I was looking for something fast and light about the time I finished Monstrous Regiment, so I decided to re-read Equal Rites to see how Pratchett dealt with gender issues in a very early Discworld novel. In Equal Rites, a dying wizard passes his staff on to the eighth son of an eighth son—well, to what he assumes is an eighth son.
I can’t say I noticed much difference in the treatment of gender—people are people to Pratchett, no matter the composition of their bodies. I did notice an incredible difference in the style: the prose has become much less obtrusive. In the early books, there are jokes in the narration, like
Animals never spend time dividing experience into little bits and speculating about all the bits they’ve missed. The whole panoply of the universe has been neatly expressed to them as things to (a) mate with, (b) eat, (c) run away from, and (d) rocks.
Whether or not you find that funny, it reminds you that you’re being told a story. In the later books, the narration is much closer to tight-third, and humor arises from situations and the way that viewpoint characters see events, not from puns or jokes by an omniscient narrator. People who find the earlier Discworlds annoying because of the style might like some of the later ones, though I can’t say now where the transition occurs.
Equal Rites is a fairly slight story by overall Discworld standards, and Granny Weatherwax is much different in subsequent books. It holds up reasonably well, however, and Granny does get some good moments.
“Let’s find this Great Hall, then. No time to waste.”
“Um, women aren’t allowed in,” said Esk.
Granny stopped in the doorway. Her shoulders rose. She turned around very slowly.
“What did you say?” . . .
“Sorry,” said Esk. “Force of habit.”
“I can see you’ve been getting ideas below your station,” said Granny coldly.