Time to put on our invisible masks and head out to meet the world because it’s Friday and we’re about to finish up Maskerade.
Walter puts on his Ghost mask and heads into his box where Granny confronts him. He jumps from the box and Granny sends Greebo after him. The opera stops and the Librarian improvs to accompany the action. The Ghost jumps from the balcony to the chandelier and Greebo follows. Salzella claims to have caught the Ghost, says it’s Walter and tells everyone to run after him. Agnes tries to stop everyone, but they’re all convinced now. Granny meets Walter on the roof, gives Greebo his mask and tells the man-cat to run when everyone spots him. Granny takes Nanny’s broom to keep an eye on Greebo and tells her to look after Walter. The mob finally closes in on Greebo after a carriage case, but he shifts back into a cat and escapes them. Nobby and Detritus give up—that is, after Detritus finds the Ghost mask and has it snatched out of his hand by Granny on her broom. Walter takes Nanny to a hiding place under the trapdoor, what he calls the Ghost’s secret cave. The cave contains the opera: all its costumes and props and instruments and old shows.
Granny and Agnes have a run-in, and Agnes insists that she’s not going to be a witch, but agrees to help with whatever is happening in the opera house. Nanny asks to see Walter’s writings in the cave, and it turns out to be a new show with very catchy music about an opera house ghost. He talks of the Ghost like he’s another person and mentions that the Ghost told him he couldn’t tell anyone about a room with sacks. Nanny suggests that she could simply follow Walter and he wouldn’t be telling anyone anything. The room with the sacks is full of money (in said sacks) and also the undead roses like the ones sent to Christine. Granny checks the books in Mr. Bucket’s office and can tell the whole thing is cooked; it’s no wonder the place can’t make any money. Someone comes in and she and Agnes hide; it’s André. Agnes worries about why he might be sneaking around, but Granny reveals herself and confronts him, and it turns out André is a cop—one of the Cable Street Particulars, a new section of the Watch for undercover work. André tells them that he knows Walter didn’t kill anyone, but he’s fairly certain that Salzella murdered Undershaft, and knows that man has been stealing money, but he’s still perturbed because Salzella has been seen when the Ghost is about. Granny points out that there is no reason for there to only be one Ghost. Nanny has left Walter to go talk to Granny, but winds up running into the other Ghost, and follows him.
Everyone converges on Mr. Bucket, who is waiting in the wings as the third act begins. André tells him to stop the show, Granny tells him not to and is certain Salzella is hiding on stage. She thinks the whole thing should end operatically, as this in an opera. Nanny gets very excited, knowing where this is headed: She heads out on stage dressed as a ballerina and starts taking everyone’s masks off. Agnes tells Christine to do the same, insisting that the show has been changed. Enrico Basilica shows up in the wings—the version of him on stage is an imposter and Christine is approaching said imposter to do their duet, so Agnes stops the show. Below, Walter is panicking because the show has stopped, so Granny tells him to go get it started again, handing him back his mask. Agnes is taken hostage by Salzella, who brought a real sword on stage. He tells everyone that he did all this because he likes money and genuinely hates opera. The Ghost (who everyone thought was dead) arrives to fight him—which is suitably operatic in a manner that infuriates Sazella. He disarms the Ghost, unmasks Walter, and berates him in front of everyone. That’s when Granny takes to the stage through the trapdoor, grabbing Salzella’s sword with her bare hand. She tells Walter that Agnes has a new mask for him that he can wear under his skin permanently.
Granny tells Salzella to put on his Ghost mask so he can fight Walter properly. They do stage fighting, but when Walter thrusts, Salzella behaves as if he’s actually hit. He keeps shouting everything he hates about opera, slumping to the floor, then reanimating to yell again. Finally, he collapses, having died because he believed Walter’s sword actually stabbed him. They tell Mr. Bucket that Walter can lead him to he stolen money and should be installed as music director, since he’s written such excellent shows… that aren’t quite opera. Everyone begins to fret over Christine again, much to Agnes’s dismay. Enrico Basilica comes out on stage and reveals himself to be Henry Slugg, causing a shriek from the audience: Henry Lawny is actually his son, and his elderly mother is Slugg’s long-lost love, Angeline. No one’s left, though, and Agnes is angry at how this whole thing played out. Nanny advises her to let the upset out, which she does with one flawless note. Granny and Nanny take the carriage home, picking up Greebo on the way. Granny sees about mending her hand—because you can’t grab hold of a sword without getting hurt. Agnes shows up as she’s digging a new privy hole, and at the next coven meeting, there are three witches again.
Ugh, only Pratchett can make me like Phantom, is really the point of this whole exercise. I’m only a tiny bit resentful about it.
Because here’s my real beef with the show—my pet name for The Phantom of the Opera is Friendzoned: The Musical. It’s literally a show about a sad guy who gets furious that a woman doesn’t love him after he went through all the trouble of coaching her. It’s petty masculinity at its best, no matter what the guy looks like, or how lonely he’s feeling. Michael Crawford sounds great, but I still don’t like the phantom. He needs new hobbies.
But here… I’m reminded of that story an autistic man told about meeting David Bowie when he was a child. He talked about being labeled “shy” as a kid, and getting to see Bowie at a Labyrinth premiere; while he was there, Bowie presented him with his “invisible mask” that he used every day to help him tackle fear and anxiety. He gave the boy his own invisible mask, spun out of thin air, to help him be less afraid. And here we have the exact same technique being used by Granny Weatherwax to help Walter. Because in this story, being the phantom means something entirely differently, and Granny knows it:
“I don’t know what you are when you’re behind the mask, but ‘ghost’ is just another word for ‘spirit’ and ‘spirit’ is just another word for ‘soul.’ Off you go, Walter Plinge.”
He’s not hiding because of some ableist tripe about being “disfigured,” he’s hiding because the mask allows him to be himself. So Granny invents a means to allow him his mask all the time, just like David Bowie did for that little boy. And now he can go off inventing the musical and doing all the things he loves.
Unfortunately, Agnes doesn’t get that ending. But the argument made by Granny against her staying in the opera is a different sort: She talks about how being a witch is better because instead of performing and getting accolades, you get to be the person who sees how the whole thing stitches together, to pull strings and direct people toward the endings they deserve.
In effect, Pratchett is telling us that being a witch is rather like being a writer. It’s so perfect I want to slap something, but I haven’t got anything particularly slappable within reach. *slaps book cover* Didn’t quite scratch the itch…
And again, we come back to this idea that Granny does good because she must, but it’s not something that we should feel comfortable about. Granny does good because she knows the difference between right and wrong, but she’ll be terrifying about that calling as she pleases:
And if Nanny Ogg had been listening, she would have resolved as follows: that no maddened cackle from Black Aliss of infamous memory, no evil little giggle from some crazed vampyre whose morals were worse than his spelling, no side-splitting guffaw from the most inventive torturer, was quite so unnerving as a happy little chuckle from a Granny Weatherwax about to do what’s best.
But also I had forgotten the bit about her hand actually getting injured by the sword, and this time around it gave me a lot of freaking feelings that I wasn’t expecting because anyone who has ever pretended no pain when they were having a lot of it knows that deal. At least now we have a full coven again! And it feels a teeny bit more balanced on this round, though I might have a slight Agnes bias in that. I’m cool with it.
Asides and little thoughts:
- So apparently Nanny is muttering “rhubarb” because that’s a common thing to utter when you’re in the background of the scene to make it look like you’re talking? I was always taught to say “peas and carrots”—maybe it’s a regional difference.
- You know, I thought on this round I’d develop a more specific opinion about Greebo than general discomfiture. Nope. The feeling has remained.
- Of all the musicals Walter wrote, I think I’m most interested in Miserable Les.
And, since the IQ of a mob is the IQ of its most stupid member divided by the number of mobsters, it was never very clear to anyone what had happened.
The orchestra was in a huddle in the pit, preparing its request for a special Being Upset By A Ghost Allowance.
Nanny Ogg could think her way through a corkscrew in a tornado without touching the sides.
She ducked behind the curtains, feeling as conspicuous as a strawberry in a stew, certain that the sound of her heart would give her away.
People who could not believe a High Priest if he said the sky was blue, and was able to produce signed affidavits to this effect from his white-haired old mother and three Vestal virgins, would trust just about anything whispered darkly behind their hand by a complete stranger in a pub.
Granny Weatherwax had never head of psychiatry and would have had no truck with it even if she had. There are some arts too black even for a witch.
Next week we start with Feet of Clay! We’ll read up to
“Go round the back door,” said the voice.