The Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchett
Published : HarperTorch(2000),Doubleday(2003)
Series : Discworld ; Book 1 of the Tiffany Aching Series
Awards Won: Locus YA Award
The Book :
“9-year-old Tiffany Aching has read her share of fairy tales, but she feels no kinship with the simpering princesses and their princely rescuers. Instead, she wonders why the clever, resourceful witches always seem to get the short end of the stick. Especially in Tiffany’s homeland of the Chalk, witches are treated very poorly indeed—and the working definition of a witch seems to be ‘female, old and eccentric’.
When monsters begin appearing in her homeland, Tiffany learns that a fairy queen is trying to attach her nightmarish fairyland to reality. The only one around that can stand in her way is Tiffany, as the witch of the Chalk. When the queen kidnaps Tiffany’s little brother, she knows she must act. She might have little idea what she’s getting into, but with her trusty frying pan, and the help of the ‘Pictsies’ that held her late grandmother in high regard, she’ll have to find the strength to protect her own.” ~Allie
This is the 5th book I’ve read by Terry Pratchett, and it is one more reminder why I should return to Discworld more often. This novel kicks off Pratchett’s YA series, and I think it would be especially enjoyed by younger readers, perhaps Tiffany’s age or slightly older. There’s some alcohol and tobacco use in the story (not by Tiffany), but it’s only used for comedy.
The Wee Free Men is the humorous, exciting, and occasionally touching story of a 9-year-old witch, Tiffany Aching. Tiffany is an impressive heroine, a young girl that is generally respectful of others, courageous, resourceful, and remarkably self-aware for her age. She’s also very protective of her family and home, and works hard making cheese in their farm’s dairy. Though she does have her flaws (such as a certain recklessness), she is a delightfully self-reliant and intelligent protagonist. I think that if I had children, they could do far worse than to emulate Tiffany. As in any Discworld novel, there are plenty of other vivid and comical characters introduced throughout the story, but I think that Tiffany will continue to be an excellent central character for the series.
The basic structure of Tiffany’s adventure is pretty familiar. A fairy queen threatens Tiffany’s homeland and kidnaps her little brother. Despite her inexperience, Tiffany sets off to confront the queen and save her little brother, receiving help from various characters along the way. As a kid who grew up loving Labyrinth, I was completely on board for this. The fairy queen’s world was an interesting take on the idea of fairyland—a world based more on perception and dreams than reality—and the creatures within it were imaginative and a little gruesome. Tiffany’s ultimate success never seemed to be in question, but it was fun to see what tricks she would pull to get past each dangerous obstacle in her way.
As Pratchett is a writer of comedic fantasy, humor played a large part in the story. I enjoyed Pratchett’s ridiculous comedy, though I felt that some of the jokes were a bit more targeted towards younger audiences. For instance, there was a fair amount of slapstick humor, simple puns, and vocabulary-related jokes. The Nac Mac Feegle (also known as the Wee Free Men or Pictsies) were one of the main comic elements of the novel. These ‘fairies’ were blue-tattooed, orange-haired tiny men who liked nothing more than drinkin’, fightin’ and stealin’, preferably all at the same time. They spoke in a strong, phonetically rendered accent (“Nae King! Nae Quin! Nae Laird! Nae Master! We willnae be fooled again!”), and were generally way over-the-top. I enjoyed seeing them awkwardly help Tiffany learn about the supernatural world. Of course everyone’s reaction to humor will be different, but overall, I found The Wee Free Men to be charmingly silly.
The more touching and serious segments of the book touched on dealing with the grief that accompanies the death of a loved one. Tiffany’s Granny Aching was a gruff, skilled, shepherdess (and possibly a witch) who loved Jolly Sailor tobacco. She left an enduring mark on her community, and her character and relationship with Tiffany is explored through a series of poignant memories. Through her memories and her interactions with the Nac Mac Feegle, who also knew and loved her grandmother, Tiffany slowly comes to a better understanding of her grandmother. I appreciated how this thread wove through the story of Tiffany and the fairy queen, adding a deeper meaning to the lighter story.
My Rating: 4/5
The Wee Free Men is the first novel in Terry Pratchett’s YA series featuring the young witch Tiffany Aching, but it works as a standalone novel as well. The story is a good mixture of adventure, humor and emotion, and it features an intelligent, resourceful heroine. The basic structure of the story (Tiffany’s quest to rescue her little brother) was very familiar, but no less enjoyable for that. The humor was quite silly, and often featured puns or the antics of the rowdy Nac Mac Feegle. I especially appreciated the way Tiffany’s process of coping with her grief for her grandmother’s death was combined with the adventure, through Tiffany’s memories and the lasting effects of her grandmother’s life on her community. I think this is a novel that would be especially enjoyed by younger readers, but that has plenty to offer older readers as well.