The Wee Free Men
by Terry Pratchett
A book review by Mark L. Olson
HarperCollins, 2003, $16.99, 263 pp
Pratchett has started doing children's books set on Discworld which (mostly) don't use any of the sets of characters who he usually features. The first was The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents and this is the second.
It's the story of Tiffany Aching, a 9-year-old girl who is in her way very fannish in the best sense. (She has read every book her family has 6 of them, including the dictionary and is critical of the book of fairy tales because it all seems so arbitrary: Why are witches wicked? Why do they bake children in the oven? And anyway, who would ever have an oven big enough to hold the witch, or even two children?) Her family raises sheep on the chalk downs and have done so for generations. One of her grandmothers, Granny Aching, may possibly have been a witch, but was certainly a superlative shepherd and was widely respected in the whole area. Tiffany's main accomplishment is that she makes very good cheese and is very sensible.
One day, when her annoying little brother wanders off, she is forced to rescue him from a monster which has taken up residence in the creek. Next she discovers that her house has been invaded by the Nac Mac Fleegle, the Pictsies: 6" tall blue men with red hair who can (and do) steal anything at all, who can fight a full-sized man and win, and who speak in a nearly unintelligible Scots dialect. They're looking for a witch, since the borders between the real world (well, Discworld, anyway) and faery are getting too thin in this area and monsters are leaking in. They think they've found her.
Tiffany, who is a most determined girl, if not a witch, decides to deal with the problem herself, beginning with stopping a green-eyed monster who eats children with a very large iron frying pan.
The next day her messy little brother disappears and the Nac Mac Fleegle tell her that the Queen of Faery has stolen him.
Tiffany sets out and has a series of adventures as she and the Nac Mac Fleegle break into the Queen's land and confront her amidst the landscape of dreams that she uses to snare anyone who enters.
As with all of the best Pratchett, there's some good, sensible thinking and good moral sense in the book as well as a great, entertaining story.
See also my other Pratchett reviews: The Truth, Terry Pratchett: Guilty of Literature, Carpe Jugulum, The Science of Discworld, The Fifth Elephant, The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents, The Last Hero, Jingo, Night Watch, The Wee Free Men
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