THE WEE FREE MEN
by Terry Pratchett
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
Tiffany Aching is not, of course, the sort of name you expect to find for the heroine of a fantasy novel, but then Terry Pratchett’s Wee Free Men is not exactly a typical fantasy novel. Billed by the publisher as a children’s book, this novel about a young girl who aspires to be herself can be read and enjoyed by adults as well as children, much like its predecessor, The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents.
Ostensibly about Tiffany’s quest to find her younger brother after he has been kidnapped by the queen of the faeries, the book focuses on Tiffany’s discovery that she can be self-reliant. When the book opens, she defeats a beastie by using her brother as bait, but goes from tent to tent to visit the traveling teachers to find out what she can learn from them. What she learns is that teachers are not infallible and she has more useful knowledge than they do. The only teacher who actually inspires her is a woman who may be a witch (although the baron has banned witches) who won’t actually tell her anything outright.
In her quest for her brother, Tiffany is joined by the Mac Nac Feegle, a race of tiny men who paint themselves blue and pride themselves on stealing and fighting. The Mac Nac Feegle have experience with the Queen and, with a score to settle against her, they develop a strange affinity for Tiffany.
Although in part a coming of age story, Pratchett has also written a story in which he encourages the questioning of authority. The baron isn’t an evil man, but some of his policies and techniques are questionable. Tiffany must rely on herself, not her parents, to rescue her brother. When told that there is no one who can save the world, she unhesitatingly announces that she’ll take on the task. Furthermore, her primary allies are the rebellious Mac Nac Feegle. While the Mac Nac Feegle don’t approve of any authority figure, they do demonstrate an ability to cooperate when needed.
All of this is done with Pratchett’s easy prose-style. More importantly, it is done in a manner which children who read the book will not feel as if they are being preached to and adults can enjoy the complexity of the story. Furthermore, with its grounding in character and plot, The Wee Free Men escapes from the trap of too many fantasy novels (for both children and adults) of being set in a world which fills the reader with so much wonder that it becomes the primary focus of the book.Although the Wee Free Men of the title have featured in other Discworld novels, by making them support characters to the likable and capable Tiffany, Pratchett has written an original work that doesn’t require knowledge of the other Discworld novels. Wee Free Men provides an excellent introduction to both Pratchett’s world, his style, and, perhaps most important, his apparent outlook on the world.
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