As I was reading this book I felt that having been abroad (which I suspect is what the English refer to as crossing the Channel and visiting the Continent, though here in Australia we refer to leaving the country as going overseas) and in a way I was able to relate to the witches when they ended up leaving their little villages in the Ramtops to go on an adventure to foreign parts and prevent a princess from getting married.
I have found that with many Pratchett books I am not really sure with what I am going to get, though with this one it was more so since because were a lot of jokes in relation to the witches being in a foreign land ('silver plate, what do they mean by silver plate', 'I think it is foreign for please'). I found that lines like that, were Pratchett anglicises, in this case French, to the point that it is unrecognisable added much to the humour because I did actually know what is being said (especially since I don't speak French, but even if I did I doubt I would have picked it up straight away).
Witches Abroad is about fairy tales and tourism (two topics that I did not expect to come together mind you), and it pokes fun at the attitude of Anglo tourists when they travel to foreign lands. Mind you when I travel I generally do my best to attempt the language (then when it comes to Cantonese I much give up since my meagre attempts are so bad that I simply point, smile, and hand over some money – though I can say Tsing Tao – pronounced 'Ching Dao' – which is a brand of beer, though I don't think that counts) as well as respect the culture of the land where I am (though being a white English speaker has a way of undermining that).
Along with the rather amusing anecdotes of the witches, who simply stumble around 'foreign parts' behaving as they would behave back home (though they are witches, meaning that they can get away with it, whereas most Anglo tourists tend to rub foreigners up the wrong was with their insistence that everybody act like an Anglo and speak English – though I am also guilty of this, since when I first arrived in Hong Kong I could not for the life of me find a pub, only to realise that pubs don't actually exist in foreign parts, though this does change once you hit Northern Europe).
Here I am, referring my places outside of Australia as 'Foreign Parts' – I think Terry Pratchett has had an effect upon me.
Well, there is more of a plot than simply the witches wondering around foreign parts because, as I mentioned, the book is also about stories. The closer they get to their goals, the more fairy tales they end up in. Okay, at one point they meet Golum, and put paid to him, but then they also encounter the Three Little Pigs and Little Red Riding Hood. He also could not resist parodying the scene where Dorothy's house lands on top of the Wicked Witch of the East.
For a while I have seen some figures and pictures that look a bit like this:
and while I knew that it was Greebo, I never knew where this came from.
Now I do.
In fact, my favourite part of the book is where Greebo morphs into a human. However, was was really cool was the idea that if an animal morphs into a human does not mean that they suddenly start acting like a human. Okay, this is something that also occurs in Dungeons and Dragons, though Pratchett seems to be a lot more philosophical about it suggesting that even though animals may change physically, they won't change mentally. While they may have the vocal chords of a human, and can actually pronounce words, they will resort back to their basic instincts. For instance Greebo continues to drink milk out of a saucer despite being able to drink it from a glass.
Greebo is also one of my favourite characters, probably because he is the classic psychotic cat. I am glad somebody actually drew a picture of Greebo so that I can get a better understanding of what he looks like. This is probably my favourite rendition:
I guess this suggests that in our relativistic world (I will not say Post-modern since I consider relativism to be an extreme form of post-modernism, and one that is beginning to fall apart leading us into a post-relativistic world) there has to be absolutes. In a way Pratchett may be even poking fun at this idea of relativism, or even change. While things may change (from cat to human, or from derro to corporate executive) their innate character does not change. A person who cannot handle money will be no better with a million dollars than with ten dollars. A cat, no matter what the cat looks like, will still behave like a cat. It does not matter if you change their shape or size.
However, there is also that idea that comes into the fairy godmothers. Lily was 'always the good one' however turned out evil, while Granny Weatherwax was the one that was always punished, and turned out to be the good one. However, one sort of questions this aspect of good because Granny always gets what she wants, while Lily was given everything that she needed, so that she would want for nothing. However, this changes because Lily, used to living in the ideal world, goes out to create the ideal world. In this ideal world people are not happy because they are happy but rather because they are ordered to be happy. For instance the toymaker is executed because he is not 'whistling while he works'. Therefore, the idea of the 'good one' blurs because while one believes that they are good, their actions dictate otherwise.
Once again we see this 'anti-relativism' at work because while the fairy god mother has a label of good, her actions dictate otherwise. It is the same with Greebo: while he may look human he will always be a psychotic cat. In the same sense, whether she is a fairy godmother, and labelled 'the good one' she will always be a spoilt brat who throws tantrums when things do not go the way she expects them to go.