Fifty Years of Terry Pratchett

A Witch’s cottage

Granny Weatherwax’s cottage by Discworld artist Paul Kidby

Granny Weatherwax, doyenne of witches, lives in the mountains a mile or so outside the village of Bad Ass. Her home could be considered a picture-perfect example of a witch’s cottage. It is difficult to even work out what the original building looked like, if there had ever been one, as the house seems to consist entirely of extensions and lean-tos. The garden hosts goats, beehives and chickens, and the sort of plant-life that would satisfy any reader of illustrated fairytales:

‘In the summer it was surrounded by dense beds of what Granny loosely called “the Herbs” – strange plants, hairy or squat or twining, with curious flowers or vivid fruits or unpleasantly bulging pods. Only Granny knew what they were all for, and any wood-pigeon hungry enough to attack them generally emerged giggling to itself and bumping into things (or, sometimes, never emerged at all).’

Equal Rites  

Contrary to expectation, a witch doesn’t have to live in a thatched, corkscrew-chimneyed cottage out in the sticks. In fact Nanny Ogg, who enjoys defying many an expectation, inhabits a spanking new cottage in the centre of town, with a gleaming thatched roof and a perfectly manicured lawn. Her home is kept in pristine condition by an army of slightly harassed-looking daughters-in-law. Around her tiny pond are dozens of ornaments ranging from toadstools to pink bunnies and big-eyed deer. Best not to dwell on the gnome widdling in the pond!

When Magrat, former maiden of the Lancre coven marries, she moves from a traditional witch’s cottage to a grand, though rather draughty, castle. Though she is no longer a full-time witch in charge of a steading, the whole kingdom could now be considered her steading and she steps up to protect it whenever she is needed.

At the other end of the spectrum from a rambling castle, we can find witches living in tiny, single-room spaces. While she might not have been recognized as a witch in her lifetime, shepherdess Granny Aching, the ‘hag o’ the hills’, clearly possessed great power and her line produced another powerful witch in Tiffany Aching, the new witch of the Chalk. Rather than a cottage, Granny’s home was a simple shepherd’s hut on wheels, which she would move across the hills to follow her flock. Inside there was little but a narrow bed, water barrel, food box and lots of stuff relating to sheep, the only decoration being hundreds of blue-and-yellow Jolly Sailor tobacco wrappers pinned to one wall. Life in a shepherd’s hut can be very suitable to practical witches who have little desire for possessions and decoration. By the end of the Discworld series, Granny Aching isn’t the only witch to have to live in a house on wheels.

Some houses move with wheels, other witches find legs serve them better, such as Mrs Gogol, a voodoo witch out in the swamps of Genua who we meet in Witches Abroad:

‘Mrs Gogol’s house itself looked a simple affair of driftwood from the river, roofed with moss and built out over the swamp itself on four stout poles.’

What many mistake for four stout poles are actually duck legs. With the help of its webbed feet, Mrs Gogol’s cottage can move easily over both land and water.

If a cottage doesn’t completely fulfil expectation, boffo can be employed to bring it up to scratch. Miss Treason, a blind 111-year-old witch, painted the whole interior of her cottage black and decorated it with fake skulls, spiders’ webs and bubbling cauldrons, all to garner the fear and respect that playing up to expectation affords.

While those fairytale books we read as children have very fixed ideas on witch abodes, they do get one thing right … a gingerbread cottage is a sure sign that a witch is ‘cackling’, losing their anchor on reality due to the pressures of hard work, responsibility and loneliness. While we’re taught to fear witches such as Black Aliss and Granny Whitlow, who eventually lived in gingerbread houses, complete with toffee and caramel beds, candyfloss doormats, etc., they are more deserving of our sympathy, for these are witches who were driven to the dark through the pressures of demand and expectation.

With witches inhabiting everything from traditional rustic cottages through to shepherds’ huts, castles and pristine newbuilds, it’s clear that all a house actually needs to become a true witch’s cottage is a resident witch. Cat optional.