A central theme of this book (as well as of the other Discworld witch novels) is the contrast between on one side the (female) witches or wiccans, who are in touch with nature, herbs and headology, and on the other side the (male) wizards who are very ceremonial and use elaborate, mathematics-like tools and rituals. This conflict rather closely mirrors a long-standing feud between occult practitioners in our real world. (And all the infighting within each camp occurs in real life, as well.)
My source for this also mentions that Pratchett’s witches, especially, are obvious stereotypes of the kinds of people one can run into at wiccan festivals.
“Only dumb redheads in Fifties’ sitcoms are wacky.”
Refers to Lucille Ball from I Love Lucy fame.
One of my correspondents recalls that he interviewed Terry in 1987 for a university magazine. In that interview Terry said that one thing which had tickled him about Josh Kirby’s artwork for the Equal Rites cover was that it subliminally (accidentally?) reflected the Freudian overtones of the book (references to “hot dreams”, the angst of adolescence, things that might be called “magic” envy)... Kirby’s artwork “coincidentally” draws Esk with the broom handle where a penis would be (traditionally supposed to be the basis of the “witches flying around on broomsticks” myth).
Kirby caricatures himself as the pointy-eared wizard on the back cover— anyone who has seen his picture in The Josh Kirby Posterbook can confirm this.
- [p. -/5] “Thanks to Neil Gaiman, who loaned us the last surviving copy of the Liber Paginarum Fulvarum, [...]”
Neil Gaiman is the author of the acclaimed Sandman comics series, as well as the co-author with Terry of Good Omens.
Liber Paginarum Fulvarum is a dog-Latin title that translates to Book of Yellow Pages, i.e. not the Book of the Dead, but rather the Phonebook of the Dead. The book appears in Good Omens as well as in Sandman, where it is used in an attempt to summon Death (although the colourist didn’t get the joke and simply coloured the pages brown). Terry said (when questioned about it in a Good Omens context):
“Liber Paginarum Fulvarum is a kind of shared gag. It’s in the dedication of Equal Rites, too. Although I think we’ve got the shade of yellow wrong—I think there’s another Latin word for a kind of yellow which is closer to the Yellow Pages colour.”
The other word for yellow Terry is thinking of may possibly be ‘gilvus’, or ‘croceus’, or ‘luteus’.
- [p. 8/10] “[...] up here in the Ramtop Mountains [...]”
RAMTOP was the name of a system variable in the old Sinclair Spectrum computers.
- [p. 45/45] “I’ve seen the thundergods a few times,’ said Granny, ‘and Hoki, of course.”
The name Hoki derives from ‘hokey’ in combination with the Norse god Loki. The description of Hoki is pure Pan, however.
- [p. 73/73] “According to the standard poetic instructions one should move through a fair like the white swan at evening moves o’er the bay, [...]”
These instructions stem in fact from a folk song called ‘She Moved Through the Fair’, which has been recorded by (amongst others) Fairport Convention, Van Morrison and All About Eve:
And she stepped away from me and this she did say,
‘It will not be long now till our wedding day’
She stepped away from me and she moved through the fair
And fondly I watched her move here and move there
And she made her way homeward with one star awake
As the swan in the evening moves over the lake”
- [p. 79/79] “Gypsies always come here for the fair, [...]”
Someone on alt.fan.pratchett pointed out that in our world, Gypsies were named because people thought they were Egyptians. Since the Discworld equivalent of Egypt is Djelibeybi, shouldn’t Hilta Goatfounder have been talking about, say, ‘Jellybabes’? Terry answered:
“Okay. Almost every word in the English language has a whole slew of historic associations. People on the Disc can’t possibly speak ‘English’ but I have to write in English. Some carefully-positioned ‘translations’ like ‘It’s all Klatchian to me’ can work, but if I went the whole hog and ‘discworlded’ every name and term, then the books would be even more impenetrable and would probably only be read by people who like learning Klingon. I do my best—French fries can’t exist on Discworld, for example—but I think ‘gypsies’ is allowable.”
- [p. 80/79] “If broomsticks were cars, this one would be a split-window Morris Minor.”
A Morris Minor is a British car that non-Brits might be familiar with either through the video clip for Madness’ song ‘Driving in my car’, or through the TV series Lovejoy. In that series, Lovejoy’s car ‘Miriam’ is a Morris Minor. For the rest of you, here’s a description:
Imagine a curvaceous jelly-mould in the shape of a crouching rabbit, like Granny used to use. Turn it open-side-down and fit four wheels, near the corners. On the rabbit’s back build a cabin, with picture windows and a windscreen in two parts at an angle to each other. Add turn indicators consisting of little arms which flip out of the body at roof level, just behind the doors. Furnish the cabin in a post-War austerity style, and power the result with a 1935 vintage 850cc straight four engine pulling about 30bhp. In its day, in 1948, this was the height of desirability— so much so that for its first few years it was only available for export.
Even in the Nineties, a fair number of Moggies are still going, er, strong. You can actually pay a couple of thousand pounds for a good one which works, because they’re so easy to maintain. And the split-screen ones are very definitely collectors’ items.
- [p. 111/109] “Bel-Shamharoth, C’hulagen, the Insider—the hideous old dark gods of the Necrotelicomnicom, [...]”
The Necrotelicomnicom is another reference to the Phonebook of the Dead (see the annotation for the dedication of Equal Rites), but is also a pun on the evil book of the dead Necronomicon, used by H. P. Lovecraft in his Cthulhu stories.
Bel-Shamharoth is an Elder God of the Discworld we already met in ‘The Sending of Eight’ in The Colour of Magic. C’hulagen is obviously made up out of the same ingredients as C’thulhu, and the Insider refers to the unnamed narrator of Lovecraft’s The Outsider.
- [p. 119/117] “The lodgings were [...] next to the [...] premises of a respectable dealer in stolen property because, as Granny had heard, good fences make good neighbours.”
Terry’s having fun with a familiar saying that originated with Robert Frost’s poem Mending a Wall:
“Mrs Palm(er) and her daughters” is a euphemism for male masturbation.
- [p. 122/120] “Yes, that’s it,’ said Treatle. ‘Alma mater, gaudy armours eagle tour and so on.”
Treatle refers here to the old student’s (drinking) song ‘Gaudeamus Igitur’, written in 1781 by Christian Wilhelm Kindleben, a priest in Leipzig who got kicked out because of his student songs. The song is still in use at many universities and schools, where it gets sung during graduation ceremonies. The actual lyrics are:
“Gaudeamus igitur, iuvenes dum sumus.
Post iucundam iuventutem,
Post molestam senectutem,
Nos habebit humus, nos habebit humus.”
Which roughly translates to:
“Let us be merry, therefore, whilst we are young men.
After the joys of youth,
After the pain of old age,
The ground will have us, the ground will have us.”
- [p. 132/130] The maid at Unseen University is called Ksandra, which puns on Troy’s Cassandra; but might also refer to Sandra being yet another typical ‘Tracey/Sharon’ sort of name in England. See also the entry for p. 106/95 of Reaper Man.
Perhaps the fact that nobody can understand Ksandra (because she talks with her mouth full of clothes-pegs) is also an obscure reference to the classical Cassandra, daughter of Priam of Troy, whom the Gods gave the gift of prophecy and the curse of no-one believing a word she said.
- [p. 133/130] “Hmm. Granpone the White. He’s going to be Granpone the Grey if he doesn’t take better care of his laundry.”
You really have to read Tolkien in order to understand why this is so funny. Sure, I can explain that in the The Lord of the Rings a big deal is made of the transformation of wizards from one ‘colour’ to another (and in particular Gandalf the Grey becoming Gandalf the White), but that just doesn’t do justice to the real atmosphere of the thing.
- [p. 143/141] “[...] the Creator hadn’t really decided what he wanted and was, as it were, just idly messing around with the Pleistocene.”
Refers to the Pleistocene geological era (a few dozen million years or so ago), but also to Plasticine, a brand name that has become (at least in Britain, Australia and New Zealand) a generic name for the modeling clay children play with.
- [p. 163/159] Some folks thought they recognised the duel between Granny Weatherwax and Archchancellor Cutangle from T. H. White’s description of a similar duel in his Arthur, The Once and Future King (also depicted as a very funny fragment in Disney’s The Sword in the Stone, which was an animation film based on this book). However, Terry says:
“The magical duel in Equal Rites is certainly not lifted from T. H. White. Beware of secondary sources. Said duel (usually between a man and a woman, and often with nice Freudian touches to the things they turn into) has a much longer history; folkies out there will probably know it as the song ‘The Two Magicians’.”
- [p. 176/172] “Million-to-one chances,’ she said, ‘crop up nine times out of ten.”
The first mention of this particular running gag in the Discworld canon (to be featured most prominently in Guards! Guards!).
It is not quite the earliest appearance in Terry’s work, though: he also uses it on p. 46/55 of The Dark Side of the Sun.
- [p. 188/184] “[...] which by comparison made Gormenghast look like a toolshed on a railway allotment.”
Gormenghast is the ancient, decaying castle from Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast trilogy. See also the annotation for p. 17/17 of Pyramids.
- [p. 202/197] “Like “red sky at night, the city’s alight”,’ said Cutangle.”
Plays on the folk saying: “Red sky at night, shepherd’s delight. Red sky in the morning, shepherd’s warning”.