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Tiffany Aching – Discworld Series Review

Tiffany Aching – Discworld Series Review
Book Name: The Wee Free Men, A Hat Full of Sky, Wintersmith, I Shall Wear Midnight, and The Shepherd's Crown
Author: Sir Terry Pratchett
Publisher(s): Doubleday
Formatt: Paperback / Audiobook / Ebook
Genre(s): YA Fantasy
Release Date: 2003; 2004; 2006; 2010; August 27, 2015

The Wee Free Men (cover)Recently, we heard the news that Wee Free Men, the first in the Tiffany Aching series of Discworld books by Sir Terry Pratchett, is going to be brought to film by the Jim Henson Company and Narrativia, Sir Terry’s production company. A lot of people are very excited about this, because Tiffany is a firm favourite with many Discworld fans. The Tiffany Aching series is certainly one of my own favourites within the Discworld books, and I’m hoping I can convince some new readers to give it a go!

“Another world is colliding with this one,” said the toad. “All the monsters are coming back.”
“Why?” said Tiffany.
“There’s no one to stop them.”
There was silence for a moment.
Then Tiffany said, “There’s me.”

So who is Tiffany Aching? And why is she is so loved that Sir Terry was even made an honorary Brownie (younger Girl Scout) for creating her?

Tiff is a young girl who becomes a witch in training and protector of the small country community where she grows up. If the words ‘witch in training’ call to mind magic schools and potions classes, put those ideas aside for a moment, because Tiffany is a very different kind of witch. For Tiffany, training is much more practical and less guided – she is thrown into situations and learns ‘on the job’. Her power comes from the strength and wisdom inside her rather than spellbooks, from a force of character and moral strength and her ability to perceive truth: something rawer and harder to define than the magic found in many other stories.

A Hatful of Sky (cover)Tiffany herself is both a very sensible and highly intelligent young girl. She is practical, brave and resourceful; she has a no-nonsense attitude to life and the problems she encounters. This is what leads her, when faced with a frightening monster, to calmly hit it over the head with a frying pan. But at the same time she has the ability to look beyond herself and the simple reality around her to perceive greater truths, as well as some of the deeper mysteries of the world. Her practical nature doesn’t close her off to a sense of magic and wonder. This is a combination that you rarely find in book characters, who are usually one or the other – practical and pro-active or imaginative and sensitive – yet these personality traits in tandem are something that a lot of fantasy readers will relate to. And it’s these qualities working together that give her the power to both recognise and fight evil – First Sight and Second Thoughts, as the characters in the book often refer to Tiffany’s abilities.

However, it’s also these abilities that isolate her and make her different, and she finds it hard to truly fit in. This, again, is something many readers, particularly children and teenagers, will be able to relate to.

“Ye’ve got that little bitty bit inside o’ you that holds on, right? ‘Tis the First Sight and Second thoughts ye have, and ‘tis a wee gift an’ a big curse to ye. You see and hear what others canna’, the world opens up its secrets to ye, but ye’re always like the person at the party with the wee drink in the corner who cannae join in. There’s a little bitty bit inside ye that willnae melt and flow.”

Wintersmith (cover)It was these aspects of Tiff’s personality, and the ‘headology’ she uses as her brand of magic, that our own Fantasy-Faction book club readers also loved about the books. Tiffany is a wonderful role model for any reader, girl or boy, child or adult. She is willing to listen to advice from anyone, no matter who they are, but she also isn’t afraid to follow her head and set her own path even in the face of some very strong characters. She faces danger with a combination of common sense and compassion for others, and she doesn’t really consider any person or task to be beneath her. She has her faults too, and she does make mistakes, which helps to keep her a grounded and believable character. She is a joy to read. It’s no wonder, really, that she helped Sir Terry earn his woggle.

The Tiffany Aching books also feature some of the best supporting characters I’ve ever encountered. There are the Nac Mac Feegle, the Wee Free Men, a clan of six-inch-high ‘pictsies’ who provide a huge amount of humour and heart as they help Tiff fight her battles. There are other witches – Granny Weatherwax in particular stands out as a force of her own, but there are so many different kinds of witches, all with their own strong personalities. There is Granny Aching, never present in person but always in spirit, a great guiding force for Tiffany’s own decisions. There are friends and relations, and members of Tiffany’s community who need her help or guidance. In many ways, the Tiffany books celebrate community, family and the ties between generations.

I Shall Wear Midnight (cover)When I asked other Fantasy-Faction staff writers and forum users about their own experience with the Tiffany series, there were many enthusiastic responses, and opinions from our book club on the first book in the series, Wee Free Men, were all very positive. Readers loved Tiff herself, but also the fantastic range of female characters. In particular, the book club found the part-practical, part-psychological approach to magic, ‘headology’, to be a fascinating take on witchcraft. The humour is something most readers connected with and enjoyed, but also the more serious themes. In fact, the Tiffany books are some of the darkest in the Discworld. It’s perhaps natural, then, that they are also some of the most observant and witty (and quotable).

“I would like a question answered today,” said Tiffany.
“Provided it’s not the one about how you get baby hedgehogs,” said the man.
“No,” said Tiffany patiently. “It’s about zoology.”
“Zoology, eh? That’s a big word, isn’t it?”
“No, actually it isn’t,” said Tiffany. “Patronising is a big word. Zoology is really quite short.”

These books deal more with ordinary people and simple lives than the other Discworld books, but interestingly they delve perhaps a little deeper into the bigger themes of life – death and grief, hatred and human frailty, truth, justice and compassion. Tiffany is a hero who will help a ewe with a difficult birth one day, defeat an evil faerie queen intent on taking over the world the next day, then spend the following day tending to an elderly member of the community. The stories tell us that every life is important and every aspect of life its own adventure, that we have a responsibility to the world we live in, and that being a hero isn’t necessarily about waving the biggest sword.

The Shepherd's Crown (cover small)To quote one of our community members, xiagan: “Tiff’s books cover all the big themes in life in a very sensible, emotional and sincere way. Love, grief, growing-up, fighting for what you believe in or what you need/want to protect, humour, philosophy, humanity. It’s all there. I think in this series, and maybe because it is for younger readers too, Sir Terry upped his game and wrote his best and smoothest books. It’s not by accident that his last book concludes this series.”

Miss Tick sniffed. “You could say this advice is priceless,” she said. “Are you listening?”
“Yes,” said Tiffany.
“Good. Now… if you trust in yourself…”
“… and believe in your dreams…”
“… and follow your star…” Miss Tick went on.
“… you’ll still get beaten by people who spent THEIR time working hard and learning things and weren’t so lazy. Goodbye.”

Thanks to Fantasy-Faction forumers and book clubbers (Rostum, xiagan, Jmack, Nighteyes, Idlewilder, ultamentkiller, Raptori, Lejays17, Saraband, Arry, Jeni, Nino) for opinions, links and finding some great quotes from the books. 🙂

Title image and “cover art” by Paul Kidby.


One Comment

  1. TIffany Aching is becoming a movie? Yes! There shall be much rejoicing in my house tonight! Not that we’re Pratchett fans or anything but…

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