Friday, January 7, 2011

The Wee Free Men: The Beginning

by Terry Pratchett
Publisher HarperCollins Publishers

Terry Pratchett should need no introduction. He is a knighted author of Fantasy, most famous for his Discworld series, which has inspired everything from cartoons, BBC movies, figurines, t-shirts, postage stamps, street names in a Somerset city, their own convention, and even a line of beer. The Wee Free Men: The Beginning is a collection of two of his young adult novels, The Wee Free Men and A Hat Full of Sky. These two novels follow the young protagonist, Tiffany Aching, through her adventures and lessons in becoming a witch.

In The Wee Free Men, Tiffany is nine-years-old, and works on her parents farm on The Chalk, making cheese, watching her younger brother, and helping take care of the livestock, mostly sheep. One day, she and her brother are attacked by a river goblin named Jenny Greenteeth, which Tiffany soundly defeats using a frying pan. Such actions do not go unnoticed, and under the tutelage of an experienced witch named Miss Tick and her talking toad, Tiffany learns that she has all the makings of a witch. When her brother is stolen by the Queen of the Fairies, Tiffany takes it upon herself to rescue him, armed only with a dictionary, a frying pan, and the help of the Nac Mac Feegle, tiny blue kilted pictsies with a penchant for drinking Special Sheep Linament and more than willing "to give any scunner a full of heid, ye kennit," even if that means fighting themselves, which they often do.

A Hat Full of Sky features Tiffany two years later, when she is apprenticed to Miss Level, a witch with one mind and two bodies. She learns that being a witch involves very little Queen of the Fairy fighting, and mostly taking care of those too old, too young, too sick or just ignorant to take care of themselves. Tiffany also finds herself battling with a hiver, a disembodied spirit that takes over the bodies of powerful beings in the same way a hermit crab takes over a shell, using them to their full potential until they are completely spent, then moving on once they die. Tiffany also finds herself pitted against a pack of the vilest, cunning and dangerous creatures know to man-- teenage girls. Led by a fellow apprentice named Annagramma, who spells magic with a ‘k’ and believes she is above all menial tasks Tiffany and Miss Levels perform. Through it all, Tiffany is once again defended and aided by the Nac Mac Feegle, who adopt Tiffany as their hag, and who are placed under a geas (a very important obligation, not a large bird) to save at any cost.

Both books have Pratchett's trademark comedy and satire imbued in them, as well as allusions that would make any adult reader chuckle along with the young ones. Through this humor, Pratchett offers readers young and old alike lessons and morals about life. For example, Miss Tick's lesson to Tiffany: "If you trust in yourself... and believe in your dreams... and follow your star... you'll still get beaten by people who spent their time working hard and learning things and weren't so lazy." Pratchett clearly aims to take the traditional fantasy novel or Disney princess movie and flip it on its head, creating a very intriguing protagonist who readers of any age will enjoy.

Buy it here.

Review by Joshua Gage

Joshua Gage is an ornery curmudgeon from Cleveland. His first full-length collection, "breaths", is available from VanZeno Press. Intrinsic Night, a collaborative project he wrote with J. E. Stanley, was recently published by Sam’s Dot Publishing. He is a graduate of the Low Residency MFA Program in Creative Writing at Naropa University. He has a penchant for Pendleton shirts, rye whiskey and any poem strong enough to yank the breath out of his lungs. He stomps around Cleveland in a purple bathrobe where he hosts the monthly Deep Cleveland Poetry hour and enjoys the beer at Brew Kettle.

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