Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Read-Along: Part 1 of The Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchett

I've joined a read-along of The Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchett!  The read-along is hosted by Dab of Darkness and Little Red Reviewer, so hop on over to their blogs if you want to join.  It's a pretty short book, so I'm sure it's still possible to catch up! This Discworld novel is the first of his YA series, which features the young witch Tiffany Aching.  I've been meaning to get more into the Discworld series, and I've got high hopes for this read-along after all the fun with the Scott Lynch ones last year.

These posts are intended for discussion, so there will be tons of spoilers.  This week, we are discussing Chapters 1-5.

1) Since I am a nosy person, I want to know if this is your first Terry Pratchett book for you? Do you enjoy the humor and writing style so far?

I've read a few Discworld novels (Making Money, Thud, and Reaper Man).  The humor and style in The Wee Free Men seems more childish than in the previous novels I've read, likely because it is targeted towards a younger audience.  The style is still as light, quirky, and clever as I remember, though, and Pratchett's writing still makes me laugh at inopportune times (such as when I'm on public transit).  So far, I've especially liked the wandering bands of wild, rough-living teachers, and Miss Tick's stealthy, spring-loaded pointy hat.   

2) We've been introduced to Tiffany Aching's world of shepherding and cheese making and her family. What about this quaint setting has caught your eye?

My first thought was to wonder what kind of cheese exactly Tiffany makes.  The sheep, cows, and cheese makes me think of Switzerland, which makes me think of Gruyères, which makes me think of the 7-month-aged slab of Gruyères waiting for me in my fridge.  I highly doubt the Achings pasteurize their milk, and cheese made from raw milk is so much more delicious!

However, I'm pretty sure the setting is meant to reference Scotland, based on the 'Pictsies', the witch-hunting, and the emphasis on sheep.  

I also like how Pratchett manages to throw in a nicely open-minded way for children to think about having pride in their heritage, as when Tiffany was considering her family's long history in the area: 

"Tiffany felt quite proud of this, in an odd way, because it might also be nice to be proud of the fact that your ancestors moved around a bit, too, or occasionally tried new things." ~p. 9

3) Ah, the Nac Mac Feegles! Can you understand their speech? Who or what do you think the kelda is? 

Yeah, I think I'm understanding it fairly well.  It does fill me with the near-overwhelming desire to read out loud, though!  I'm not really sure about the kelda.  It is apparently someone/thing that has knowledge, is dangerous (but not evil) and lives in a cave.  Maybe some kind of oracle?  I'm sure I'm going to be embarrassed when we finally learn who/what it is!

4) Do you see a future for Tiffany at a witches' school? Or do you think Ms. Tick will take on a mentor's role? 

To get to the 'school', Ms. Tick told her to open her eyes, and then open them again.  I could be wrong, but I got the impression that Ms. Tick was telling Tiffany that witches learn from taking a good look at the world around them.  Their school is the world, and their classes are observation and experience. Miss Tick could well take a mentor role, but the toad seems to be serving that purpose for Tiffany at the moment.

5) Wentworth has gone missing and there is a Queen involved. What do think she wants with him?

Given that we've got Wee Free Men in this story, I assumed that the Queen was some kind of dangerous fairy queen.  If so, some kinds of fairies are commonly known to kidnap children.  I've never been exactly clear on what they want them for.  

Please feel free to add anything else that stood out for you, made you chuckle, quirk an eyebrow, etc.

On a more serious reaction, I am so far very impressed with the attitudes about adults and the elderly.  All the characters are pretty silly (which I think is quite normal for Discworld novels), but 9-year-old Tiffany is a delightful protagonist due to her cleverness, perceptiveness, and calmness in the face of danger--not because all adults are stupid. In fact, Tiffany is fairly polite and respectful towards adults, even when they don't necessarily appear to deserve it.   

In terms of the elderly, her Granny Aching seems like a real character (and possibly a witch), and she was obviously very highly regarded by Tiffany and others. I think Granny Aching's leaving Tiffany the respect of the Nac Mac Feegle is going to prove very important to Tiffany's story.  I also appreciated Tiffany's empathy for the 'evil witches' in fairy tales, and her understanding that they were often simply elderly, eccentric women (like poor Mrs. Snapperly). 


  1. I too like that Pratchett has a spectrum of ages in the book and that you aren't automatically juvenile because you are young or curmudgeonly because you are old.

    And Tiffany thinks for herself, so even if she doesn't have all the facts or life experience to fully understand something, she can still form opinions based on what she has observed - such as with Ms. Snapperly.

    1. Yeah, that's one reason that I am really enjoying Tiffany as a heroine so far!

  2. I love your answer to No.4 (damn, wish I'd thought of that). I pretty much make up everything as I go along and generally don't have a clue.
    Also, Granny Aching is great - all the little stories are brilliant.
    Lynn :D

    1. Thanks! I don't think I have much more of a clue, I felt really silly speculating on the kelda... that's totally shooting in the dark. I hope we get more stories about Granny Aching :).

  3. I agree completely with the idea that children can be clever and not merely mischievous because That's How Children Are. I never really thought of this book as being YA, so much, but if I had kids I think I'd definitely introduce them to Terry Pratchett's books, and Wee Free Men is a perfect choice for that in my opinion.

    1. I guess I came into it thinking of it as "Pratchett's YA series", since I think most (if not all?) of the Tiffany Aching books were nominated for and/or won the Locus YA awards (I like looking at award lists!). If I hadn't been prepared to think of them that way, I may not have... I think it was nrlymrtl or someone who said that for Pratchett, young = still alive! If I had kids, I think the Tiffany Aching books would be a good way to introduce them to Discworld, too :).

  4. 1. Oh yes, the pointy hat! I also loved the roving teachers (and their dodgy spelling)!

    2. There are any number of cheeses that would fi the bill. Rather than Scottish, I think the setting is definitely English: the chalk downs are a feature of southern England. The most obvious cheese variety that I can suggest is a proper cheddar, from Somerset, but there are plenty of others from sheep country: Lancashire, Cheshire, Wenslydale . . . it could even be a Stilton-type blue cheese . . . I like cheese, but I think that's obvious . . . :D

    4. I think you might be right about the 'school', and at least the toad is easy to hide.

    It does make a nice change for our heroine to be intelligent without her parents and the other adults being idiots: I hadn't really thought about that until you mentioned it. I was also very impressed by Tiffany's sympathy for the mad old lady, and I was particularly touched by her decision to bury the dead cat.

    1. I concede to your superior knowledge of the UK :). I don't think I've ever actually been to any chalk downs before. I remember being completely confused by all the location-named cheeses when I lived in England, so I usually just grabbed whichever one looked nice. I was a bewildered little American who thought cheddar was 'normal cheese'. I should really go back sometime and check out the cheeses with my current, more thorough knowledge! (If you can't tell, I like cheese too :D)

      I agree about Ms. Snapperly, and Tiffany's decision to bury the cat. It must be hard for anyone, especially a child, to look around her and say, "What everyone is doing is wrong and cruel. Why can't they see that?"