The Wee Free Men is the thirtieth novel in Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series, and the second book which was marketed as a children’s novel. Much like the first one, The Amazing Maurice And His Educated Rodents, the only thing that makes it more child friendly than the rest of the series is the lack of innuendo. Otherwise it’s business as usual and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.
This book sees the introduction of a new, and key character to the series, the child witch, Tiffany Aching. It also sees the reintroduction of the rest of the witches, albeit in this book, in a brief cameo. I have a great fondness for this book because Tiffany and Granny Weatherwax are my favourite Discworld characters, and in this subset of books I believe that Pratchett came to the peak of his power as a writer. Nowhere does his love and also criticism of humanity shine as fiercely for me as it does in these novels.
Regular readers will know that my eleven year old son is reading these books to me, and he loved this. We have briefly met the Nac Mac Feegle in a previous Discworld novel (Carpe Jugulum), but here they really come into their own. I thought he would struggle with their language, but reading aloud really helped him understand what they were saying, and after an initial bit of difficulty, he really began to enjoy speaking their characters.
Tiffany lives on the chalk downs, and it’s a very different place to the rest of the Discworld. It’s farming country. It’s no nonsense, sheep rearing, cheese making and butter making for Tiffany. There is not supposed to be any magic on the chalk, except, Tiffany finds that there is, and only she can deal with it, from leading the Wee Free Men, to banishing the fairy queen, to understanding what it is to be a witch of the chalk, and to coming to terms with the loss of her beloved granny. This is a job for an Aching, and Tiffany is more than up for it.
This has broad comic moments that made Oscar and I laugh out loud. He particularly loved the character of Tiffany’s brother, Wentworth, and I have always had a soft spot for the Nac Mac Feegle and their lawless ways. I love the message of this book which is basically that it doesn’t stop being magic, just because you’ve figured out how it’s done.