Currently Reading: The Wee Free Men

The Wee Free Men (Discworld, #30)"I would like a question answered today," said Tiffany.

"Provided it's not the one about how you get baby hedgehogs," said the man.

"No," said Tiffany patiently. "It's about zoology."

"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."

The teacher's eyes narrowed further. Children like Tiffany were bad news. "I can see you're a clever one," he said. "But I don't know any teachers of zoology in these parts. Vetin'ry, yes, but not zoology. Any particular animal?"

"Jenny Green-Teeth. A water-dwelling monster with big teeth and claws and eyes like soup plates," said Tiffany.

"What size of soup plates? Do you mean big soup plates, a whole full-portion bowl with maybe some biscuits, possibly even a bread roll, or do you mean the little cup you might get if, for example, you just ordered a soup and a salad?"

"The size of soup plates that are eight inches across," said Tiffany, who'd never ordered soup and a salad anywhere in her life. "I checked."

Author: Terry Pratchett

From Goodreads: They're small. They're blue.
And nobody messes with them.

Armed with only a frying pan and her common sense, young witch-to-be Tiffany Aching must defend her home against the very monsters of Fairyland. Luckily, she has some very unusual help: the local Nac Mac Feegle—aka the Wee Free Men—a clan of fierce, sheep-stealing, sword-wielding, six-inch-high blue men.

Together they must face headless horsemen, ferocious grimhounds, terrifying dreams come true, and ultimately the sinister Queen of the Elves herself....

Notes: The Tiffany Aching series was recommended to me—by whom, I've forgotten; probably Mr. Pond—when I said I'd found the first two Discworld books enjoyable, but not compelling enough to make me want to read more. My complaint had been the lack of strong lovable characters, which is a common problem among humor novels. As it turns out, the recommendation was good. Lack of lovability wasn't a problem for Tiffany at all.

It could have been; nine-year-old Tiffany is unaffectionate and practical to the point of caricature. But she's also hard-working and hard-thinking, fiercely loyal to her home and her land, and determined to be like her Granny Aching, who healed sheep with "turpentine and cussin'" and smoked Jolly Sailor tobacco and said little but was respected by all. It's hard not to love a character like that, and my inner ten-year-old wants to be much more like her than I am.

The portrayal of both Tiffany and her Granny is very much a good comic one, but what makes it great is that it's also deeply thoughtful. Granny Aching, for all her few words, lives in Tiffany's memory as a source of wisdom; there's a striking compassion beneath her tough exterior, and a lot of questioning and resolving beneath Tiffany's. There were a number of times that I stopped to ponder over a paragraph of one or the other's ideas.

And along those lines: because I have been so intensely religious all my life, it's hard for me to read a book like this without seeing the author's basically secular worldview waving at me from the text. It's a felt difference between this book and, say, the otherwise fairly comparable Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. Most readers will not notice this, and some will of course be glad of it, but I was loosely uncomfortable with the here-and-there subversive tone, nontraditional ideas of virtue such as the "make your anger work for you" thing, and the profound emphasis on self-actualization as prime good. It wasn't malicious enough to put me off the story, but it was present.

But I loved the part about waking up.

Deep thoughts aside, the narrative is just plain funny. It's always hard to predict another reader's sense of humor, but I laughed aloud a lot. Pratchett keeps grown-up humor going throughout, while never quite transgressing the borders of reasonable middle-schooler understanding. The Nac Mac Feegle are an uproarious lot, from their names to their language to their roguery, and Tiffany and Granny, the teachers and the witches all offer plenty of amusement. They make for a fun read. This is a satisfying summer fantasy story, and I could definitely see myself going in for the sequel.

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