Welcome, everyone, to a brand new weekly Smugglerific feature: Old School Wednesdays! We came up with the idea towards the end of last year, when both of us were feeling exhausted from the never-ending inundation of new and shiny (and often over-hyped) books. And what better way to snap out of a reading fugue than to take a mini-vacation into the past?
Inspired by our defunct From the Dungeons feature (owing a dash of inspiration from Angieville’s Retro Fridays), we decided to create a new feature for 2013. On Old School Wednesdays, we take a break from the new and pay homage to the old by reviewing books that are at least 5 years old.
Today, it’s Ana’s turn to take over with a review of The Wee Free Men!
Title: The Wee Free Men
Author: Terry Pratchett
Genre: Fantasy, Middle Grade/Young Adult
Publisher: Corgi Childrens / HarperTrophy
Publication date: First published in 2003
Paperback: 375 pages
Armed only with a frying pan and her common sense, Tiffany Aching, a young witch-to-be, is all that stands between the monsters of Fairyland and the warm, green Chalk country that is her home. Forced into Fairyland to seek her kidnapped brother, Tiffany allies herself with the Chalk’s local Nac Mac Feegle – aka the Wee Free Men – a clan of sheep-stealing, sword-wielding, six-inch-high blue men who are as fierce as they are funny. Together they battle through an eerie and ever-shifting landscape, fighting brutal flying fairies, dream-spinning dromes, and grimhounds – black dogs with eyes of fire and teeth of razors – before ultimately confronting the Queen of the Elves, absolute ruler of a world in which reality intertwines with nightmare. And in the final showdown, Tiffany must face her cruel power alone….
In a riveting narrative that is equal parts suspense and humor, Carnegie Medalist Terry Pratchett returns to his internationally popular Discworld with a breathtaking tale certain to leave fans, new and old, enthralled
Stand alone or series: This is Discworld book #30 but the first in a 4 book mini-series within the series. It can be read as a standalone too.
How did I get this book: Bought
Format (e- or p-): print
I will start this post with another Old School Wednesdays’ confession: I only ever read one Terry Pratchett novel, Good Omens ages ago and that was only because he wrote that in collaboration with Neil Gaiman.
I know what you’re thinking right now: “CRIVENS! I can’t believe you haven’t read any Terry Pratchett till now, Ana.”
I KNOW, right? Anyway, the real problem with this course of action was of course, WHERE to start, given as how Pratchett has over 40 novels in the Discworld series alone. I had on good authority that even though The Wee Free Men is Discworld book #30, it was a good place to begin as part of a four-book YA mini-series featuring 9-year-old Tiffany Aching.
Tiffany is – as of this book – the current recipient of the newly-minted The Book Smugglers Award for Best Witch-To-Be on account of her perspicacity, courage, love for words, pride on her cheese-making skills as well as the ability to stand impervious and mostly unaffected by condescending adults, evil Queens, talking frogs and diminutive and outrageous, thievery blue men in kilts (otherwise known as Nac Mac Feegle or Pictsies [not to be confused with Pixies, if you please] or the Wee Free Men).
This is the plot and Tiffany’s personality in a nutshell:
”Another world is colliding with this one,” said the toad. “All the monsters are coming back.”
“Why?” said Tiffany.
“There’s no one to stop them.”
There was silence for a moment.
Then Tiffany said, “There’s me.”
So! Armed with a frying pan (as we all know, a perfectly good weapon of choice as evidenced in Tangled), common sense, the memories of her Granny Aching, and an inordinate amount of Chutzpah, Tifanny embarks on a journey to Fairyland to save her kidnapped brother (whom she says she doesn’t really like all that much but he is hers and as such, she must get him back). And although ok, that setup is not necessarily unique, boy did I love this book.
I loved Tiffany’s journey to Fairyland, as the two worlds collide and dreams and nightmares become intertwined with the real world and how the narrative itself seamlessly adapted to the ever-changing landscape that really reminded me of Diana Wynne Jones’ storytelling as well as Catherynne M. Valente’s recent Fairyland books. This ever-changing background and the stories-within-stories conceit also appears as Tiffany’s memories of her grandmother become clearer and clearer as she finally comes to understand what the stories about her really mean.
The writing is just the type of writing that I love. It’s clever, it’s subtle, it presents valuable, meaningful themes and ideas without being didactic or dumbed down to readers, it has an amazingly clever and astute protagonist and on top of everything it.Is.Hilarious. The portrayal of the Wee Free Men is ostensibly funny (they are afraid of nothing! Except maybe of lawyers!) but the sense of humour is present in everything even when the text is discussing Important Things.
Allow me to present a few choice quotes to better establish the above:
“All witches are selfish, the Queen had said. But Tiffany’s Third Thoughts said: Then turn selfishness into a weapon! Make all things yours! Make other lives and dreams and hopes yours! Protect them! Save them! Bring them into the sheepfold! Walk the gale for them! Keep away the wolf! My dreams! My brother! My family! My land! My world! How dare you try to take these things, because they are mine!”
(I absolutely loved how the above quote both reinforces Tiffany’s age and how children can be selfish and self-centred without portraying those as bad things)
“ “Yes! I’m me! I am careful and logical and I look up things I don’t understand! When I hear people use the wrong words, I get edgy! I am good with cheese. I read books fast! I think! And I always have a piece of string! That’s the kind of person I am!”
(How empowering is this?)
“The stories never said why she was wicked. It was enough to be an old woman, enough to be all alone, enough to look strange because you have no teeth. It was enough to be called a witch. If it came to that, the book never gave you the evidence of anything. It talked about “a handsome prince”… was he really, or was it just because he was a prince that people called handsome? As for “a girl who was as beautiful as the day was long”… well, which day? In midwinter it hardly ever got light! The stories don’t want you to think, they just wanted you to believe what you were told…”
(To sum up: Tiffany wants to be a witch because there is a lack of actual evidence that they are actually wicked)
“ “Zoology, eh? That’s a big word, isn’t it.”
“No, actually it isn’t,” said Tiffany. “Patronizing is a big word. Zoology is really quite short.”
And finally, what might just be my favourite quote of the entire book:
Are you listening?”
“Yes,” said Tiffany.
“Good. Now… if you trust in yourself…”
“… and believe in you dreams…”
“…and follow your star…” Miss Tick went on.
“…you’ll still be beaten by people who spent their time working hard and learning things and weren’t so lazy. Goodbye.”
Basically I spent my time reading The Wee Free Men by alternating between laughing my head off and earmarking thoughtful sequences. I’ve already made arrangements to get my grabby hands on the sequels. And maybe even other Terry Pratchett books (I hear Nation is most excellent).
I am loving these Old School Wednesdays discoveries!
Rating: 9 – Damn Near Perfect
Reading Next: The Princess Curse by Merrie Haskell
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