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Strong Female Characters: Granny Weatherwax

HOLD UP A SECOND GUYS. Just so you know, there’s now a page where you can easily access all of my ‘Strong Female Characters’ posts and compare their scores. It’s here; don’t say I never did anything nice for you. Now – blogging time!

For those of you that don’t know, Granny Weatherwax is one of the principal characters in Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series. A very powerful witch, (some of) the novels cover her various attempts to knock some sense into everyone she comes across, whether they’re kings, trolls or murderous elves trying to brainwash and enslave an entire country. Appearing in almost a dozen novels, she’s become one of Pratchett’s most popular characters – and her books pretty much defined my adolescence.

But does she live up to her reputation? Let’s find out – but watch out for spoilers!

 

  1. Does the character shape her own destiny? Does she actively try to change her situation and if not, why not?

Granny Weatherwax is very firmly in control of her own destiny, and makes it her business to be in control of everyone else’s, too. Aside from being thoroughly involved in both the political life of her homeland, Lancre, and in the personal lives of her neighbours, she’s also one of the most powerful characters in the entire Discworld series (with the possible exception of Death), so she’s more than capable of making an impact.

SCORE SO FAR: 1

 

  1. Does she have her own goals, beliefs and hobbies? Did she come up with them on her own?

Granny Weatherwax has a very firm sense of right and wrong, which largely stems from an awareness of the prejudices around witches, the temptation to use her considerable powers, and watching her sister’s questionable activities while she was growing up. Her goals vary between each book, but she can be broadly described as always wanting to protect the kingdom of Lancre and its inhabitants, both from outside threats and their own stupidity. As far as her hobbies go, they do tend to overlap with her goals a little – she’s very good at slipping into the minds of animals and looking through their eyes, a practice she calls Borrowing.

Which, I imagine, looks something like this. (image: buzzfeed.com)
Which, I imagine, looks something like this. (image: buzzfeed.com)

This is a skill she has an interest in maintaining, as she often uses it both as a form of surveillance and to defeat various supernatural entities, and the same can be said of many of her other pastimes. However, she has been shown to be an adept player of a card game called Cripple Mr. Onion, and her beliefs and goals are very much her own, so she passes this round.

SCORE SO FAR: 2

 

  1. Is her character consistent? Do her personality or skills change as the plot demands?

Throughout most of the books, Granny Weatherwax is consistently rude to almost everyone she meets, which is actually very refreshing. Her acerbic personality remains a feature of the books, but so does her willingness to help and protect people. Her skills are also consistent – not only is she always acknowledged to be one of the most powerful characters in the series, she also demonstrates a constantly crafty way of looking at things that frequently gives her the edge over her enemies.

SCORE SO FAR: 3

 

  1. Can you describe her in one short sentence without mentioning her love life, her physical appearance, or the words ‘strong female character’?

A powerful witch who has devoted her life to protecting her country, her friends and anyone else who happens to have annoyed a supernatural entity.

SCORE SO FAR: 4

 

  1. Does she make decisions that aren’t influenced by her love life?

Granny doesn’t have a love life.

Can't imagine why. (image: wikipedia.org)
Can’t imagine why. (image: wikipedia.org)

It’s implied she had a brief romance in her youth with Mustrum Ridcully, but this never amounted to anything. The two reconnected in Lords and Ladies, and she still keeps all his old love letters, but this is a very minor sub-plot which is only really used to illustrate her character further. Her decisions are usually influenced by her need to do what she sees as Right (with a capital R) and to protect anyone who needs protecting.

SCORE SO FAR: 5

 

  1. Does she develop over the course of the story?

Granny’s character remains pretty constant over the course of her appearances in the Discworld novels, but there are subtle changes that take place as the books progress. Over the course of the books, she opens up a little – but only to a select few characters that she has deemed worthy. One of the most crucial developments is her taking on a more active role in teaching the younger witches – most notably Tiffany Aching, with whom she forms a very strong bond. I mean, Tiffany gives her a kitten – how could you not be friends after that?

SCORE SO FAR: 6

 

  1. Does she have a weakness?

Granny actually has several negative character traits that operate on different levels. On the surface, she is short-tempered, acerbic, and seems to have little regard for other people’s feelings, and this can often make her relationships with friends a little prickly. She also has a tendency to be so introspective that she can read much more into a situation than there really is, and this, combined with her awareness of clichés – which she often uses as an indicator of what ‘ought’ to be, particularly in matters of witchcraft – often causes a lot of problems for her.

However, one of her most interesting weaknesses is her constant temptation to over-use her power. She knows full well that she is a very powerful witch – in one book, she uses her abilities to freeze a country in time for fifteen years – and all throughout the books, she has to struggle against the temptation to fix her problems with magic. This may seem unusual for a witch, but Granny is very aware that if she gives in too often, she won’t just be fixing her problems with magic, she’ll end up fixing other people. This is a fascinating weakness that sheds so much light on her character, and it’s also one that is very rarely found in female characters.

SCORE SO FAR: 7

 

  1. Does she influence the plot without getting captured or killed?

In the novels that give her a main role, she drives the plot forward through her own investigations and actions. When she’s a member of the supporting cast, she’s still an active player, often acting as a source of advice (or exasperation) for the main character. Either way, she drives the plot forward without getting captured or killed in the process.

SCORE SO FAR: 8

 

  1. How does she relate to stereotypes about gender?

Granny pretty much smashes a lot of stereotypes about gender. She’s an old woman – her age is never explicitly stated, but most readers reckon she’s probably in her seventies – but she is consistently shown to be one of the most powerful characters in the series and a regular defender of her country. This goes against all the tropes that make up the ‘little old lady’ – she’s about as far away from this particular stereotype as it’s possible to get. She is by no means weak or frail in any sense of the words; the woman has a glare that makes bears run for cover.

They learned quickly. (image: adventure-journal.com)
They learned quickly. (image: adventure-journal.com)

This, combined with her total lack of love life – aside from her brief fling with Ridcully, she’s never had a romantic partner – and the level of political influence she has, means that she pretty much smashes every age- and gender-related stereotype right out of the park.

SCORE SO FAR: 9

 

  1. How does she relate to other female characters?

Granny has a wide range of relationships with a wide range of characters. She has a hilarious friendship with Nanny Ogg, looks down on Magrat and Agnes in a vaguely friendly way, forms a spiky friendship with Tiffany Aching, outright despises the Queen of the Elves and has a very complex relationship with her sister, Lily, that’s a mix of rivalry, jealousy, hatred and the last traces of sisterly love. And that’s only her most important relationships – throughout the series she comes into contact with a range of female characters and reacts to each one differently. She passes this round with flying colours.

FINAL SCORE: 10/10

 

Congratulations, Terry Pratchett! Granny is the only female character I’ve looked at so far that has completely aced my test, and it’s not difficult to see why. She’s a well-rounded character with a host of strengths and weaknesses, is totally independent of gender (and age) stereotypes, has a range of relationships with a range of female characters, and is very firmly in control of her progression through the story. She displays a level of depth and intricacy that’s not often seen in female characters and it’s just WONDERFUL.

Next week, I’ll be looking at the Divergence trilogy. Tris, I’m coming for you.

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