Once Upon a Time…The Stories of Witches Abroad

Ach, there be three hags here allus. Whut c’n sich a storey be aboot?

Yes…Once upon a time….

That’s how all the best stories start. This story, Witches Abroad, didn’t quite start that way, but it came close. In the first three pages of the book*, Terry used the phrase no less than three times.

Sir Terry also explains, “Stories exist independently of their players. If you know that, the knowledge is power.”

That is the whole premise of Witches Abroad. In my brief story about that story, I’ll show you all the referenced stories I can find and identify that Terry put into his novel.

Witches Abroad

Some are referred to many times. Others only once (upon a time).** I’ll list them in what follows basically in chronological order. I’ll even cite the page number* in case you want to see them in context.

So, off we go to a galaxy far, far away…No, sorry (again, see 2nd footnote**), wrong story.

Or is it?

Setting Up the Stories

According to Desiderata Hollow, “Godmothers go in twos, you know.” Desiderata was a special kind of godmother – a fairy godmother. The other one of the pair was Lily (aka Lilith, with all that that name entails) Weatherwax (aka de Tempscire, French for weather-wax). If that last name sounds familiar, it’s because Lily is Esme’s sister.

But Desiderata’s time has come…to an end, that is. Just before her visit from Death, she bequeaths her white fairy-godmothering wand to Magrat Garlick, cohort of Esme Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg.


It is these last three who confront Lily in Genua during the Fat Lunchtime carnival. On their way from the Lancre area to Genua (which takes about half of this novel), the trio encounters several of the stories that I’ll describe next.

The Passing of the Wand

Desiderata didn’t have time to physically hand her wand to Magrat before she died. She used an intermediary, Albert Hurker, who took a wrapped parcel and a note from Desiderata’s cottage to Magrat.

Before this happened, there were hints about a story but nothing specific. In the note that was passed to Magrat, Desiderata said, “Ella Saturday muste NOTTE marry the prins. PS This is importent.” [page 30]

If that’s not a story reference, I don’t know what is. The problem is that, at this point, it’s still quite general and could therefore refer to several stories. And that’s okay. I think Terry intended this to encompass all stories that involve young lasses and princes and their nuptials.

Red Is the Color of My True Love’s…Boots?

“Nanny raised the hem of her skirt. She was wearing new boots. … As boots, the only thing wrong with them was the color. ‘Red?’ said Granny. ‘That’s no color for a witch’s boots!’” [page 39]

The first time I read that passage, I didn’t think much of it. After all, Nanny is a bit of an eccentric character. Why shouldn’t she get red boots?

But when something involving a falling house happens later, this setup for that event is obvious. You can see it coming from miles away – or possibly miles below.

Setting Out, Perhaps in the Wrong Direction

Magrat has studied Desiderata’s maps, but that doesn’t help much in the real Discworld because Granny won’t let her fly high enough (on her broomstick) to see the true lay of the land. She leads them into the Ramtop mountains where they discover dwarfs soon enough.

I’m not sure if Terry intended this to be a story or not, but he takes the trio into the hall of a mountain King (of the Dwarfs). In any case, these items are all specifically mentioned: a hall, a mountain, and a King. Coincidence? [pages 44-45]

The witches leave the dwarves by boat, travelling along a river that will take them out of the mountain and hopefully head them in the direction of Genua.

Shortly after they get underway, they hear someone following them in another craft.

“Two pale glows appeared at the edge of the lamplight. Eventually they turned out to be the eyes of a small grey creature, vaguely froglike, paddling towards them on a log.

“It reached the boat. Long clammy fingers grabbed the side, and a lugubrious face rose lever with Nanny Ogg’s.

“‘’ullo,’ it said. ‘It’sss my birthday.’

“All three of them stared at it for a while. Then Granny Weatherwax picked up an oar and hit it firmly over the head. There was a splash, and a distant cursing.” [page 51]

A preciousss story reference that is.

The Power of Three

Next we switch scenes to where Lily is spying on the witches. Thinking of her sister Esme in particular…

“Of course, there was her. After all this time…

“Of course. She approved of that. Because there would have to be three of them. Three was an important number for stories. Three wishes, three princes, three billy goats, three guesses…three witches. The maiden, the mother and the…other one. That was one of the oldest stories of all.” [page 55]

As you can see, there are several very specific story references among Lily’s thoughts there. In case you’re unfamiliar with that last open-ended one, it speaks of the maiden, the mother, and the crone. Esme is never directly associated with the crone, but the implication is there more than once. (Magrat would be the maiden, and Nanny would be the mother.)

Duc, Duc, Frog

Immediately after we listen in on Lily’s thoughts we are introduced to the Duc.

The first question that pops into your mind upon seeing mention of this character is this: How do you pronounce “Duc”? Is it “duke” or “duck” or something in between?

Later, we learn that it sounds a lot more like “duck” than anything else. So go with that thought in your ears and mind.

The real point here is the hints we get as to whom this Duc really is. He’s been promised a girl through Lily’s power. “‘And then it’ll be all over and I can sleep in a real bed and I won’t need any more reflecting magic…’” he says.

“‘Just one kiss, you said.’”

“He was trembling partly out of lust, mainly out of terror, and slightly out of heredity.”

“Lilith was proud of the Duc. Of course, there was his embarrassing nocturnal problem, because his morphic field weakened when he slept….”

“She couldn’t do anything about the eyes. … All she had been able to come up with there were the smoked glasses.”

“She’d been good for him. She’d made a man of him, for a start.” [pages 56-57]

You have to take that last line literally.

Since this one may still be a little cloudy, I’ll tell you that later we learn his room in the palace swarmed with flies and that it contained a (covered) pond in which he slept at night.

Into the Woods

Following a wet mishap on the river, the witches flew over a forest that contained a number of castles and a few small villages.

“It was the kind of landscape that had a particular type of story attached to it, featuring wolves and garlic and frightened women. A dark and thirsty story, a story that flapped wings against the moon….” [page 59]

The witches eventually land in one of these villages and stay the night at an inn. The villagers all seem rather terrified – and not of the witches.

There is a fourth member of this little band that I haven’t mentioned yet. It’s Greebo, Nanny Ogg’s fearless (to put it mildly) cat. In the middle of the night, Greebo discovers a bat on the ground who is trying to become airborne again after being knocked down twice unwittingly by the witches. Eventually Greebo kills and eats the bat.


The next morning the villagers are overjoyed. They will no longer be terrorized by the (former) inhabitant of the nearby castle. Greebo had unwittingly seen to that.

An Aside: The Thing with the Bulls

This isn’t really about a story, as such, but I can’t resist mentioning the witches’ encounter with The Bulls in a small town that’s apparently the roundworld equivalent of Pamplona.

Read the book to get all the details from Lagro te Kabona. Suffice it to say for now that Granny smacked the lead Bull between the eyes, which caused Nanny to fall backwards off her chair laughing, while Magrat started flapping at them (the Bulls) as if they were ducks. Magrat later took the rosette off the lead Bull.

The Thing with the Bulls never happened again.

Paddling down (the) Vieux River

Look up the translation of “Vieux” to see why I put “the” in parentheses. It really does make sense to leave it out.

Traveling down this river isn’t a story in and of itself, unless you count Huckleberry Finn. But there’s no other reference to him that I could find.

The point here is that this old river leads to Genua which is the Discworld counterpart of New Orleans – Mardi Gras, Fat Lunchtime, Samedi Nuit Morte, voodoo, and all.

On this part of their journey, Granny reads some of Desiderata’s memoires in which she mentions that L. wants to make Genua a “Magic Kingdom”. This isn’t a story either but it makes you think about that place where everything is story-like.

Spinnin’ Wheel Got to Go…Out

After an interesting game of Cripple Mr. Onion on the riverboat, the witches find their way to another castle…or something like one. Here they find everyone in suspended animation; that is, basically magically asleep – and they had been in that state for 10 years.

A spinning wheel and a pricked finger seemed to be the cause. Nanny tossed the spinning wheel out the window, and Granny muttered a few words to the sleeping…okay…beauty. After she awoke, so did everyone else.

Since the girl mistook Esme for Lily, Granny didn’t want to stick around. [pages 99-102]

My, What Big…You Have!

The three witches made it to another forest. This time they decided to walk for a while. Soon they met a little girl in a red cloak. (The hood isn’t mentioned but implied.) She is taking a basket of goodies to her bed-bound grandmother. Her mother has told her to beware wolves and wicked witches.

While Magrat keeps the girl busy, Granny and Nanny head to the cottage, put the grandmother safely upstairs, and clobber the wolf when he enters. Sadly, the wolf had been made to think it is both a wolf and a human at the same time. Granny had a local woodcutter put it out of its misery. She also convinced all the local woodcutters to help the grandmother live in much better conditions than previously. Granny can be very convincing. [pages 104ff]

Before they left the scene, Magrat learned from one of the woodcutters that more animals besides the wolf had been acting rather human-like too. A family of bears was living in a cottage of their own. And three pigs had built rather poorly constructed houses and had been eaten by a wolf.

Follow, Follow, Follow, Follow…Follow the Yellow Bricks

Soon the trio found a sign that pointed to Genua, so they knew they were on the right path again. The path here was made of yellow bricks.

“‘So we’ll walk then, eh?’ she [Nanny] said, and added,…’Singing as we go, how about it?’”

They walked but didn’t sing. Though the following conversation did occur.

“‘What some people need,’ said Magrat, to the world in general, ‘is a bit more heart.’

“‘What some people need,’ said Granny Weatherwax, to the stormy sky, ‘is a lot more brain.’”

Three minutes later the farmhouse (that I foreshadowed above) dropped on Nanny Ogg’s head. Granny and Magrat managed to get inside to find Nanny still alive. Her reinforced hat had saved her.

Dwarves appeared outside, knocked at the door, and asked if the old witch was dead. To which Magrat replied, “Which old witch?”

The dwarves were hoping to get the witch’s ruby-colored boots. (See, this is why I mentioned them earlier.) They weren’t exactly certain why. They only felt they had to get them and then sing the Ding-dong song. Granny convinced them to take the dwarf bread they had gotten from the hall of the mountain dwarves instead. They were more than happy with the substitution. [pages 121ff]

In Genua at Last

I think those are the main stories – other than the big one in Genua itself – that the witches had to deal with. If you think I’ve missed any, let me know so I can add them to the narrativium here.

What Lilith had been working on in Genua was a story involving a young lady named Emberella. She was supposed to go to a ball, kiss a prins (the Duc), probably lose a glass slipper, and eventually live “happily” ever after.

Granny, Nanny, and Magrat made sure it didn’t happen that way. Thank goodness.

As they left Genua…

“Nanny kicked her red boots together idly. ‘Well, I suppose there’s no place like home,’ she said.

“‘No,’ said Granny Weatherwax, still looking thoughtful. ‘No. There’s a billion places like home. But only one of ‘em’s where you live.’”

Thank you, Sir, for making this end to it.

= = =

*ROC 1991 hardcover edition.

**Sorry, it had to be said.

Once Upon a Time...The Stories of Witches Abroad
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Once Upon a Time...The Stories of Witches Abroad
A summary of the stories found in the novel Witches Abroad.
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Narrativium Reviews
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