on September 28, 2006
but the fire is so delightful. And since we've no place to go. Let it Snow! Let it Snow! Let it Snow!"
And snow it does in Terry Pratchett's delightfully funny and thoughtful latest book, Wintersmith. I have to admit that I ordered Wintersmith because it was by Terry Pratchett. I did not notice that it is targeted as a Discworld book for younger readers. Adult fans of Discworld or of the genre generally should ignore this fact and step up and read Wintersmith. It is fun and should appeal to "children of all ages!"
The plot is summarized quite nicely in the book description and I won't waste anyone's time repeating that summary. What isn't summarized is Pratchett's way with words and with characterizations. Here we have Tiffany Aching. Not only is she a 13-year girl entering her angst-filled teen years with a lot to learn about becoming an adult, but she is also learning how to become a witch. The witches in Macbeth sum this situation up nicely when they chanted: "double, double, toil and trouble, fire burn and cauldron bubble." Pratchett has a keen ear for Tiffany and me manages to convey these pangs of adolescence with an empathy that would be too sweet if it wasn't interspersed with humor and a nod and a wink. Pratchett knows how to keep the cauldron bubbling and those bubbles contain some of Pratchett's famous set-pieces.
The Wee Free Men (the miniature version of Cohen the Barbarian multiplied by a factor of five hundred) provide some of those `fun' moments. Two examples bear repeating. At one point early on Daft Wullie goes on (with more than a wee bit of Scottish brogue) about the problem of being married and having to deal with "the Pursin' o' the Lips", the "Foldin' o' the Arms", and "not tae mention the Tappin' o' the Feets". It is left to Rob Anybody to explain the art "o' the husbandry". A little later Tiffany's beau-in-waiting Roland wonders if he is too clever by half. Roland is relieved to hear that being too clever by half is preferable to "bein' too stupid by three quarters!" Out of context these may seem to be nothing more than throw-away bits of fun writing. In context they seem a bit more than that.
Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg provide Tiffany with what can best be described as an inimitable (if off-kilter) support group. They are recurring characters on Discworld and they are in fine fettle. Rounding out the cast of characters is Wintersmith. This representation of Winter itself, who falls in love (in a boyish sort of way) with Tiffany, is a great counterbalance to Tiffany's character. If Tiffany is a young girl struggling to learn to be a woman, Winter is something approaching a boy struggling to learn what it is to become a human and then a man. It is a funny and touching portrayal. Looking at Tiffany (and her fellow teen witches) and Wintersmith and Roland was a lot like looking back at high school. Even in the alternate world that is Discworld - some things just don't change.
Wintersmith was a fun book to read despite the fact that I am decades (sad to say) removed from my teen years. This is a great book to pass throughout the family and one of the reasons I read Wintersmith so quickly was the fact that my own teenager was doing the Tappin' o' the Feets and the Foldin' o' the Arms until I'd finished it. Highly recommended for youngsters - even those with grey hair such as me. Enjoy. L. Fleisig
on January 3, 2007
Gradually, I'm gaining an appreciation of the magic and charm of Terry Pratchett's writing. For some reason, I managed to get through high school, university and a fair chunk of my adult life being a fantasy fan, without dipping my toe into the Discworld universe. And though this oversight was corrected by reading Wee Free Men, I must confess to being intimidated by Pratchett's considerable body of work. It's almost too much of a good thing, really; where do I start?
Tiffany Aching has, thus far, been the most successful in leading me into Pratchett's Discworld realm (I've also read The Amazing Maurice and His Incredible Rodents). From Wee Free Men, I was enchanted by this eight-year-old girl who took on the Queen of the Faeries armed only with an iron frying pan in order to save her baby brother and the baron's son, Roland. Tiffany was helped along by the Nac Mac Feegles -- the Wee Free Men of the story -- who are basically a bunch of belligerent, boozing, battling, dumb-and-brave-as-posts Scottish smurfs.
The Nac Mac Feegle take on the task of looking after young Tiffany (the "big wee hag" as they call her) with a fierce loyalty, but it's Tiffany that carries Wee Free Men. She's a fascinating character, carrying all of the vulnerability of her youth but totally unwilling (or possibly unable) to let that burden her. The Nac Mac Feegle are hilarious with their phonetic Scottish dialogue and their too-dumb-to-be-afraid ways, but it's Tiffany who carries all of the doubts, who overcomes all of the adversities she knows should crush her, and who makes all of the interesting decisions as we watch her grow up.
She certainly catches the interest of Miss Tick, a witch-finder who is startled by the young girl's witchy abilities which are strong despite the fact that Tiffany lives on "the Chalk" -- an area of rolling hills fit mostly for sheep herding whose soft rock is said to be unable to support witches. Tiffany's grandmother, however, was a legendary shepherdess, and very probably a witch in her own right. With Tiffany's abilities threatening to outstrip that of her grandmother, Miss Tick suggests that Tiffany get some proper witch schooling, which takes us into the book A Hat Full of Sky. This book is not as funny as the first (partly because the Nac Mac Feegle don't feature as prominently), but it continues Tiffany's story (she's now eleven years old here) and we are introduced to characters that feature prominently in Pratchett's other works (including Esme "Granny" Weatherwax). Here, the depth of Tiffany's powers are illustrated when she attracts the attention of a Hiver.
Terry Pratchett's Wintersmithtakes us to Tiffany's thirteenth birthday with a story that's an improvement on A Hat Full of Sky. Tiffany is really coming into her own, so much so that, while the Nac Mac Feegle do get a number of funny scenes in this book, they aren't missed as much as they were in the second book. The comic tension is now shared on a number of fronts, including Tiffany's maturation into a young woman. You really start to feel the age gap between Tiffany and Granny Weatherwax, and you share Nanny Ogg's delight at embarrassing the poor girl with questions about the baron's son Roland, who may or may not be developing into Tiffany's boyfriend. More importantly, Tiffany starts to make mistakes.
At the night of the autumnal equinox, Tiffany is taken to a secret showing of the Dark Morris -- a dance ceremony the precise opposite of the May Day Morris Dance, designed to give the cycles of summer and winter another push. It's a sombre ceremony, performed silently and all in black, but Tiffany still feels the beat that the dancers are dancing to and, for reasons she can not explain to herself, she finds herself dancing to that beat, and finds herself inside the dance, where she attracts the attention of the Wintersmith. The Wintersmith is the invisible elemental that resides at the centre of the dance and who controls the winter. Over the next six months, poor Tiffany must suffer the Wintersmith's attentions, as he showers her with embarrassing gifts, including snowflakes in her image, and threatens to swamp the world with winter-without-end.
In Wee Free Men, Tiffany had plenty of internal doubts, but she blazed on with the clarity of a child. A Hat Full of Skyshows Tiffany going beyond her abilities and getting punished for it by the attentions of the Hiver -- even though it's not really her fault. Wintersmithfeatures Tiffany making the mistakes any young, awkward teenager would make, which means the girl is starting to come into her own as a fully fleshed out adult character. What is definitely Tiffany about Tiffany Aching is the fact that she accepts the responsibility for her mistake -- one which, for the first time, might cost other people's lives -- and resolves to do everything in her power to fix it, even at the cost of her own life.
There are other subplots which flesh out Tiffany's character and the character of those around her. Intriguingly, like Tiffany, her witch teachers now seem more human. Granny Weatherwax loads Tiffany down with a number of chores over the next six months, both to keep Tiffany occupied and her mind off the tremendous threat she faces, but also to further her own agenda in a game of one-upsmanship against the flamboyant Mrs. Earwig. There is also a wonderful sequence with Tiffany's current mentor Miss Treason, who teaches Tiffany an invaluable lesson about how psychology plays as important a part in witchcraft as magic. Miss Treason's last moments (she's 113) are among the highlight of the book, being at once hilarious and sad.
Even the Baron's son, poor Roland, gets some good airtime in this story, as the Nac Mac Feegle are forced to conscript him on a hero's quest to help Tiffany finish her fight against the Wintersmith. The boy is, in many ways, the opposite of Tiffany -- sheltered, naive, not very powerful at all, and knowing it, but he is growing too, thank's to his friendship with Tiffany, and it will be interesting to see where his story goes in the next book.
I have not read enough of Pratchett's work to assess for certain how well he does with Wintersmith, but the book feels like one of his best, as he is firing on all cylinders producing a story that is at times funny, sad, poignant and uplifting. He does a heck of a lot in just thirteen chapters, with not a wasted page among them. The disparate subplots come together thematically and the story is resolved neatly, with the reader left wanting more.
Please do tell me that there is more Tiffany Aching to come.
on January 22, 2007
First published in 2006, "Wintersmith" is set on the Discworld and is Terry Pratchett's third book to feature Tiffany Aching and the Wee Free Men. Tiffany was raised on an area called the Chalk, where her grandmother was a very influential figure and a revered shepherdess. Tiffany idolised her Granny Aching and, having long suspected she was also a witch, is now following in her footsteps.
Tiffany is currently being trained by Miss Eumenides Treason, a rather frightening 113 year-old witch : so far, she's lasted an impressive three months at the cottage, where most other students only lasted a single night. The house is full of cobwebs, despite its lack of obvious spiders, and everything in black. (Tiffany even has to make her cheeses black. One of them, Horace, is a rather lively cheese - he's a bit like a dairy-related version of Rincewind's luggage. He has his own personality and can move about by himself). Miss Treason's favourite candle-holders are skulls, while legend has it there's a pile of gold in her cellar guarded by a demon.
Tiffany has seen the 'standard' Morris Dance at home : the dancers danced, summer came and she never gave it too much more thought. The Dark Morris, however, is its mirror image : it's not so widely known and when it's danced, the winter arrives. Miss Treason, who has never missed it, says it also has to be witnessed. However, Tiffany is given strict instructions not to talk, to look only at the dancers and - most importantly - NOT to move until the dance has finished. Unfortunately, the beat gets into Tiffany's feet and she can't stop herself joining the dance. Before you can say Tiffany-shaped-snowflakes, the Wintersmith (the elemental in charge of winter) has fallen in love with a certain young witch who danced the Dark Morris with him.
Obviously, this spells trouble for Tiffany - luckily, however, she has Granny Weatherwax, Miss Treason and Nanny Ogg to help her out. Better yet, she has the Wee Free Men on her side. Also known as the Nac Mac Feegle, these Pictsies were thrown out of Fairyland for being drunk, disorderly and generally rebellious. They are covered in tattoos, have red hair and blue skin and wear little other than kilts and swords. An extremely strong and agile race, they are extremely fond of fighting, stealing and drinking - Granny Aching's Special Sheep Lineament is a particular favourite. For a while, Tiffany was their temporary Kelda (or Queen) - as a result they have a duty to always protect her. However, it won't be easy against a lovesick Wintersmith...
Like everything else I've read by Pratchett, this is an excellent book. It's easily read, features plenty of likeable characters and there are plenty of laughs. Although it's probably better to have read "The Wee Free Men" and "A Hat Full of Sky" before this, you'll not feel too left out if you haven't. Definitely recommended !
This is the section of the Discworld series where young readers should not fear to tread. However, even little angels should be warned to tread very carefully when selecting this book, mainly because of all the adults stampeding to get their copies of book three of the Tiffany Aching adventures.
The story picks up a couple of years after A Hat Full of Sky, with Tiffany attending a performance of the Black Morris, the secret dance that welcomes winter. The music soon has her toes tapping, and before long, her feet follow suit and she joins the dance, realizing too late that this is a big no-no.
Unknowingly, Tiffany cuts in to an age-old dance between winter and summer, and finds herself in a seasonal love triangle when her dance partner, the Wintersmith, goes Rodgers & Hammerstein on her:
"We've just been introduced,
I do not know you well,
But when the music started
Something drew me to your side.
So many men and girls,
Are in each others arms.
It made me think we might be
So now the Wintersmith, an elemental, has a huge crush on a human, and starts doing all the dopey things that are done when love is in the air, except that his love tokens ultimately result in a cold shoulder. With all the large and small gods looking on at the entertaining spectacle, the Wintersmith decides to take it further, and armed with a children's nursery rhyme, he channels Westlife as he sets about assembling the components he needs.
"Tell me what makes a man
Wanna give you all his heart
Smile when you're around
And cry when you're apart"
Tiffany realizes that she has to deal with her mistake, which is spiraling out of control, and with a little guidance from the elder witches, she learns to cope with little inconveniences like flowers blooming where she walks and the unheralded arrival of the horn of plenty. Realizing that she needs some help, the elder witches enlist the Nac Mac Feegles (because these stories wouldn't be any fun without them) to find someone who can, namely - a hero.
"I need a hero
I'm holding out for at hero 'till the end of the night
He's gotta be strong
And he's gotta be fast
And he's gotta be fresh from the fight"**
They do find the hero, even though at first it seems unlikely that he measures up to the requirements, and whisk him down to the underworld to retrieve the only hope for saving Tiffany.
Packed with all your favorite characters and some new ones, and even Horace the cheese, the main story is neatly ensconced between humorous supporting stories of witches and warts, and a whole load of Boffo!***
This book is highly recommended for young readers up to the age of approximately 99, give or take a few years, but reading the other two books first is strongly encouraged, just because they are also really, really good.
*From The King & I, but you already knew that
**Bonnie Tyler, but you knew that too
***You'll know what this is when you read the book
Tiffany Aching, the heroine of this wonderful series for young readers (chronologically and mentally), is continuing her apprenticeship to become a witch. She lives with Miss Treason, a rather unusual witch to say the least. Tiffany learns as she goes, does her chores without complaints and realizes that witching is learned by doing. It has little to do with magic, except, maybe, for a bit of "boffo". Now almost 13 years old, she is experiencing new and complex emotions, in particular as they concern "boys". She also has to learn to take responsibility and that one simple little error of judgment can have dramatic consequences, reaching far beyond her own life.
Pratchett has spun another great yarn around witches, young and old, linking it to the previous books in the series and adding new twists. Trying to be useful to Tiffany are the familiar older witches: Granny Weatherwax, Nanny Ogg and Miss Tick. But, with Tiffany in trouble, the Nac Mac Feegles cannot be far away. The tiny blue good-for-trouble creatures have to leave their favorite pastime for a while to help their "wee big hag" to confront the great danger that is potentially engulfing everything. Less helpful and preoccupied with their own lives, competing with each other, but as important to growing up, is the coven of young apprentice witches.
So, what is the great danger? Despite being warned not to, Tiffany joins in the secret dark Morris dance. The opposite from the light cheerful May dance that welcomes the summer, the dark dance announces the beginning of winter. And Tiffany's dance partner is no other than the "elemental" of winter, the Wintersmith. The young girl is torn between fascination and fear by the unlikely suitor who has fallen in love with her. She is touched by the attention and icy presents created for her: flowers, snowflakes in her image, and much more. At the same time she knows the devastating destruction that come with each appearance: storms of increasing intensity that cover everything under a deep blanket of snow. How can she extricate herself and her surroundings from the dangers that loom? Can she rely on her tiny blue friends? Can the witches solve the puzzle? Read it to find out.
Pratchett is a master in building characters and spinning intricate and multilayered stories. This is another one to treasure. My recommendation, though, is to start the series at the beginning, you'll have more fun. [Friederike Knabe]
on November 2, 2014
Great continuation of a great series, Pratchett tends to get his characters into situations where you are sure they are going to zig, but then they always seem to zag. Great interaction between the players as well.
on January 28, 2015
Another Beautiful yet insightful book in to spirituality and humor. Highly recommend his whole series as an educational guide to spirituality and understanding the world better.