Saturday, March 9, 2019

The Wee Free Men Group Read for #MarchMagics


Welcome to our first MarchMagics group read -- THE WEE FREE MEN! Crivens! Though this is the 30th Discworld novel our beloved Sir Terry wrote, it is the first in the Tiffany Aching series and is a fresh take on that also-beloved world. It is billed as a YA series but I feel it is very different in tone to his children's books and fits more with his adult work. It is a story of danger and bravery, complex relationships and motives, and, yes, very ridiculous humor.

Since the plot of this first book is pretty straightforward (fairy queen steals child, protagonist comes to the rescue), how about we talk about the stellar characters today?


One thing that stands out immediately is the fact that Tiffany is only nine years old, doesn't know about her powers, and yet is already super amazing. She's a productive member of the Aching family, making the butter and cheese. She's a babysitter who takes her annoying little brother Wentworth on walks and even sometimes giving him sweeties. She's educated -- at least a basket of produce and a dozen eggs worth! And she's even a matriarch ... well, for a couple of days at least. She's a great protagonist because she's interesting from the start but, because she's so young, has SO much room to grow.


Then there are the titular Wee Free Men. They are thieves and fighters but also have the biggest hearts inside their tiny bodies. And how about that Scots dialect that the Nac Mac Feegles use? I kind of love when a book makes me read out loud inside my head to understand it. And, as Jean just found out, it also makes the audiobook version, read by the inimitable Stephen Briggs, AMAZING.


And, finally, there is the larger-than-life character who isn't even there anymore -- Granny Aching. Her influence on Tiffany, the entirety of the Chalk, and the supernatural world beyond is incalculable. I think the fact that Tiffany didn't even realize she was a witch proved she was one of the strongest ones possible. And yet she did it all as a "simple" solitary shepherdess, whose smoking habit seems a bit gross and whose belief in the medicinal uses of turpentine is horrifying.

So, if you read or reread along this month or even have read it in the past, what are your thoughts on the characters of THE WEE FREE MEN? Share them or any links to your own posts below!

Listening to the toad,
K

Postscript: Remember to observe a moment of silence on Tuesday (12 March), as we again mourn the far-too-early departure of Sir Terence David John Pratchett OBE.

14 comments:

  1. My review of The Wee Free Men (https://wp.me/s2oNj1-weefree) goes into some detail about the kind of ideas that Pratchett put into this Tiffany Aching novel but it mayn't emphasise enough what a fantastic character Tiffany herself is. The fact that his daughter is spearheading the film production of this book makes me wonder if he didn't base aspects of Tiffany's character on her younger self? She must have been an arresting child, if so!

    I've put a preview post up on my blog today of the third in the series but in the meantime am looking forward to reading comments here on your lovely review of the first. Great start, Kristen!

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    1. FIlm version?????!!!!!!!!! Eeeeeeeeee!!!

      *Carefully modulating expectations.* Oh, that sounds interesting; I might have to go see that movie if it gets made.

      They'll certainly have to get a fabulous child actress to play Tiffany.

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    2. I didn't include anything about the film version of this book because the news was from almost 3 years ago and I couldn't really find anything more recent. It would be very cool if it happens though!

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    3. Thank you, Chris! I'm very interested in your thoughts as well. I did some reading about the Chalk/Wilshire region as I was writing this and find it so fascinating that the stories that Pratchett wrote that seem to have the most heart are, in fact, the ones that incorporate where his heart lay in the real world.
      And the use of barrows as pictsie homes, a wonderful hiding place that is already LOADED with treasure was just a fantastic idea.

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    4. The handful of other Discworld novels I've read so far are funny but also laced with the anger that Neil Gaiman noted in his appreciation of TP---anger at the stupidity in the world in particular. The Tiffany books, on the other hand, are centred on family, hearth and home, with that bigheartedness that you and I so appreciate.

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    5. You've articulated exactly why I enjoy his other books but love these ones.

      That and the cheese.

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  2. I love that first cover! Hadn't seen that version before. Love the expression on Tiffany's face.

    Yes, Grandma Aching! One of my favourite all-time literary characters, and she never appears "on-screen" as it were. What a fantastic feat, to create someone so vivid and present without us ever actually meeting her. Pratchett is great at taking little details like her smoking, or Tiffany's boots, which in another author's hands would just be a quirk or a bit of colour, and making them symbols that draw us into the core of the character, make us feel like we've known them all our lives.

    Interesting that you think of this series as more adult—it definitely has a more serious (is that the right word? deep?) tone than his middle-grade novels, and it doesn't fit with typical YA because it starts with Tiffany so young and then grows up with her. If I had read this as a teen, though, I would have adored it and Tiffany would have become my literary BFF/crush I would have wanted to model my life on (up there with Anne of Green Gables).

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    1. Yes, talking so often about Granny Aching's scent, even though it was made of three things I've never smelled before--Jolly Sailor tobacco, turpentine, and sheep's wool--I could still imagine that it was warm and sharp and earthy. And that's how her personality could be described too!

      It's definitely the tone that I was talking about. It's not too young in subject matter and doesn't talk down -- although there are the great moments when the toad is translating the dialect of the Feegles for Tiffany. It's obvious that was for the sake of the readers as well!

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    2. The smells and scents do play such a big part, you're right! And sheep: I can hardly live in Wales without being aware of their omnipresence!

      The toad's place is taken by the cheese in the third novel, I've now just realised; Pratchett is good at endowing material things things with personality so that you soon forget the incongruity and accept their presence.

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  3. Indeed Tiffany is one of the great literary girls of all time -- I wish I'd had her! I love what her ideas about being a witch develop into, with the help of Granny Aching and company. http://howlingfrog.blogspot.com/2019/03/the-wee-free-men.html

    The shepherdess figurine worries me a bit. I have a hard time thinking that Granny Aching would have actually felt hurt by it, but I can't remember if it ever comes up again in later books.

    I do love that her dad hurries up to get her once she's back. Tiffany feels a bit forgotten, but evidently she isn't.

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    1. I don't think it shows up again, but at the end of this book Tiffany does either imagine or actually see Granny in the shepherdess costume (though with her own boots on) and a satisfied look on her face -- so either Granny was finally at peace with Tiffany's gesture (which, yes, I do think she was truly hurt by it at the time) or Tiffany herself realized that she shouldn't beat herself up about a mistaken childhood gesture for the rest of her life because Granny would have forgiven her.

      And yes, that moment when she thinks she is about to get in trouble but then her dad is laughing and crying and happy to see her? That was so sweet!

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  4. Both Tiffany and Granny Aching are indelibly memorable! When I read Equal Rites (early Discworld book), I felt it was a warm-up for Tiffany. It's fine to re-use ideas as long as authors keep improving on them.

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    1. That's interesting. I think I've always had some space between reads of this series and of the other Witches books so haven't noticed shared ideas. But now I may have to fit in an Equal Rites reread!

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  5. I read it this month for the first time and ADORED IT! I found this fab, fully-illustrated copy at my library, and it was magical. My first introduction to Tiffany Aching and it was fantastic! (Also, yes, agree that Granny Aching's presence is so large even without being technically in it! Wow. Excellent storytelling.) I especially love the Nac Mac Feegle--they are the absolute BEST. XD I love them so much! If they are in the sequels I simply must read more! :D I also liked the classic evil-fae-queen side.

    It felt totally different than the other Discworlds I've read so far (granted, I still have only read a handful) but so, so good! And I enjoyed the lighter, more-YA feel. I felt good handing it to my little brother to read (he loved it too!) while I don't always feel like the other Discworlds would be quite ready for him yet.

    But oh my goodness, those Wee Free Men!!! XD

    Delightful! <3 So glad this was picked for the readalong since it got me to read it! I don't always know which Pratchett to try next, so this was perfect! ^_^

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