Two witches — Nanny Ogg and Agnes Nitt — don’t like the family of oh-so-courteous vampires who have decided to visit the small nation of Lancre in a mountainous area of Discworld.
In their snooping around, they’ve come across the family’s carriage emblazoned with their crest, a couple of black and white magpies and some words.
“Carpe Jugulum,” Agnes reads loud. “That’s…well, Carpe Diem is ‘Seize the Day,’ so this means —”
“ ‘Go for the Throat,’ ” said Nanny.
Ah, so these are those kind of vampires. Or, as this family, in its pretentious way, likes to style themselves, vampyres.
The story of Carpe Jugulum, Terry Pratchett’s 23rd Discworld novel, hinges upon a diplomatic mistake that Lancre’s new and very earnest (but clueless) King Verence has committed — namely, inviting these particular vampires to the naming ceremony of his and Queen Magrat’s newborn daughter.
It was the “inviting” part that was the problem because, without that invite, Count Magpyr and the others wouldn’t have been permitted to leave their home district of Uberwald.
Now that they’re here in Lancre, well, they’re going for the throat — literally — a lot. Those who get neck-bit and who lose (some or a good deal of) their blood to the Magpyrs and their friends either turn into other vampires or, more often, cow-like creatures who do all the heavy lifting for their new masters and mistresses.
Well, not everyone who gets neck-bit.
When the Magpyrs feast on Granny Weatherwax, the unofficial (but you’d better believe it) witch of all witches, tables are turned as these throat-goers eventually discover.
“A prison made of flesh”
At this point in his Discworld series, Pratchett was just past the halfway mark of the 41 novels that he would write before dying with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease in 2015 at the age of 66.
As with all of his books, Pratchett used Carpe Jugulum as a way of commenting on aspects of the real world, such as assisted suicide for which he was a public advocate — as is, more quietly, Granny. Called to assist on a very difficult delivery, she had made the decision to save the mother and let the baby die. It was either one or the other. Now, as she is flying home, she is thinking of all the stories that are told and the ones not told:
They were about those times when medicines didn’t help and headology was at a loss because a mind was in a rage of pain in a body that had become its own enemy, when people were simply in a prison made of flesh, and at times like this she would let them go. There was no need for desperate stuff with a pillow, or deliberate mistakes with the medicine. You didn’t push them out of the world, you just stopped the world pulling them back. You just reached in, and…showed them the way.
Later, Granny is with Mightily Oats, a rather ineffectual priest of the god Om, and they’re talking about how his grandmother was more than a bit bloodthirsty (though not in a vampire way) when it came to responding to people with other beliefs — “a bit judgmental, my grandmother.” To which Granny responds:
“Nothing wrong with that. Judging is human…Bein’ human means judgin’ all the time. This and that, good and bad, making choices every day…that’s human.”
“And are you so sure you make the right decisions?”
“No. But I do the best I can.”
In many ways, in the many Discworld novels, Granny is the alter ego of Pratchett, at least in terms of, well, making judgments. No other Discworld character has her gravitas. None has her willingness to take the long view and make the hard choice.
Others may be forced by circumstances to be heroic or sacrificial or even wise. She is her own circumstance.
And Granny does not like these vampires who have, rather easily, taken over Lancre. She does not like their arrogance or their pretentions. Most of all, though, she doesn’t like their sin.
In another conversation, the Quite Reverend Oats mentions that, within his church, there is “a very interesting debate raging at the moment about the nature of sin….It’s not a black and white issue. There are so many shades of gray.” But Granny’s not having it:
“There’s no grays, only white that’s got grubby. I’m surprised you don’t know that. And sin, young man, is when you treat people as things. Including yourself. That’s what sin is…
“When people say things are a lot more complicated than that, they means they’re getting worried that they won’t like the truth. People as things, that’s where it starts.”
Rocky and Wendy
Of course, since Terry Pratchett is Terry Pratchett, there are many moments of levity and humor and downright silliness in Carpe Jugulum, such one troll who is a Lancre border guard.
On Discworld, trolls are essentially rocks that can move and, when the weather’s cold, think. This particular troll is Big Jim Beef. Someone notes that Big Jim Beef sounds like an odd name, and Nanny explains:
“He likes the sound of it. It’s like a man calling himself Rocky, I suppose.”
And it’s not just trolls. The younger generation of vampires have their own quirks when it comes to nicknames — like Gertrude and Pam.
“Lady Strigoiul said her daughter has taken to calling herself Wendy. I can’t imagine why she’d want to, when Hieroglyphica is such a nice name for a girl.”
The baby’s name
Queen Magrat is also a witch, but on sabbatical to help run the kingdom. Her mother wanted to call her Margaret but wasn’t a very good speller. So, this time, with her own daughter, Magrat wants to make sure that nothing will go wrong.
So, at the naming ceremony, when the Quite Reverend Oats picks up the paper to announce the name to the gathered kingdom, he reads:
“I name you….Esmerelda Margaret Note Spelling of Lancre!”
The shocked silence was suddenly filled.
“Note Spelling?” said Magrat and Agnes together.
“Esmerelda?” said Nanny.
Esmerelda is Granny’s name.
In earlier Discworld books, Magrat is frequently the butt of Granny and Nanny teasing for being less than completely capable as a witch. And, truth be told, she can be a bit ditzy.
Finally, though, in Carpe Jugulum, she gets her revenge, on Nanny at least.
Nanny and Magrat have made allies with the main servant of the vampires, Igor, who’s been constructed from a lot of spare parts and is, he likes to say, “a self-made man.” Like castle Igors in horror movies, he talks with a lisp and has a herky-jerky gait. And Magrat notes that he also seems to have romantic ideas about Nanny.
Nanny who is, far and away, the most ribald of the witches isn’t so sure, however, what she thinks of his attentions.
“I mean, it’s flattering and everything, but I really don’t think could be goin’ out with a man with a limp.”
Nanny Ogg had always considered herself unshockable, but there’s no such thing. Shocks can come from unexpected directions.
“I am a married woman,” said Magrat, smiling at her expression. And it felt good, just once, to place a small tintack in the path of Nanny’s carefree amble through life.
Patrick T. Reardon