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Fun addition to the franchise
on January 22, 2009
There have been quite a few spin-off books from Pratchett's Discworld series in the years that he's been doing them. Various maps, the Science of Discworld books, plays, films and now this. And I think we can all agree that spin-offs are never quite as good as the original.
Oh sure, there are laughs to be had - it is Nanny Ogg, after all. If you don't know who she is, then you need to go through a few of the books in the Witches track of the Discworld series. If you don't have time for that, then let me sum it up for you.
In the mountaintop village of Lancre, people still do things in the old ways. They have no real need for modern contrivances or newfangled ideas or, well, change. So in that way, they still see the need for witches where the rest of the world has decided that they're really nothing but interfering old biddies. Of course, they would never say so to their faces....
Lancre is the home to three witches. At least, there used to be three. One of them decided to trade it in to be a queen, leaving the elder witches to look after Lancre on their own. Granny Weatherwax is the elder of the two witches, and she is everything you expect in a witch. She's hard as nails, brooks no nonsense, and is the scariest thing in the mountains. She lives alone in her isolated shack, and takes great pride in people knowing that she was one of those people who didn't care what people thought.
At her side is the more amiable, but no less powerful, Nanny Ogg. She's usually described as having a face like an apple left in the sun for too long. Unlike Granny, she's a matriarch, the head of a vast family of Oggs, and lives among the people. She has an infectious laugh, chats on and on, and is always ready to try new things.
So, of the two, Nanny Ogg is the one who would naturally want to write a book.
It's a cookbook, certainly, and contains a great many recipes. I may try some of them sometime, actually, as they are real recipes. The fictitious publishers take great pains to remind us that many of the original ingredients are either inedible or offensive, so while the dishes contained therein many not be authentic, they at least will probably not cause you any discomfort. The recipe I am most eager to try out is Mrs. Whitlow's Artery-Hardening Hogswatch Pie, although the Patrician's recipe for bread and water is tempting, as is Leonard of Quirm's method of making a cheese sandwich.
There is a back half of the book as well, dealing mostly in the realm of etiquette and proper behavior. It's very amusing, and covers every situation from weddings to birth to death to visitations by semi-sentient scarecrows. What you really take away from it is that you should certainly be polite to everyone, and you should be especially polite to any witches you might come across. If you know what's good for you, anyway.
I will be the first to admit that I'm a huge fan of Pratchett and his Discworld, but there are bigger fans than myself, and it is really for those people that this book was written. For some readers, the original books will never be enough, and they will clamor for any additional content to make the world they love more real. Thus things like the Harry Potter spin-off books, the Dark Tower companion books, and the various additional Discworld texts. If the original books were deficient in some way, if they added extra depth and substance to the characters, then I would collect them all.
But this book doesn't really add anything to the Discworld because that world is already vivid and deep, a living world that the novels have brought to life over the last 25 years. I don't need a recipe book to tell me more about Nanny Ogg, and this recipe book doesn't tell me anything about Nanny Ogg - or any other Discworld characters - that I didn't already know.
This book is an entertaining gimmick, and I hope that the rabid fans who love this kind of thing have found it to be the kind of thing that they like, to paraphrase Lincoln. But it doesn't inspire me to buy any more non-novel Discworld books. But that's just me.