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By the Strength of Their Enemies: The Virtue of the Stereotypical Antagonist in Terry Pratchett's 'Witches' Novels

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posted on 2021-04-06, 21:44 authored by Catherine Joule

The comic fantasy Discworld novels of Terry Pratchett (1948-2015) are marked by their clear and insightful approaches to complex ethical issues. This has been noted in academic approaches from the beginning, with Farah Mendlesohn’s chapter “Faith and Ethics” appearing in the early collection Terry Pratchett: Guilty of Literature (2000) and many others since touching on the issues Pratchett raises. However, this thesis’s investigation into the use of stereotypes in characterisation and development of the antagonist figures within the Discworld novels breaks new ground in mapping the course of Pratchett’s approaches across six Discworld novels.

This argument will focus on the ‘Witches’ sequence of novels: Equal Rites (1987), Wyrd Sisters (1988), Witches Abroad (1991), Lords and Ladies (1992), Maskerade (1995), and Carpe Jugulum (1998). Unlike other sequences in the Discworld series, these novels have a strong metatextual focus on the structural components of narrative. In this context, stereotypes facilitate both the humour and the moral arguments of these novels. Signifiers of stereotypes invoke expectations which are as often thwarted as they are fulfilled and, while resulting in humour, this process also reflects on the place of the individual within the community, the nature of right and wrong, and how we as people control the narratives which define our lives and ourselves. In closely examining the role of antagonists in the development of an ethical thread through the sequence, I argue that the careful use of stereotypes in these texts serves as a key shorthand in engaging the reader in the philosophical bent of the novels.


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Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Author Retains Copyright

Degree Discipline

English Literature

Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Doctor of Philosophy

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Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Doctoral Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of English, Film, Theatre, Media Studies and Art History


Miles, Geoff; Ricketts, Harry