Thursday, July 22, 2010

Theological review of Wyrd Sisters (The Discworld Series, book 6)


Jewish date:  11 ’Av 5770 (Parasthath Wa’ethḥannan).

Today’s holidays:  Feast Day of Mary Magdalene (Roman Catholicism), Feast Day of St. Karl Marx/St. James Whale/ 1/Pi approximation (Church of the SubGenius), Feast of the Scarlet Woman (Thelema).

Worthy causes of the day:  “JCRC-NY Write to Rickys”, “  Put up or shut up:  It's time for prominent Tea Party leaders to step forward and deal with racism within the Tea Party”, “Protect the Future of Fish and Fishing in America - The Petition Site”, “ Political Action: We need Elizabeth Warren at the CFPB!”, and “Forget what Timothy Geithner thinks. We want Elizabeth Warren to police Wall Street.”.

Wyrd SistersTopic 1:  Wyrd Sisters (The Discworld Series, book 6) by Terry Pratchett.


This book focuses on parodying the plays of William Shakespeare, particularly Macbeth and Hamlet, not theology.  There are a number of more or less theological ideas dealt with, though.

  • Ghosts.  Early in the book King Verence I of Lancre is murdered.  After meeting with Death (apparently a favorite character of Pratchett), Verence remains in his castle as a ghost.  It turns out the castle is filled with the ghosts of royalty—and the kitchen is filled with the spirits of animals eaten by them!  Ghosts interact weakly with material objects and are not visible to anyone except cats, witches, and Death.  Ghosts are also linked to the actual material of the place they died and cannot go far from it.  The only way Verence and a number of other ghosts can leave the castle is to have a brick of it physically carried elsewhere.
  • Witches.  Featured in this book is not only Esmerelda “Granny” Weatherwax, but two of her colleagues, Gytha “Nanny” Ogg and Magrat Garlick, as well.  While Nanny Ogg works pretty much along the same lines as Granny Weatherwax (except never having been celebate and dominating a large family), Magrat is a parody of the contemporary “witches” of our world.  E.g., she coerces Granny and Nanny into forming a coven with periodic sabats, she wears tacky silver jewelry, she likes dancing, she believes in “Nature’s wisdom and elves and the healing power of colors and the cycle of the seasons” and pretty much any flaky New Age idea the reader can think of.  There is also the idea that witches are supposed to stay out of political matters; this is not a genuine traditional or New Age concept about witches, but rather an inversion of the behavior of the witches in Macbeth.  Duke Felmet, who murders King Verence I and claims the throne, accuses the witches of interfering in politics, as they make convenient scapegoats.
  • Cleanliness = moral purity.  Duke Felmet, like Lady Macbeth, feels guilty over his crime.  In a rather extreme version of the equation, he does extensive damage to his hands trying to rid them of the (real or imagined) blood of his victim.  (I know:  ew!  While much of the book is funny, in this item Pratchett goes into the realm of the cringe-worthy.)
  • Granny Weatherwax discovers that the Kingdom of Lancre has what might be described as an “overmind” consisting of the minds of all its inhabitants, including animal inhabitants.  This may be a reflection of ideas that all are part of a greater whole.  This overmind hates Duke Felmet and his wife and want them deposed.
  • Destiny.  The witches believe that Tomjon, the son of Verence I, is destined to inherit the throne.  While they do play a part in ensuring his survival and hastening his ascent to the throne, the assumption is that his ascent is inevitable.  Tomjon is indeed recognized as the legitimate heir to the throne, but he does not want the job of king.  The throne is then turned over to the Fool, who is his half-brother.  This is consistent with the handling of fate/destiny previously in the series.
  • Belief = reality.  The influence of belief on reality on the Discworld has already repeatedly been discussed.  Wyrd Sisters takes it in a new direction by having Duke Felmet have the Fool commission a play depicting the “official” version of the death of Verence I with the intention of establishing that the Duke is legitimately ascending to the throne.  While the actual performance of the play is accidentally hijacked by the witches, Death, ad Verence I to reveal what really happened, the question of whether the play could have actually changed reality in the Discworld had it been executed successfully is left undecided.
Next up in this series:  Pyramids (The Discworld Series, book 7) by Terry Pratchett.

Topic 2:  A backlog of materials on Islamic misbehavior, including associated anti-Semitism:  “Special Analysis: The Obama-Netanyahu Summit” looks at biased reporting.  In “Tom Friedman’s Soft Spot for Terrorist Fadlallah”, Rav Shmuely Boteach blasts New York Times columnist Tom Friedman for mourning the death of Hezbollah terrorist Sheikh Muhammad Hussein Fadlallah as if he were a hero.  (Some people do have very strange ideas that murderers can be heroes.  I have no clue why.)  Daniel Pipes in “Turkey in Cyprus vs. Israel in Gaza” notes Turkish hypocrisy over criticism of Israel’s treatment of Gaza, considering how Turkey has treated northern Cyprus since it invaded and occupied it in 1974.  “No. 1 Nation in Sexy Web Searches? Call it Pornistan” notes that Pakistan, an Islamic nation not famous for freedom, is the number-one country in many pornographic searches on Google; I suspected this story was a hoax until I went into Google Trends and checked the claims myself.  “The Muslim Mosque:  A State Within a State” argues that Islam itself qualifies as a state; his might be stretching the meaning of the term somewhat, but lots of citations in basic Islamic literature are brought forward to argue the claim, especially the point that it is a goal of Islam to take over the Earth.  And there is plenty in the way of violence, but I have other things to do today that just blog.

Related to this:  “A political culture gone bad” deals with how not to treat Muslims.

Topic 3:  For today’s religious humor: “Bonus Post: The Most Elusive Of Them All”:

Note that this graph is arguably not accurate on Jesus, but some people really do seem to think of him in these terms.


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