Sun, Oct
30
2005

Ach, Crivens! (Wee Free Men Reviewed)

Sun, Oct 30, 2005

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It’s amazing for me to say this, but I’d never read Terry Pratchett until now. Despite being a young adult fantasy author, despite glutting myself on all sorts of science fiction and fantasy literature, despite having a host of graduate students gush about the king of funny fantasy, despite my mother being a fan, I never picked up one of his books. Never, that is, until a few weeks ago, when I took my borrowed copy (from my mother) of Wee Free Men and read it to Erin before bed.

The loss, it seems, was all mine.

Wee Free Men is a Discworld novel, which means only that it’s set on a world of Pratchett’s creation. It’s medieval, flat, and travels through space on the back of a turtle. Magic works on this world, but only just. And you don’t really need to know that to enjoy this book. It completely stands alone.

The story focuses on 9-year-old Tiffany Aching, a farmer’s daughter in an out-of-the-way part of the world known as “The Chalk”, where the Baron’s guard comprises of three bored soldiers, and people generally herd sheep, churn butter and make cheese. Tiffany is especially adept at making cheese, and is the granddaughter of Granny Aching, an ultrasensible wisewoman who was the real leader of the people of the Chalk.

Tiffany shares her late grandmother’s ultrasensible nature, and that brings her to the attention of Miss Tick, a witch from off the Chalk, who is surprised at Tiffany’s prowess and the fact that a young witch could materialize on chalk (the soft stone is said to be unable to support magic). Whatever the case, it’s good that Tiffany is here, because a parasitic world run by the Queen of the Faeries has just latched on, stolen Tiffany’s toddler brother, and promises to make all of the Chalk’s residents’ dreams (and nightmares) comes true. So while Miss Tick heads off for reinforcements, young Tiffany decides that it’s her responsibility to fend off the invasion and also rescue her brother.

Tiffany is a capable defender because she has First Sight and Second Thoughts: the ability to see the world for what it is, and the ability to think about what she is thinking about. This allows her to see past the Queen’s deceptions and to turn aside the Queen’s primary weapons, all of which are powered by dreams. But Tiffany is still young and inexperienced, and needs all the help she can get. And she gets it from the Nac Mac Feegle, the Wee Free Men of the title.

The Nac Mac Feegle are at the heart of this story. While ultrasensible Tiffany is a delightful character, the horde of “Pictsies” can best be described as Scottish smurfs. They’re six inches tall, wear kilts, have flaming red hair and skin that has gone blue from all the tattoos. They’re as clich — d as Mike Myers’ Saturday Night Live Scottish store skit. They’re so fast as to be near invisible when they run, they’re incredibly strong and they live for drinkin’, fightin’ and stealin’.

Most importantly, they were thrown out of Faerieland because of their disruptive tendencies. They now reside in Tiffany’s world, and have taken it upon themselves to fight back the Queen’s incursion. With Tiffany being the granddaughter of Granny Aching — who may have been a witch and not realized it — and with Tiffany showing powers of her own, they immediately glom onto her as their leader and standard bearer, even if they have to do most of the legwork while Tiffany learns the ropes.

The Nac Mac Feegle are a hoot, plain and simple. To read Wee Free Men out loud is to perform it. They counterpoint the super-sensible Tiffany, the unctious intelligent toad Miss Tick leaves behind to protect Tiffany, and the dark and airy Queen of the Faeries with dialogue that is phonetically written, and flies like the wind. They provide the bulk of the story’s many belly laughs acting against all of these straight men. But at the same time, the threat that the Queen poses is real, and the Nac Mac Feegle are definitely wee men you want Tiffany to have by her side as she faces the very real terrors of Faerieland.

Terry Pratchett ably mixes comedy with some great action and genuine scares, and his humour serves to both lighten and enhance the story here. It is truly a delight to see Tiffany come into her own and give the Queen what for. Flashbacks to Granny Aching’s time ably convey the power of this important woman, and enhance the sadness Tiffany feels now that her grandmother has gone. Pratchett is often dismissed as just a comedy writer, but there is incredible depth here that can only be achieved in the hands of a master.

Tiffany appears again, two years older, in the book A Hat Full of Sky, and it is wonderful to see the character continue to grow up. Despite her age, neither this nor Wee Free Men can be considered strictly a young adult novel or a children’s book. For Pratchett, Tiffany’s age is immaterial for the audience he is writing for. This story is designed to appeal to everyone, and everyone deserves to read it.


Wallpapers For You

Yesterday was Erin’s due date. No sign of Vivian. So Erin and her mother took a walk in the woods, and snapped some fantastic pictures. Definitely good enough to be computer wallpapers. So, if you want to use these on your personal computer, feel free.

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Pathway through colour. This is part of a trail that leads by my housing complex into Monarch Woods in western Kitchener.

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Carpet of Leaves.

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Schneider Creek runs through Monarch Woods. Closer to the downtown, it enters Victoria Park in a concrete trench, but here, it’s quite natural.

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Ripples in the water and a touch of sky.

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Can you see forest for the trees?

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My personal favourite.


On This Day

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