life after jane…

Retro Friday is a weekly meme hosted by Angie @ Angieville and focuses on reviewing books from the past. This can be an old favorite, an under-the-radar book you think deserves more attention, something woefully out of print, etc.

The Wee Free Men

Author: Terry Pratchett
Publisher: HarperCollins
Date: April 29, 2003
Pages: 263
Genre: Fantasy
Source: The locked cabinet- for only the most special books.

They say that the Chalk is too soft to grow a witch. Witches flourish best on land made of the tougher elements and where a good hard earth has been known to produce a good hard witch, no one has ever heard tale of one being born of Chalk. The Chalk is made of millions of seashells, of the bones of tiny creatures that lived when the land was under the waves. It is softer than clay, covered with a fine green down of grass and has been the home of the shepherding family, The Achings, for as far back as anyone would care to remember.

An Aching has always watched over the hills, guarded the sheep and in their own quite mundane way, kept safe their world, from any other wandering worlds that might threaten to collide with it. It’s a simple matter of doing what needs to be done, and being the one willing to do it. It may be nothing more than finding a lost sheep, curing an ailment, showing someone a different way to do things- whatever it takes, to finish the job.

“It doesn’t stop being magick just because you know how it works.”

Tiffany wouldn’t call herself a witch. Well, she’d like to, if such a thing were allowed, but the folk of The Chalk do not take kindly to witches. Oh they like the results and rewards of one well enough, but they, like most ignorant people, don’t like the idea that there’s someone out there with more know-how than themselves. Tiffany is plagued with uncommonly level-headed sensibility and reason, and she often finds herself thoroughly overcome with logic. And when she sees a strange green creature lurking in her river and threatening to eat her little brother, it’s that very same clear-headedness that makes her whack it a good one, with the frying pan.

Now Tiffany is seeing a variety of creatures that she’s not suppose to see. She’s being…no wait helped, strike that- plagued by strange little blue men, with filthy mouths and even dirtier feet.

“They’re not like brownies. If you get Nac Mac Feegle in the house, it’s usually best to move away.”

When the onslaught of magical creatures results in the kidnapping of her brother by their meddlesome Queen, Tiffany, being the one that does the things that no one wants to do (because someone has to), backed by an army of crazed blue warriors and armed with a frying pan, ventures into the world of fairy to take back what’s hers.

“Them as can do has to do for them as can’t. And someone has to speak up for them as has no voices.”


Here I go again, singing Pratchett’s praises and proclaiming my adoration for his stories to anyone who will listen, even if it’s only my inner dreamer, that part of me that still holds hopes that one day, magic will prevail and I’ll find myself becoming the very best witch. When Pratchett decided to venture into the the world of Middle Grade/Young Adult literature, he began with a little book called The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents. It was a cute little spin on the whole Pied-Piper legend, and was written with his usual dry, good-natured, wit. And while it still took place in his imaginary Discworld, I wasn’t as enamored of it as I am his adult books. So when he pinned The Wee Free Men, a book about a young witch with Pratchett’s own very special brand of magic (good sense, paying attention and learning to read people, places and situations, doing what needs to be done and keeping in mind that there are quite possibly unseen forces at work so don’t piss them off. Oh and Headology), I was just a bit overjoyed. I want everyone to experience his world and writing- these marvelous books that subtly poke fun at our society and very quietly urge us to THINK and QUESTION and BELIEVE IN SOMETHING, anything at all! And bringing his wisdom to those untainted enough to benefit from it (youngins), well, I just love it.

This first book in the Tiffany Aching series, introduces us to a very young witch as she comes into her “powers” and realizes just how important being the-person-who-does-the-hard-things is. Pratchett likens his witches to teachers, nurses, paranormal policeman and and other professions that our more delicate sensibilities don’t like to think about needing to be done. They are, in the Discworld, those people who are reliable and trustworthy, and Tiffany’s desire to become one is quite an honorable thing.

The series follows her development and growth as a witch, deals very much in right and wrong (and right again), and holds some of the most powerful book-magic I’ve ever read. This is a good place to start if you’re ready to learn some. And it won’t even cost you an egg.

2 responses to “Retro Friday Review: The Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchett”

  1. I’ve only read two Pratchett books — The Color Of Magic, which was kind of funny, but also a bit British for me and The Amazing Maurice, which I really enjoyed– but I also read it at age 13/14/15ish, something like that so that probably helps.

    Anyways, I really want to get into Pratchett and Discworld since all these people are like OMG IT’S SO GOOD and I am like OMG I DON’T GET IT! So yeah, the point of this long ramble? I think I’ve found a starting place with The Wee Free Men. So good on you for making me actually want to get back into Pratchett.

    • Laura says:

      The Color of Magic was one of his first Discworld novels and a few of those tended to be more fantasy and silliness than some books further along in the series. He writes some immensely moving stories once you get into the series and manages to teach a lot of lessons without sounding judgmental or preaching. I always suggest Small Gods or Reaper Man for anyone who wants to dabble in his adult series. Read any of his books about the city watch if you need to once again have a little faith in mankind. Pratchett loves, loves, loves us- even with all of our ridiculousness.

      His YA/Middle grade stories are so much more than age appropriate spin offs from his adult series. He focuses a lot on questioning the nonsense we’re told growing up and that we believed simply because we were told to. I like to think that he’s leaving little instructions on how to grow up BETTER, or for those of us who already are, how to be better at it. His Tiffany Aching series is, just, wow. You’ll be a bit lost after finishing the final book.

      But, if you want the Full Monty, read Nation. It’s not about the Discworld at all. But needs to be read by everyone.

      If you’re overly sensitive to holes being poked into popular religious ideologies (I’ll let you make of that what you will), I would stay clear of Small Gods and Nation and most of the Aching series. :)

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