Girl Wizards and Boy Witches: Gender in Terry Pratchett's Discworld Novels

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Far from being wishful escapism, the Fantasy genre offers a its audience a conscious distance from reality from which they might critique the norms and hegemonic ideologies of contemporary reality. This potential has been identified as “cognitive estrangement” by Darko Suvin, who applies it to Science Fiction. This article extends Suvin’s argument to the related but consensually distinct genre of Fantasy, which I argue is particularly well-placed to explore the historical and ontological instability of gender. Fantasy, especially secondary world Fantasy, brings about estrangement by excavating the insidious mechanisms through which metanarratives such as gender come about.

This paper examines two of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels: Equal Rites (1987), which is about Eskarina Smith, a female wizard, and The Shepherd’s Crown (2015), which features Geoffrey Swivel, a male witch. Both novels are highly satirical takes on the pre-existing trope of gendered magic and undermine the processes through which these tropes are reproduced within the secondary world of the novel and at the broader level of what Pratchett identifies as the “consensus fantasy universe.” Drawing upon Judith Butler’s notion of the ontological instability of sex, a queer reading of these texts demonstrates the multitude of ways in which Fantasy can be a highly effective medium of exploring queer experience, deconstructing gender, and critiquing fixed notions of embodiment.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)97-110
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2023

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