The Wee Free Men


Terry Pratchett


Science Fiction / Fantasy


Date Reviewed:

June 10, 2009

his book is terrific! What a story by Terry Pratchett. The Wee Free Men is funny, clever, with a fast moving plot line and a genuinely likeable heroine named Tiffany Aching. Tiffany just might be a powerful witch, just like her grandmother was until she died.

Tiffany is the youngest daughter on a sheep-herding ranch. Her biggest skill is making cheese. It seems like a dreary existence, constantly worrying about sheep, but Tiffany is a sharp cookie who learns a lot from just observing and thinking. One day as she is playing beside the river with her brother Wentworth, at fearsome monster bursts out and tries to eat her. But Tiffany eludes the monster, and escapes with Wentworth. Back at home, she picks up a big iron frying pan and returns to the bank. When the monster bursts forth again, Tiffany brains it with a blow from her frying pan, and it scurries back into the depths. This brave action is observed by Miss Tick (Mystic! a pun), a witch who decides to meet with Tiffany at the Education Fair.

At the Education Fair, people pay for the knowledge they wish to obtain - you can get a course on Geology for an apple, or trade a couple eggs for language lesson. (Tiffany points out to the earth scientist that his Geology sign isn't spelled G Olly G.) Tiffany meets with Miss Tick, and a hilarious conversation ensues. The result of this meeting is Tiffany is given a talking frog and a warning about the dangerous nightmares about to invade her land. Miss Tick zooms off to get help, while Tiffany is advised to be careful and lie low until the calvary arrives (on broomsticks, of course!)

Back on the farm, Tiffany encounters a horde of little men who are covered with blue tattoos. These are the Nac Mac Feegles, The Wee Free Men. The Wee Free Men are lovable scoundrels, they steal items and drink and swear (their favorite curse word is "Crivens"!) But the little men respect Tiffany because they suspect she is a witch, just like her grandmother.

One of the many nice things about this story is the use of magic; or rather, the absence of magic. Tiffany doesn't cast spells or conjure fireballs. Instead, she thinks clearly and act courageously and normally that is enough to overcome her enemies. If converted to a movie, Hollywood would undoubtedly add some splashy magic, but in the book it is all understated.

Another nice thing about this book is the scary creatures. Headless horsemen, dromes, and ultimately a showdown with the Faerie Queen - Tiffany faces some powerful adversaries. She can't wait for the return of Miss Tick, because the Faerie Queen has lured her brother Wentworth off into her magical realm. Tiffany is determined to free him, even though she privately admits to herself that the toddler Wentworth is a colossal headache most of the time.

I imagine readers of all age groups will like this story. It is fast moving, well written, and amusing. And best of all, there appears to be a sequel, called A Hat Full of Sky!