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Equal Rites is the third Discworld novel. This was the first to demonstrate the series was not simply about Rincewind, instead shifting to a new location and a new set of characters. It is the first book in the "witches series", although the setting is only half-formed. Pratchett himself noted later on that the Granny Weatherwax that features here is a much more limited character than the one that appears in fully crafted form by Lords and Ladies.
The plot begins with a dying wizard who wants to bestow his staff and power upon a suitable baby - an eighth son of an eighth son. However, due to some confusion, he does so to the eighth child of an eighth son, who happens to be a girl given the name Eskarina. The book centres around Eskarina being brought up and trained by Granny Weatherwax the witch, and muses on the difference between wizard magic and witch magic (broadly speaking, out of the sky and all mythic grandeur vs. out of the earth and to do with people). After failing to raise her as a witch because of the constant interventions of the sentient staff, Granny decides to take her to Unseen University in Ankh-Morpork to see what the wizards make of her. An up-and-coming (if gangly and clumsy) wizard genius named Simon provides added spin to Esk's quest to figure out just what kind of magic she's part of.
Because of the book's feminist slant and the fact that the name Terry can be unisex, a lot of female authors praised the book while assuming Terry Pratchett was a woman (this was, of course, before he was a near-household name), which is why copies these days usually have his photo on the back.
Equal Rites provides examples of the following tropes:
- Achievements in Ignorance: Esk is able to teleport something without a "counter-weight" because no-one's ever told her this is impossible.
- The Call Left a Message
- Can Not Tell a Lie: The Zoons, a river-trading people who are mostly physically incapable of lying, except for their political leaders who are specially trained and known as Liars. It's noted that the first lie they ever achieved was "Actually, my grandfather is quite tall", and the current Liar attained his position with the bold claim that his grandfather was seventeen feet tall.
- Characterization Marches On: Granny's specific role as The Crone since Witches Abroad shows a serious turn-up in her sterness and turn-down in silliness. Nanny Ogg (sauciness) and Magrat (mystic hippy) have intensified traits of Hilta Goatfounder.
- Continuity Nod
- A rag rug made presumably by her mom or dad (maybe the quilt Granny uses) is mentioned in Granny's will in Lords and Ladies.
- It was thought for a long time that Eskarina was a victim of Chuck Cunningham Syndrome in that she is not mentioned for several dozen books throughout the series, some personalities in the book no longer seem canonical, and a later book even implies a bad fate for several unknown wizards. Then I Shall Wear Midnight came out.
- Cosmic Horror: The Things from the Dungeon Dimensions, subverted in that they are actually quite weak when attacked in their own dimension, being cobbled together out of parts from random creatures.
- Cut Lex Luthor a Check: It's mentioned that highway bandits spend so much time and money setting up ambushing than they would be better off getting a legitimate job.
- Editorial Synaesthesia: When Borrowing (a light form of possession) the minds of different animals, their minds are described in these terms. Predator minds are purple arrowheads, herbivore minds are coiled silver springs, and human minds are complicated silver clouds.
- Empathic Weapon: Esk's staff. The link is strong enough that what one feels, the other feels (First, when the staff is put into the fire. Second, when Esk is in the Dungeon Dimensions).
- Epic Fail: Drum Billet and Mr. Smith committing one of these is what kicks off the book, particularly in the latter's refusal to let Granny get a word in edgewise about Eskarina's gender.
- Feminist Fantasy
- Hey, It's That Voice! (the typeface version): At one point the Things from the Dungeon Dimensions speak in the same block capitals as Death, which can be a bit disconcerting to the reader used to later Discworld books.
Give it to us.
- I Have Brothers
- Lovely Assistant: Referenced, the members of the Guild of Conjurers are accompanied by "sad thin women in spangly tights" (as in The Amazing Bunko and Doris).
- The Mind Is a Plaything of the Body: Played for Nightmare Fuel when Eskarina tries to stay in the body of an eagle for too long. Just read it (or don't), okay? It's hard to describe.
- Readings Are Off the Scale: When Esk is in the Dungeon Dimensions and the staff (standing upright in the river) empathically feels this, it grows impossibly cold, freezing the river -- but the water immediately around the staff is so cold that it actually anti-boils.
- Retcon: Blink and you'll miss it, but this is actually the first book to refer to the leader of Unseen University as the Archchancellor -- in The Light Fantastic Galder Weatherwax was just described as the Chancellor. Later books retconned the Archchancellor title as always being there.
- Shapeshifter Showdown: The duel between Cutangle and Granny, inspired by those in the Arthurian Mythos (and perhaps best known to modern eyes through Disney's The Sword in the Stone) which illustrates the difference between wizard and witch magic, Cutangle turning into powerful things and Granny into more modest things that restrain them through subtlety.
- Shout-Out: The other worlds that the Things are trying to break into include a flat world with a World Tree, another flat world with the Midgard Serpent (also referenced in The Colour of Magic) and a round world which is, of course, implied to be ours.
- The Talk: Averted constantly. Either Esk is dense or really good at faking.
- Talking in Your Dreams
- Un-Equal Rites: Trope Namer.
- Watch Out for That Tree: Granny imposes this trope on a hungry bear, making it walk headfirst into a tree and knock itself out.
- Women Are Wiser: Granny Weatherwax thinks Witch magic is better. Her characterization implies that she believes women to be more "in tune" than men (a wizard wouldn't "borrow" a creature because it simply wouldn't occur to him to ask nicely and share rather than sneak in and dominate), suggesting she has a less than stellar opinion of men in general.
- World Tree: A brief reference to another planet that has this.