“Zoology, eh? That’s a big word, isn’t it.”
“No, actually it isn’t,” said Tiffany. “Patronizing is a big word. Zoology is really quite short.”
― Terry Pratchett, The Wee Free Men
The above exchange between the main character of The Wee Free Men, Tiffany Aching, and an overly smug adult is what instantly endeared me to this story. The Wee Free Men is the first book in the Tiffany Aching series, but the 30th book in the overall Discworld series. Before passing away in March of 2015, Pratchett wrote over 40 novels in the series since The Colour of Magic was published in 1983. Discworld was a huge canvas for Pratchett’s brand of whimsy, humor, and satire. We will miss his prolific talent.
Tiffany Aching is the descendant of Granny Aching, known in the community for her wisdom and no-nonsense way of cutting straight through to the truth. Though now gone, Tiffany thinks of her grandmother often, compulsively quoting her pithy sayings to the point that Granny is almost an extra character in the story. At the tender age of nine, Tiffany is well on her way to inheriting Granny’s mantle as a wise woman with her sharp mind and the ability to see what’s really there.
When her annoying but well-loved little brother gets kidnapped by the Queen of Fairies, Tiffany recruits a violent mob of tiny fairies (the Wee Free Men) to retrieve him. Wielding her trusty frying pan and a lightning wit, she enters Fairyland and its shifting landscape of dreams and danger.
While the story itself is charming, and Pratchett deftly develops Tiffany’s character, what makes this book so enjoyable is the satirical lens through which Pratchett looks at all things fey. Fairyland, and the assumptions we make about its inhabitants, are scrutinized through Tiffany’s eyes as she learns about the Fae and questions things she thinks don’t make sense. The Wee Free Men is an excellent introduction to Discworld, even though it’s the thirtieth in the series. If you’re new to Pratchett, count yourself fortunate – you have an excellent, funny, and well crafted read ahead.