A Hat Full of Sky by Terry Pratchett is the thirty-second book in the Discworld series, and the second to feature the witch of the chalk, Tiffany Aching. It is also the third book which was published ostensibly as one for children (The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents and The Wee Free Men being the first two). It is also my favourite of the entire Discworld series.
This book follows on from the action in The Wee Free Men. There is a brief recap to set the scene, and then we are thrown into Tiffany’s training as a witch and her run in with a creature called a Hiver, something which strikes fear into the hearts of even the Nac Mac Feegle themselves. Granny Weatherwax has a small, but significant role here, and this book is the one that establishes Tiffany as joining the sub-set of books about the witches.
For me, A Hat Full of Sky is so special because it shows Pratchett’s commitment to his theories of what magic is in a non-magical world. It’s where everything he’s been hinting at gets spelled out for those at the back. It’s him, doubling down on what it means to be a witch and what magic really is, and what that means for those of us stuck on a round world where witches don’t exist any more, except that for Pratchett they very much do. It’s the most humane, passionate and angry of his books and every time I read it, or in this case, have it read to me by my son, it makes me cry.
Oscar loved it too, almost certainly for different reasons. He’s an eleven year old boy. He’s got the joy I had of reading Pratchett the first time at a young age, and loving the story, and the funny bits, and then reading it again and again as he grows and seeing the layers, the cleverness, the wisdom and the complexity of the books that will make them endure long after other more ‘worthy’ tomes have fallen by the wayside.
I wrote about it on my main blog a few weeks ago, so I will finish with what I wrote there.
It’s my favourite of the Discworld books. Possibly one of my favourite books ever. There are many reasons to love it, tough, brilliant women characters for a start. It’s funny, and clever and sad and brilliant and it’s all about what it is to be human. And the magic? Well, the magic is in being human too. Here’s my favourite part. Here’s what Granny Weatherwax has to say about magic, and she is right.
‘She cares about ’em. Even the stupid, mean, dribbling ones, the mothers with the runny babies and no sense, the feckless and the silly and the fools who treat her like some kind of servant. Now that’s what I call magic – seein’ all that, dealin’ with all that, and still goin’ on. It’s sittin’ up all night with some poor old man who’s leavin’ the world, taking away such pain as you can, comfortin’ their terror, seein’ ’em safely on their way…and then cleanin’ ’em up, layin’ ’em out, making ’em neat for the funeral and helpin’ the weeping widow strip the bed and wash the sheets – which is, let me tell you, no job for the faint-hearted – and stayin’ up the next night to watch over the coffin before the funeral, and then going home and sitting down for five minutes before some shouting angry man comes bangin’ on your door ‘cos his wife’s havin’ difficulty givin’ birth to their first child and the midwife’s at her wits’ end and then getting up and fetching your bag and going out again…We all do that, in our own way, and she does it better’n me, if I was to put my hand on my heart. That is the root and heart and soul and centre of witchcraft that is. The soul and centre!’ Mistress Weatherwax smacked her fist into her hand, hammering out her words. ‘The…soul…and…centre!’
Echoes came back from the trees in the sudden silence. Even the grasshoppers by the side of the track had stopped sizzling.
‘And Mrs Earwig,’ said Mistress Weatherwax, her voice sinking to a growl, ‘Mrs Earwig tells her girls it’s about cosmic balances and stars and circles and colours and wands and…toys, nothing but toys!’ She sniffed. ‘Oh, I daresay they’re all very well as decoration, somethin’ nice to look at while you’re workin’, somethin’ for show, but the start and finish, the start and finish, is helpin’ people when life is on the edge. Even people you don’t like. Stars is easy, people is hard.’