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
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]