Maskerade by Terry Pratchett

published 1995

[Two witches are visiting a dress shop in Ankh-Morpork, prior to a visit to the opera]

‘My friend here wants a new dress,’ said the dumpier of the two. ‘One of the nobby ones with a train and a padded bum.’

‘In black,’ said the thin one.

‘And we wants all the trimmings,’ said the dumpy one. 
‘Little handbag onna string, pair of glasses onna stick, the whole thing.’ 

Madame Dawning [said] ‘This is rather a select dress shop.’

‘That’s why we’re here. We don’t want rubbish. My name’s Nanny Ogg and this here is … Lady Esmerelda Weatherwax.’…

The dress was black. At least, in theory it was black. It was black in the same way that a starling’s wing is black. It was black silk, with jet beads and sequins. It was black on holiday.

‘It looks about my size. We’ll take it… And now we’ll go back into the shop and have a poke around for the other stuff,’ said Lady Esmerelda. ‘I fancy ostrich feathers myself. And one of those big cloaks the ladies wear. And one of those fans edged with lace.’

‘Why don’t we get some great big diamonds while we’re about it?’ said Nanny Ogg sharply.

‘Good idea.’

[This 2nd picture would have been an ideal illustration for Granny Weatherwax if it hadn’t already been used on the blog to stand in for Molly Bloom (quite the classical singer herself) in Joyce’s Ulysses.]

observations: It would take a long time to explain what Nanny Ogg and Granny Weatherwax are planning at the opera tonight: the best thing is to read the book. In this entry on another of his books, we explain why Terry Pratchett is so good, and so worth reading.

Maskerade is a wide-ranging satirical take on opera, musical theatre (particularly Phantom of the Opera), and ballet dancers (‘half a dozen of the[m] sharing a stick of celery and giggling…they’re all half-crazed with hunger’). The operas are called Lohenshaak and La Triviata, and the splendid jokes and sharp remarks keep coming and coming.

The two witches want to travel by coach:
‘Have you got any special low terms for witches?’

‘Yeah, how about “meddling, interfering old baggages”?’

In a nice touch, Nanny Ogg has a witch’s hat that performs like an opera hat:
She pulled out a flat, round black shape and banged it against her arm. The point shot out. After a few adjustments her official hat was almost as good as new.
There’s a mystery to be solved, and it’s not bad, with a touch of GK Chesterton’s Fr Brown (‘…to be seen and not noticed…’) and a funny bit about recognizing the Ghost: ‘Good grief! You can recognize him because he’s got a mask on?’

The top picture (from the Library of Congress) is of opera singer Anna Fitziu – in fact Granny Weatherwax needs to look like an opera patron, someone who will make a donation, but the clothes look right.

Links on the blog: Pratchett looks at equally serious and important entertainers in the clowns’ funeral scene in Men at Arms. Real-life opera singers (though possibly not less extraordinary than TP’s) here and here. Plenty of other witches - Eastwick, Christie, Halloween, Pendle...


  1. I think your choice of Ms. Fitziu is just fine. She is in mufti, so to speak, rather than dressed for a role and she was one of the people who set the fashions that the patrons would have aspired to.

  2. Thanks Ken - she's gorgeous isn't she? I hope your saw the shoutout you got in Sunday's entry....

  3. Moira - I love the wit you've shared just in that little bit. It sounds like a terrific read with a nice bit of satire in it. And that description 'black on holiday' is especially good.

  4. This was very funny. First photo sooo beautiful.

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  6. You have convinced me to try some Pratchett. I have been experimenting with Sci Fi and Fantasy. My son may have some to sample, and we plan to check out the Sci Fi / Fantasy section at a big book sale in September. My son is no longer a teenager but he is my fantasy source... although he is much more hardcore.

  7. Tracy, I hope you will like him. As I explained in an earlier blog entry, I resisted him for a long time, assuming it wasn't my kind of thing, and it was my teenage son who pushed me to read him - for which I am very grateful.


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