Continuing my occasional series as I read my way through the late Sir Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series, one book at a time.
Today’s entry is the 30th book, The Wee Free Men.
First Appearance: Tiffany Aching, a nine year old witch-to-be
Introduced to Discworld: a whole novel without a cameo from Death. Seriously, he’s not in this one.
Plot: Tiffany Aching is out by the stream one day when she spots a pair of small blue men in kilts sail by on a makeshift boat. A minute or so later, a monster called Jenny Green Teeth jumps out of the stream and tries to grab her or her sticky toddler brother Wentworth. Though Tiffany flees, she never once feels particularly afraid, and then hatches a plan to bash the creature in with a frying pan.
That action gains the approval of the Nac Mac Feegles, last seen in the novel Lords and Ladies. The Feegles approve of violence, and it turns out they knew Tiffany’s grandmother, a tough old lady who would have been a witch if she had even a bit of magic in her. That was about the only difference between Granny Aching and, say, Granny Weatherwax from the sounds of things anyway. A passing witch, Miss Tick, puts Tiffany on the right path, but knows there’s trouble coming from a parasite dimension and heads off to get some help.
That trouble is closer than anyone thought. The Baron’s son Roland disappeared a year back, and soon so does Wentworth. The Queen of Fairyland took them, and is looking to settle in on the Chalk. Tiffany won’t really stand for that. Can she stop the Queen with help from the Feegles, a talking toad, and her own wits?
Commentary: I read this one a while back, and quite frankly wasn’t overly impressed with Tiffany back then. Tiffany is nine years old, but by the end of the novel, she’s more or less acting like Granny Weatherwax. She even snaps something at Granny Weatherwax. She also can’t seem to accept a quasi-apology from Roland, instead telling him she’s going to be watching, implying she, not Roland or his father the Baron are really in control of the land. That’s a Granny sort of thing to do. Thing is, at the time, I considered that Granny had earned the right to be that way due to being a highly experienced, potent witch. Tiffany is a kid. Who likes pushy children? Even if they are acting like a witch? Magrat and Agnes never acted that way.
Now, with a second read-through, I am a little less inclined to dislike Tiffany. Sure, she hasn’t earned the right to be…that yet, but the people she is pushy to (Roland, Wentworth, and Granny) all seem to give her a pass for different reasons. Roland is scared and worried Tiffany will say what really happened in Fairyland. Wentworth is a toddler who needs to learn a thing or two. And Granny, well, Granny approves in the end, while giving Tiffany a taste of what being a real witch is.
Pratchett only finished 12 more Discworld novels after this one, and Tiffany is the closest we get to more Granny Weatherwax. Hopefully Granny gets a bit more to do than a quick cameo at the end, even if she did bring Nanny Ogg with her.
As for this book, if anything the reader gets more of a look into the Nac Mac Feegles and their way of doing things. The pictsies (not pixies!) get by on stealing, fighting, and drinking, or any combination of such, and fear only lawyers. Their swords even glow blue in the presence of lawyers. Otherwise, they seem indestructible and unstoppable. Speaking in something that looks like a comical Scottish accent, the Feegles, or the Wee Free Men as they think of themselves, come across as violent hooligans always looking for a fight, especially after Tiffany gets named their temporary kelda (kinda like a queen).
As for the Queen of Fairyland, she was interested in controlling dreams. As Death noted in various past books like Hogfather, humans need dreams because believing in things that aren’t there includes concepts like Justice. Tiffany for her part is taking on the Queen to rescue Wentworth not because she loves her brother (she’s at best indifferent to him for most of the book and she knows it), but because the Queen took something from her, and you don’t take stuff from Tiffany without her permission.
That’s a downright witchy way of looking at things.
Though I do wonder if this was the same Queen from Lords and Ladies. If she is, Tiffany beat her much more easily than Granny, Nanny, and Magrat did. Possibly because this Queen never used the special Elf power of making every human around her feel worthless compared to the awesome beauty of the Elves. But Tiffany beat her, and will be waiting for her to come back…
NEXT BOOK: War has broken out, and young Polly Perks is looking to rescue her MIA brother. How’s a girl to do that? A quick haircut and a change of clothes gets Polly into the army to fight a war as no woman has fought in before. You know, except for Mulan. Be back soon for Monstrous Regiment.