Thursday, January 22, 2009

The Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchett

My beginnings with the works of Terry Pratchett go farther back than they really should have. The first time I picked up a Pratchett book, I didn't have nearly enough of an understanding of fantasy, fable and fairytale to "get" it. Also, I was a little too serious to realize that Pratchett wrote loving satire, as opposed to poking disdainful fun at a genre I loved and felt didn't get nearly enough respect. I can't remember which book it was, but I don't think I even got halfway through it. I do remember thinking it was silly. Yes, back then I was a bit of a prat.

I don't mean to say that someone has to know fantasy to "get" Pratchett. I don't think that's true. I do think, however, that having a long, varied and rather detailed understanding of the conventions of the genre make Pratchett that much more enjoyable.

Other than The Wee Free Men, I have only read Mort, and part of this is because I want to start at the beginning. I want to read the Discworld novels in the order Pratchett wrote them, because I want to see them grow and change with the years. So I've ordered The Color of Magic from the library (it will have to come in by ILLO, because neither of the two systems I have access to have a copy themselves). I understand that not all of them will be The Wee Free Men, but I'm going to read them all anyways. I picked up The Wee Free Men because it's the book that introduces Tiffany Aching, and I've heard nothing but good things about her. So I figured while I was waiting for Color I could cheat a little.

As for The Wee Free Men itself: I adore this book. I am going to buy it the minute I have spare change, and I am going to read it again and again. I don't exactly know where to start. The turn of phrase, the descriptions, the characters, the imagination, the skill, the humanity with which this book is written -- all of it, really, is perfect. The plot is exciting and entertaining. The characters. The human characters are very human. The inhuman characters are very inhuman, but not in an off-putting way. Sometimes fantasy authors fall into the trap of making inhuman characters too human; or, if not, completely inaccessible and unsympathetic. Not so here.

The book is funny, and touching. There is a part where I got a little teary, but I won't say which one, other than that it involved dogs, which I guess are a bit of a soft spot for me, anyway. This is somewhat remarkable, because I rarely get teary while reading and I certainly didn't expect it from this book. It kind of snuck up on me. It's possible I haven't had enough tea this morning, but I'm pretty sure that it would have happened anyways.

The description is just enough to offer a vivid, complete idea of the world in which Tiffany lives, the one she goes to, as well as Tiffany herself, and those around her. I have fully formed pictures in my head, which also doesn't happen often. None of it is wasted words, either. This is one of my favourite descriptions of a main character, ever (from page 14):
This is Tiffany, walking back home. Start with the boots. They are big and heavy boots, much repaired by her father and they'd belonged to various sisters before her; she wore several pairs of socks to keep them on. They are big. Tiffany sometimes feels she is nothing more than a way of moving boots around.

I loved her immediately. Actually, I loved as soon as the frying pan came out. But additionally, I can practically feel those boots on my own feet. Tiffany is seriously one of the best heroines I have ever encountered, a balm for someone who finds herself a little more annoyed with each book that has a heroine too stupid to live.

I don't know what else to say, really, other than to gush. In a way I'm sorry I took so long to discover Pratchett's genius. On the other hand, I think that I'm appreciating it far more now than I ever would have, and I'm planning to take my time and thoroughly enjoy the ride.


Ana S. said...

"I do think, however, that having a long, varied and rather detailed understanding of the conventions of the genre make Pratchett that much more enjoyable."

I complete agree. And this is one of the reasons why I've been growing to appreciate him more and more. I think the book you first read might have been The Colour of Magic...or maybe Sorcery. It's only the first handful of Discworld books that are obvious (loving) parodies of fantasy. The series did change a lot over the years, and I understand your reasons for wanting to read it in order.

The Wee Free Men is one of my very, very favourites. I feel the same away about it as you do, and reading your review really made me smile :) Actually, you made me want to read it again. I have been meaning to get that lovely illustrated edition that came out a few months ago...

Unknown said...

Is The Colour of Magic the one that has the elephant on the front cover? Because I think that was the one that I tried to read.

One of the great things about Discworld, too, is that there is so much of it -- so many books to enjoy.

Ana S. said...

The edition I have doesn't, but there have been different covers over the years. And you're right...I still remember how thrilled I was when I got into it and realized how many books there were for me to enjoy.

Unknown said...

The version of The Colour of Magic I have now has a piece of luggage on the front. It doesn't look nearly lethal enough, really.

=Tamar said...

The elephant was on the cover of The Fifth Elephant. It's a Vimes book.

Unknown said...

Aha! Mystery solved. Thanks Tamar! I think I will certainly like it better the second time around -- quite like Vimes.