the door. It had all gone quiet. Too quiet.
“She’s probably pouring the water in.” he said.
“You’ve got a minute or two,” said his wife. “Go on, or we’ll be drinking yogurt for weeks.”
Mr. Skindle took down a leather halter from behind the door and crept out to where the goat was tethered near the hedge. It too had learned to recognize bathtime ritual and was rigid with apprehension.
There was no point trying to drag it. Eventually he picked it up bodily.
There was a distant but insistent sloshing noise, and the bonging sound of a floating pumice stone bouncing on the side of a tin bath.
Mr. Skindle started to run.
Then there was the distant tinkle of a banjo being tuned.
The world held its breath.
Then it came, like a tornado sweeping across the prairie.
Three flowerpots outside the door cracked, one after the other. Shrapnel whizzed past Mr. Skindle’s ear.
“—wizzaardsah staaafff has a knobonthened, knobontheend—“
He threw the goat through the doorway and leapt after it. His wife was waiting, and slammed the door shut behind him.
The whole family, including the goat, got under the table.
It wasn’t that Nanny Ogg sang badly. It was just that she could hit notes, which when amplified by a tin bath half full of water, ceased to be sound and because some sort of invasive presence.
There had been plenty of singers whose high notes could smash a glass, but Nanny’s high C could clean it.”