BOOK REVIEW – TERRY PRATCHETT – DISCWORLD – THE WEE FREE MEN 2003 Random House Press.

 

A Discworld novel written specifically for children, and centring on the witches. There are few of the regular characters from the established adult Discworld books here, with Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg only coming in quite near the end. The Wee Free Men, the Scottish Pictsies, are the six-inch high fearless warriors who were introduced in Carpe Jugulum. Here, they assist a trainee witch, Tiffany, a humble nine year old farm girl, rescue her horrible brother from a fairy queen.

 

Tiffany sees strange monsters, including the Headless Horseman, and jenny Greenteeth (a water demon from children’s stories), and meets the Nac Mac Feegle (the Wee Free Men of the title), who will fight anyone and steal anything. They believe that they are dead warriors, and that our world is their Heaven, in providing endless opportunities to continue being mercenaries. The only things they fear are lawyers. They cheerfully fight sharks, the Headless Horseman, and dream creatures sent by the Queen, and they have nothing but contempt for monarchy and government. The warriors have their own airborne reconnaissance team, and they can kill using poetry and Mousepipe song played by their McGonagals (inspired mixture of William McGonagall and Douglas Adams’s Vogon poetry).

 

The best character is Tiffany’s ancestor, Granny Aching, a formidable witch herself, and now dead. People still fear and respect her presence and leave Jolly Sailor tobacco out for her, which the Nac Mac Feegle obligingly steals. Tiffany frequently remembers stories and anecdotes about the mysterious granny, including the day Tiffany saw her putting a live, but almost dead sheep into a hot oven, only to be told later that it was a shepherdess trick for using a warm, rather than hot oven to gently warm up a lamb or sheep that was suffering from hypothermia.  Such folk wisdom is often seen as the real magic in the story, though Tiffany will develop some skills with supernatural abilities too in her quest for her brother. This is lovely story telling, and well worth a look for the grown up Discworld fans as well as the younger audience who may well go on to the rest of the series from here.

 

 © Copyright. Arthur Chappell          

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