We’re emerging from the Time of Plague and Social Disruption. All through this period, I’ve read at least one article every day from The New Yorker. Whether provoking massive anxiety about an illness I’d never heard of or an exploration of some new art exhibition, film, book, or political crisis, the articles pull me outside of my everyday concerns and immerse me in a wider world. Today, I read Rebecca Mead’s piece in The New Yorker about the Cerne Abbas Giant on the Chalk Downs and thought again about Sir Terry Pratchett. He grew up on the English Downs and many of his tales summon the magical, atavistic nature of the area. I miss his view on existence, the meaning of life, and all that so, now, I choose to republish this review of his work:
Writing in a time of severe social, economic, and psychological dislocation (the COVID-19 pandemic), I relished “The Wee Free Men,” the initial book of four, whose plucky main character, Tiffany Aching, experiences a more surreal existence than she ever imagined. I happily devoured the book as a thoughtful break from my too, too real world, and was struck by the power of Terry Pratchett’s ‘good bits’ throughout the novel, which could easily function as aphorisms for our day. For example, at one point, thrust through a series of dream scenarios and feeling her powers ebb, Tiffany wonders, “Is there any me at all or do my thoughts just dream me?”
That’s a surprising statement coming from Tiffany, only nine years old, but a highly functional almost youngest child in a large family on a large farm on The Downs. She encounters nightmare- and fairy-tale-generated monsters as well as hundreds of six-inch-high blue Pictsies who embrace and adopt her as their leader when she sets out to rescue her little brother snatched by the Queen of a fairyland described by Tiffany as “the world that took…where everything had to come from somewhere else.”
The little blue, kilted men are a rough and ready clan self-liberated from the fairyland, thus calling themselves the Wee Free Men. They love to fight and steal and nothing frightens them except the printed word and revealing their names, which might lead to their loss of liberty.
Tiffany emerges from her strange adventures with new confidence in herself, in the solidity of her world, and in its possibilities. I enjoyed hearing this novel but look forward to reading the next three.
–which I did, and I’ve been smitten ever since. Wish Sir Terry were still with us.