In a discussion somewhere back in CBR14, someone mentioned Terry Pratchett’s Tiffany Aching series, which sounded fun, and I wish I could remember who brought it up (Narfna? EDIT: Yes! it was Narfna, just found it!) because I’d like to say thanks. This was a delightful read, as Pratchett stories tend to be. I love this one because the protagonist is a nine-year-old girl, a witch in the making, who is smart, practical and no-nonsense but still a child with much to learn. As usual, Pratchett fills the story with many riotously funny characters and wild times abound. Yet, also as usual, Pratchett manages to make some very deep points about life and humanity while taking the reader on hilarious flights of fancy. I am becoming convinced that instead of wasting time on theology and philosophy classes in college, I should have just read his novels.
Tiffany Aching lives in a place called the Chalk and works on her family farm making butter and cheese. When traveling teachers come through the village, she might spend a few vegetables to get a lesson in geography or history but school is not a regularly scheduled part of her life. Tiffany is, nonetheless, an intelligent girl who misses her Granny Sarah Aching, a well known and respected sheep herder who might have been a witch. Tiffany also finds herself perpetually annoyed by her younger brother Wentworth, who is constantly crying for candy or the toilet and is usually a sticky mess. While hanging out near the pond with Wentworth one day, Tiffany hears strange voices and senses something evil lurking in the water. Armed with a frying pan and using Wentworth as bait, Tiffany manages to defeat a creature called a Jenny green-teeth, impressing the Nac Mac Feegle, aka the Wee Free Men, who witness it. They are not the only witnesses, however; a witch named Miss Tick is impressed with Tiffany but shocked to discover that this witch in the making not only seems to thrive in the Chalk (an unlikely place for witches) but also has somehow won the attention and support of the Wee Free Men — known for their independence and rebelliousness. It seems that something sinister is afoot in the Chalk and while Miss Tick takes off to find help, the Wee Free Men turn to Tiffany to lead them against the “quin” (queen) of the fairies, who is intent on unleashing monsters upon the world. When she kidnaps Wentworth, Tiffany allies with the Wee Free Men and they set out to find Wentworth and defeat the queen.
The Wee Free Men are a hoot. They are about six inches tall and blue, with an appetite for drinking, stealing and fighting. Their motto is “Nac Mac Feegle! The Wee Free Men! Nae king! Nae quin! Nae laird! Nae master! We willna be fooled again!” Their greatest fear is that their names become known and written down because that just invites the unwanted attention of lawyers. The Wee Free Men seem to think Tiffany is a formidable witch based on her kinship with Granny Aching, an old friend of theirs. Tiffany, however, is not so sure of her abilities but she is motivated by anger at an outsider coming in to her world and taking her brother. Her fearlessness proves to the Wee Free Men and their kelda (the female head of the clan) that she is the one to follow.
Lots of wild and crazy things happen once the crew enters fairyland. Dreams become real and can entrap a person. Nightmares are also real and can rip you to shreds. Tiffany frequently thinks back to episodes in her past with her Granny and gets the inspiration to work her way through these obstacles. One of the obstacles she has to overcome is within her — her guilt at not loving Wentworth and at not crying at Granny’s death even though it devastated her. I think every kid has felt this; siblings are super annoying and maybe that feeling covers up any love we actually hold in our hearts. And grief is a tricky thing, showing up in unusual ways and unlikely places. Tiffany is a wonderful hero in my opinion because she is driven by righteous anger to do what is right. She sees that there are creatures in the world, human and other, who cannot speak for or defend themselves. The fact that this queen thinks she can just come waltzing in and take them for herself infuriates Tiffany. She makes a perfect ally for the Wee Free Men.
Pratchett always manages to bring up matters of religion, justice and even patriarchy in subversive and entertaining ways. He also writes female characters who are bosses. I’m looking forward to continuing the Tiffany Aching series.
EDIT: CBR15passport — book recommended by friend