Monday, February 28, 2011

*re-read* The Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchett

The Wee Free Men
by Sir Terry Pratchett
Random House, 2004
317 pages

I love this book. I don't think there's anything much else I can say; I love it. I love it as much this time around as when I first read it, and was finally convinced that perhaps the Discworld was a place I might like to spend significant brain time in.

My book club, the one that reads genre fiction, is reading this. This is definitely one of the big advantages of running a book club where the members are basically all, "You pick! We'll try anything once!" It has come at a fortuitous time for me, when I'm not really feeling like reading at all and when I am in the need of something to cheer me. This book cheers me, but not in a sappy or vacant way (not that there's anything wrong with books that do that -- I am all for a sappy, vacant pick-me-up sometimes). It is funny, very funny, and it is linguistically a pleasure to read, and it is also touching and thoughtful. One of the few books that has made me both laugh out loud and cry a little. I didn't cry this time because I knew what to expect, and I was on lunch break at work. If I had been at home I think it probably would have been a different scene.

Upon re-reading, I am so pleased to report that it holds up to my initial adoration. Tiffany is the character I remembered, a little too clever but sometimes only nine years old, and well aware of her oddness; the Nac Mac Feegle are incredible and hilarious and both very wise and very unwise and extremely not-human. This time through, I picked up more on the themes of belonging and loss than I did the first time, I think. The inevitable passing of time and change and loss and how difficult it is, but also how universal. And while a book dealing with that might seem a little too heavy to be cheering, it's also very much about making full use of the time that we have -- enjoying it thoroughly, and making our mark in whatever way is available to us.

And did I mention this book is funny? I have not encountered too many authors who can get that perfect balance between the serious and the absurd, the funny and the sad. Not in a way that gives full honour to both sides of the coin, rather than deprecating one at the expense of the other. The humour isn't dark, it is full of amazement and joy, and the sadness isn't silly or played down. Because of this, the book feels real, despite its fantasy setting, in a way that sometimes other fantasy does not. This book is one of the best arguments I have for taking fantasy seriously.

I'm not exactly sure what we'll talk about at the book club. The discussion questions (and there are some!) are very geared towards the YA audience, and not really meaty enough for this group that I have. One of the members has the illustrated version; I can see discussing whether or not her reading experience was different. We have some fantasy fans and others who have never picked up a fantasy in their lives; and we have some who grumbled a little (very politely) about reading a YA book. So I'd like to see if this bucked expectations, or entrenched the Pratchett neophytes in their relative positions. I am a little nervous that someone (or all of them) might have hated it, although I can't really see how that would be possible. I suppose if they did, discussing their reactions will lend me a little bit of perspective I clearly don't have!

Overall, my gushing from the previous time I read this book stands. I love it; I think everyone should give it a chance and read it once, whether you think you like fantasy or not. It stands out for me as one of the best books I've ever read in my life, from many different perspectives (writing, characters, content, philosophy), and I would recommend it to anyone with an open mind.


=Tamar said...

I'm glad you are determined to read through, because for many the first book is a turnoff. The second book is a continuation of the same story, and should be read very soon thereafter. The books keep getting better.

Unknown said...

I did read the first two, shortly after first reading this one. I quite enjoyed both -- they're different, not as strong as his later stuff (though for me, Sourcery has been the worst so far). I do understand where people could find them less -- accomplished than some of the later books. I'm currently up to Reaper Man, which I got for Christmas and still haven't managed to pick up. Perhaps that should be next...

Emily said...

Hello! I am in the same position. I am in a YA book group at the junior high where I teach. We are just starting and I'm not sure what our purpose is quite yet. The first book we read was Divergent, which is nicely dystopian and lead to some interesting discussion questions. What kinds of things did you discuss in your book group for The Wee Free Men? I tend to read just for the story and forget to look deeper. Thanks for any insight!

Unknown said...

Ah, purpose... after a full three years, my genre group seems to have settled into a groove. They're pretty adventurous and also much more comfortable being pretty opinionated, and I'm loving it.

I will be honest, I can't remember what we talked about with this group, other than "what fantasy as a genre has to offer." As in, why should we take fantasy seriously, and is The Wee Free Men a good example of fantasy to be taken seriously? How does it relate to our reality, and what are some of the themes in it (loss, tolerance, patience, coming-of-age) that could be considered universal? Does reading them in a fantasy setting make them more/less accessible?

That sort of thing. We read this when I was still getting my feet wet with this group, and there wasn't as much discussion as I think there would be now. But the above discussion is useful when one has read for the story and forgotten or glossed over some of the themes... (as is the way I always read myself.)

Unknown said...

I meant to say, good luck with your book club! Are you working with kids in your group, or other teachers? If you haven't read it, I have to recommend Deconstructing Penguins as a very helpful book club idea repository... though it's targeted at parent-child book clubs, it's actually pretty helpful when thinking about book clubs with any age. Or I found it so!