The reread of the first Tiffany Aching book, The Wee Free Men, was inspired by a chat on the Fantasy Faction forum in which one person professed a mental block to the idea of Pratchett for kids. I said I’d felt the same way as someone who discovered Discworld as a kid himself, but that the main difference was the marketing. Well, that had to be tested again, didn’t it?
Particularly since the other main difference was that the Tiffany Aching books are also weirder, and I’m on a bit of a weird kick.
In most ways my memory proved me right. The most important things about Pratchett protagonists are their competence, their streak of darkness, and their sour feelings towards a world that makes little sense, not their age. Nor does Sir Pterry change his approach more than marginally when talking to a hypothetically different audience. His audience is Pratchett fans. He is perhaps a little more black and white, a little more given to going after targets children expect – compare his passing thoughts on teachers to those found in Thief of Time or Soul Music – but we’re splitting hairs here.
I might have misremembered just how weird this book is though.
The plot of the book is fairly simple. Tiffany is an inherently witchy young lady living on the chalk downs when one day, the world of the elves comes close and she soon finds herself in the position of having to rescue her sticky, annoying brother. So off she goes into faerieland with nothing but a frying pan, a talking toad, and a clan of the more-Scottish-than-the-Scots pictsies known as the Nac Mac Feegle.
And faerieland is weird.
I presume most children followed it well enough for their liking, as the series went on. Me, I just about kept up. It is surreal and twisty, the logic of action and reaction bent rightly askew in many places. The layering of dreams and realities was very welcome.
Yet, somehow, despite it all, I don’t think this is one of my favourite Pratchetts. Granted that just means I think it’s very good rather than a masterpiece. I think maybe the long weird parts through the proverbial rabbit hole go on a little too long, and he repeats a few jokes a few times too often.
But it’s still very much a Pratchett and therefore still very good, no matter who they say the audience is.