I will forever and always love Terry Pratchett and everything he ever wrote. The fact that we will never get a new Pratchett novel still makes me sad, and I’ve stayed away from any rereads of his books for a while since they just make me miss him. But my awesome CBR book exchange partner sent me The Wee Free Men for book exchange, and after the year we all had, I both wanted to reread something I knew I’d love, and comfort myself with Pratchett’s familiar, riotous sarcasm.
I don’t think I’ve picked up a Tiffany Aching for at least a decade, so coming back to Wee Free Men was almost like reading it for the first time. I only had a vague memory of the plot, and I’d completely forgotten the hilarious details and deep meaning. Rereading this reminded me of why I love Pratchett’s craft so much. Within the silly asides and ridiculous details are deep, dark truths about the world that pack twice the punch because you thought you were just reading a little fantasy story.
Tiffany Aching is the nine-year-old daughter of sheep farmers in an area called the Chalk. She’s a strange child in that she likes to keep to herself, she asks adults the hard questions, and she’s good with cheese. Like her grandmother, Granny Aching, she’s quiet, observant, and sees the parts of the world most people gloss over. Which is why Tiffany can see the Nac McFeegle, Pratchett’s psychotic versions of brownie sprites who have sensed the Faerie queen has found an opening to Tiffany’s reality and aren’t very happy about it.
Through the lens of “dreams coming true,” Pratchett unpacks the horrible reality of what that phrase actually means and the importance of opening one’s eyes twice to see what is really there. Like all his books, he plays very literally with the cliche metaphors and themes of the fantasy genre, mirroring the hard truths of our world through Tiffany’s epiphanies as she opens her eyes, and then opens them again, to understand the ugliness behind the gilding.
My favorite part was towards the end, where Tiffany finally understands the breadth of it all, but has to close her second eyes because no one can live in that kind of knowing for too long without going insane. There was something about that section that resonated for me in the culturally woke environment we currently find ourselves in (which wasn’t at all mainstream when I read this book over a decade ago) and why it may be exhausting to feel like we need to be woke all the time while critically thinking about every single thing that passes by. Maybe it’s okay to close our second eyes in order to get things done. Tiffany doesn’t forget the truth, it’s just not so raw or imposing. And, like her mostly silent grandmother, it allows her the space to focus and listen.
Over a decade later, Tiffany’s still relevant, and it was comforting to revisit this old favorite.