Terry Pratchett’s Tiffany Aching series is one of my all time favorites. I love Tiffany Aching, and aspire to be as mature as she was at 9. Of course, she was written by a grown man, but still, we find our role models where we may. The Wee Free Men is Tiffany’s debut. She is 9, the second to last of a large family who farm and raise sheep on The Chalk, work’s in her family farm’s dairy (which she loves), and watches her baby brother, Wentworth (which she doesn’t love). And she’s a witch.
Tiffany thinks being a witch must be about magic, but as she learns, a witch’s true skill lies in seeing what is really there and thinking critically. There is magic, for certain. The Queen of Fairie is making incursions into The Chalk and steals Wentworth. Tiffany must do what her family cannot – go to Fairyland and steal back her baby brother. She teams up with the local Nac Mac Feegle, who excel at “stealin’, fightin’, and drinkin'”.
Tell the wee hag who we are, lads,” said the helmet twiddler. There was the scrape of many small swords being drawn and thrust into the air. “Nac Mac Feegle! The Wee Free Men! Nae king! Nae quin! Nae laird! Nae master! We willna be fooled again!
This paragraph has some **SPOILERS**. Tiffany is a thinker and a questioner, even before she encounters the Nac Mac Feegle and learns about the Fairyland. Tiffany questions what she reads and questions commonly held beliefs. She thinks a lot about two deaths that happened before the book began, Granny Aching, her grandmother who was probably a witch, and Mrs. Snapperly, a strange old woman who was accused of being a witch, driven out of her home, and died from exposure. Granny Aching spoke very little, but was widely respected, even by the Baron. After Granny Aching’s death, the Baron’s son disappeared. The community decides a witch must have been involved and Mrs. Snapperly must be the witch in question, because she was strange and lived alone n the woods. As a mob, they destroy Mrs. Snapperly’s house and kill her cat. During the winter, Mrs. Snapperly dies of the cold when no one will allow her inside their home. The treatment of Mrs. Snapperly impacts Tiffany profoundly. Tiffany doesn’t believe Mrs. Snapperly was ever a witch, but she does want to become a witch herself, to prevent it from happening again.
Mrs. Snapperly gives weight and consequence to the fantasy and adventure in The Wee Free Men. Tiffany knows the consequences of being thought strange, of being different. It isn’t Tiffany’s ability to do magic that makes fer a witch, but the ability to see beyond what is commonly accepted. Her first sight and second thoughts separate her from her people, but her sense of place and belonging, makes her the Hag o’ The Chalk (Land Under Wave).
The Feegles are among the most delightful of all magical creatures in literature. I’m sure Science will support this.
Even in a dream, even at a posh ball, the Nac Mac Feegle knew how to behave. You charged in madly, and you screamed… politely.
“Lovely weather for the time o’ year, is it not, ye wee scunner!”
“Hey, jimmy, ha’ ye no got a pommes frites for an ol’pal?”
“The band is playin’ divinely, I dinna think!”
“Make my caviar deep-fried, wilya?
We may not all be able to be Nac Mac Feegles (I wouldn’t recommend it anyway), but we can all be witches. We can know things, see things, think about things, and be the voice for them that has not got any.