Liz, Ben and librarian Meaghan Dew come down from the mountains to a land of sheep, chalk and tiny blue warriors, and meet the youngest witch ever, in Pratchett’s 2003 Discworld for Younger Readers book, The Wee Free Men.
Nine-year-old farm girl Tiffany Aching lives on The Chalk, a lowland area famous for its sheep and…er…sheep products. It’s not famous for attacks from mythical river monsters, so when one turns up she lures it with her brother as bait and hits it over the head with a frying pan. Searching for answers, she meets the very real witch Miss Tick, and realises that’s what she wants to be. In her first truly witchy move, she disobeys Miss Tick’s advice and tries to take on the Queen of the Fairies, who has kidnapped her baby brother. Luckily she’s already met and impressed the Nac Mac Feegle – a clan of tiny blue “pictsies” with a love for fightin’, stealin’ and drinkin’…
After the end of the Witches series in Carpe Jugulum*, Pratchett launched a new protagonist destined to become one of his most beloved characters. Tiffany Aching is practical, serious, thoughtful and wilful, with a steely gaze and a mind so sharp she might cut someone else (she certainly knows which bit to hold onto). Pratchett weaves the story of a young girl stepping into some big – and tiny – shoes with themes of grief, family, community, belief and the stories we tell…oh, and a tiny blue and red whirlwind of swearing, violence and other Scottish stereotypes known as the Nac Mac Feegle.
Do these two things mesh well for you? Is this Tiffany’s finest hour, or just a taste of what’s to come for her? And was Granny Aching a witch, a shepherd, or something else entirely by the end? Use the hashtag #Pratchat32 on social media to join the conversation!
* Carpe Jugulum is coming soon(ish) to a Pratchat episode near you!
Podcast: Play in new window | Download (Duration: 2:19:47 — 64.4MB)
Subscribe: Stitcher | RSS | More
Guest Meaghan Dew is a librarian and podcaster. For around seven years, Meaghan hosted and produced the podcast for Australian arts and culture magazine Kill Your Darlings. Meaghan currently works as a librarian in Melbourne, and produces her library’s podcast program.
Ben was reading the The Illustrated Wee Free Men, the 2008 hardcover edition of the book with full-colour illustrations by artist Stephen Player – and a few extras from Terry. Player advises that the colours are off in the book, but you can see many of the original illustrations on his web site.
Next month we travel to an entirely different rural area of the Disc for more younger readers adventure, in 2000’s The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents. We’ll be joined by writer and screenwriter Michelle Law! Get your questions in via the hashtag #Pratchat33 by June 20th 2020.
You’ll find the full notes and errata for this episode on our web site.
Want to make sure we get through every Pratchett book (etc)? You can support Pratchat for as little as $2 a month and get access to bonus stuff, including the exclusive supporter podcast Ook Club! Click here to find out more.
I re-read all the Tiffany books recently and really enjoyed them. It’s great to hear your discussion of the first one. I look forward to hearing what you make of the others.
You can find more details of the sheep-scoring numbers (yan, tan, tethera, etc), at: https://www.omniglot.com/language/numbers/celtic2.htm
I wrote a song based on them: https://soundcloud.com/simon-ager/when-you-get-to-jiggit-put-a
Just an observation, trout tickling is a real thing. Like noodling, in America, it is a fishing method that uses nothing but the hands. It was particularly popular with poachers in the UK (and elsewhere) and probably why Terry Pretchett used it in the book. Undoubtedly the UK audiences would have recognized it on the spot.
Thanks Vlad – we got that one in the show notes, though I don’t think I found “noodling”. Is that the same thing?
I really ought to read the show notes before posting 🙂
“noodling” is how they catch catfish in America
I’m a children’s librarian, and this was my first Pratchett book, because I bought it for the library purely on the strength of reviews, with no knowledge of Pratchett otherwise– read it as soon as it arrived, loved it– and I on the other hand was afraid at first to branch off into his adult books, like maybe they wouldn’t be as fun! I’m impressed by Ben here, because although you had the opposite problem originally, you nailed the explanation of what makes a book middle grade. As someone who spends all her time with children’s and YA books, I can get itchy when people assume books for younger readers must not be as well-written or deep or interesting or whatever. What makes a middle grade or a YA is that it gets into the mindset of the middle grade or YA character, and you nailed that! (What makes a chapter book or easy reader gets a little more restrictive, because then there are stricter vocabulary and structural guidelines, but that’s another story).
I also want to agree with Ben that this is a book that’s just begging to be read out loud. When I had just finished reading it for the first time, my younger brother had come to stay with me for the week– he was a teenager, but had always enjoyed being read aloud to and still prefers audiobooks to this day– and I just immediately started reading it to him, without even asking first! Luckily he too enjoyed it! Years later I got to read it out loud again to my own kids, and it was still fun!*
Oh, and one of my best friends from college is a Liz who went by Elizabeth in high school, too. You could always tell when you met someone at one of her things who went to high school with her vs someone she’d met later because they called her “Elizabeth.”
I think that’s all the comments I have about this one!
*Most recently I have read Nation to them, so that was the first of your episodes I actually listened to, because rereading that one I kept thinking, “I remembered objectively that this was a great book, but MAN this is a GREAT BOOK”– so when I can’t even remember where I saw a link to your podcast, that was the episode I jumped on.