In Praise of Pratchett: The Shepherd’s Crown


Goodbye, and thanks for all of it, and all of them

The day this was published, there was a lunchtime event at the Manchester Waterstones, with a quiz and a reading from the last Discworld novel. I got 22 out of a possible 28 on the quiz, which wasn’t enough to win me a prize. Rob Wilkins, Terry Pratchett’s friend and assistant read the first part of chapter 2. It was about Granny Weatherwax, and it wasn’t hard to realise, from very early on, what this extract was going to be about. There were people wiping their eyes all round the Events Room, and I’ll admit to being one of them.
I’d toyed with the idea of postponing reading the book. I was in the throes of re-reading Monstrous Regiment and it seemed appropriate to complete reading the whole series, complete writing all these essays about the books and what they’re about and what they do and how I’ve responded. And it put off the evil hour before there were no more Discworld books at all.
But after that chapter – and this was chapter 2, so very early in the book – it wasn’t going to be possible to wait. I went home and I read it. And the longer I read it, the more my heart sank. It had been there in Rob Wilkins’ reading, a little nag of doubt. Granny Weatherwax talking for the last time to Death. Not bargaining or fighting or suggesting, but accepting. Her time was up, and Witches know: shall we go? We have already gone.
Only… it didn’t sound right. Even through the emotion of what we were listening to, there was something wrong. And it carries on through the book, from start to finish. The Shepherd’s Crown was being lauded from all sides, a final triumph, a fine ending. Everyone loved it. But I don’t. The triumph is in self-delusion, in wanting the book to be what we all wanted it to be, in telling ourselves that it is indeed wonderful, that it’s the send-off we dreamed of.
And it’s not. Not for me. It’s a shadow, a shadow of what Terry Pratchett was about as a writer. There were things I was uncertain about in Raising Steam, that I thought then were signs that the Alzheimers was starting to take effect, and The Shepherd’s Crown is far further gone. I don’t recognise anyone in this book. I know them by name, and I know them by place, but I don’t hear their voices, not once.
When Granny talks to Death, it doesn’t sound like either of them. Nor does Nanny Ogg sound like Nanny, nor Magrat like Magrat, nor Ridcully like Ridcully. Nor Tiffany Aching like Tiffany Aching. The most awful thing about this book is that it sounds like it was written in defiance of Rhianna Pratchett’s proclamation that no-one will take up the mantle. It reads like someone who has written a Discworld book but who can’t get under the skins of the characters, cannot make them sound like anything more than a much-dulled, homogenised version of themselves.
Believe me, I am not saying this lightly. I so do not want to be saying anything of this sort. Granny Weatherwax’s death begins the story with a powerful emotional charge, that carries the book for several chapters, although even then the idea that she would hand over her cottage to Tiffany Aching – so young, so not of the Ramtops – and that this would be accepted so immediately and with so little opposition rings false. But, as Granny’s influence fades so quickly away, the story flattens out and gets less and less life-like.
And even as we’re allowing the emotions to carry along, we cannot but help notice that people are not who they ought to be. Nanny Ogg in particular is a parody of herself, drinking to excess, continually telling Tiffany that they are witches and what witches are or do. It’s narrative as dialogue again, even more so, and the worst is the equivalent of the funeral.
In I Shall Wear Midnight, Nanny Ogg transforms the old Baron’s funeral into a celebration and an affirmation of life. We watch her do it, the effect is tremendous: sadness is absorbed into warmth, into Life. She does the same here, or rather we’re told she does. We don’t see it for ourselves, and I at least didn’t feel it.
The problem with all of this is that without the right voices, not least from Pratchett himself, the rest of the book struggles to coalesce into reality. Discworld was a thing of improbabilities, a fantasia of impossibilities, but Pratchett made it believable without effort. Not so here: The Shepherd’s Crown requires a leap of conviction where ordinarily only the tiniest shuffle was necessary.
I’ve heard people query whether Granny’s death was really necessary, but that’s easily answered. It’s key to the plot, which is the final attempt by the Elves to break back into Discworld and take it for their pleasure again: the removal of Granny weakens the boundaries and allows the Elves back in.
But it’s also essential on psychological grounds. Granny Weatherwax has always been the leader witches don’t have, the best and most formidable of them, the last bulwark. Tiffany Aching became Terry Pratchett’s favourite character, and for her to become the best witch, the ultimate bulwark, she either has to beat Granny, or Granny must otherwise be removed. Nobody’s going to buy Granny Weatherwax being outdone, not for a second.
So Tiffany becomes the bulwark, at her young age. We’re not told how old that is, but seventeen isn’t a bad estimate: seventeen, and the chief and most powerful witch, responsible for casting out the Queen of the Elves as she once did when only nine.
Except that the Queen is no longer as powerful as she was. That defeat has damaged her glamour, reduced her status, diminished her. She is overthrown by Lord Peaseblossom, an arrogant, ignorant son of a bitch, elf to his fingertips and stupid with it. The railway is here, weaving webs of iron across the Discworld, swarf is in the very air, the Elves haven’t got a chance, but the crass bully can’t believe in any limits to Elvish power. The Queen is not just overthrown but beaten, mutilated, her wings torn off and she is cast out into Discworld.
Under the nose of Tiffany, of course. Who takes her in, takes her over, and starts to convert her towards humanity.
Redemption, of course. Not for races, this time, but a single individual (two, in fact: Mrs Earwig, the snooty witch, will turn out to be totally proof against Elvish glamour, and top notch in a fight). The Queen learns to become human, to think of and help others, to shed arrogance and glamour. It’s a glorious notion, and one that ends in tragedy when she is slaughtered out of hand by Peaseblossom, but the biggest problem is that I don’t believe a word of it. Tell, not Show. It’s too quick, too perfunctory, too flimsy for me to accept, and the death scene is too short to have the impact that is wanted.
Still, Tiffany marshals her witchy forces and Discworld wins a final victory. Tiffany proves herself not only to be the chief witch, but also the ultimate shepherd, surpassing even Granny Aching, or at least so we’re told.
One point should be made here, as it is in Rob Wilkins’ afterword to the book, which he also read out at that Waterstones event: The Shepherd’s Crown, though complete, is unfinished. It was Pratchett’s practice to polish and polish, to re-write and re-work each novel up to virtually the printer’s door, adding, changing, improving even as he was deep into the next book. This book was orphaned before it could have all that attention, and it is not what it would have been if the extra time could somehow have been begged, borrowed or bartered.
Even on a second reading, not overcome by shock at how unlike Pratchett all this is, I seriously doubt that enough could have been done to remove the most serious flaws in this book. It fails to come alive because the characters fail to stand on the page. Take Geoffrey, the boy who wants to become a witch, and who Tiffany dubs a calm-weaver. He’s an entirely new creation, along with his intelligent goat, Mephistopholes, so the only voice he has is the one in this book, but the voice is never alive. Geoffrey doesn’t have a word of dialogue that sounds as if it’s being spoken by a human being, let alone a teenage boy. Furthermore, between first and second reading of The Shepherd’s Crown, I’d completely forgotten him, so big an impact does he create.
What is he for? What’s Mephistopholes about, especially with that name? (And why, in a non-Christian setting, is that name significant anyway?)
Anyway, Geoffrey is responsible for a new advancement in Discworld, which is the creation of men’s sheds. Even the bored and disinterested King of the Elves gets one, though I can’t say that the concept ever totally convinces. Like the Railway, it’s less a funhouse mirror image turned into a Discworld creation than a straight adoption of something that exists in our world.
Pratchett does better by introducing Railway Arches, though that’s something that will probably be lost on an audience much younger than me: I can’t help but be taken back to the likes of Alf Tupper – The Tough of the Track.
Is there anything more to say? This is a book that falls short of the high standards that Terry Pratchett set for himself and maintained far longer than any writer so prolific had a right to maintain. It fails against those standards, despite the high qualities that the book’s conception embodies. It may well be a better book than many others of that ilk, but I cannot judge it against any other standards than those that have satisfied me for almost half my lifetime.
During that time, Pratchett was a writer of great breadth and depth, of humour and anger, and with the ability to bring the two forces together, time and again. He was a clever and subtle writer, a gifted plotter, with the ability to evoke emotion and insight. My pet hate in writing is the writer who uses the words: As you know… They are an abomination to me, the tactic of a writer who has no better idea of how to convey information to his readers than to have his characters sit around and tell themselves what they already know. They’re cheap, they’re lazy, they’re thin. Hell’s bells, no-one in real life ever says ‘As you know’: any writer worth reading can find a way to say them that a living, breathing person might use.
Terry Pratchett never used the words ‘As you know’ in any form in any of his Discworld books. Until The Shepherd’s Crown. And they’re everywhere. That is what his condition took from him.
I wish I could say better things, but the only thing you can give a writer is honesty in how you respond to their words. And this is honestly not a good book.

In Praise of Pratchett: I Shall Wear Midnight


By the end of this novel, it seemed that Terry Pratchett had completed the story of Tiffany Aching. I Shall Wear Midnight is about many things: her greatest challenge, the completion of her apprenticeship, the resolution of what, after all the misdirection, is her relationship with Roland and the Chalk’s relationship with witchery, and the promise of a genuine, solid romance.
It’s a book of fulfilments, endings and completions. Though it is careful also to be a book of opening, into a future, it is nevertheless Childhood’s End, and for a character who was introduced as a Young Adult, albeit a nine year old, that is traditionally where the story stops. An Adult is something different. Sex changes perspectives.
Once again, two years have passed, and Tiffany is now fifteen, or, as the book puts it on every occasion, ‘nearly sixteen’. She’s back from her apprenticeships in the mountains and is the Witch of the Chalk, fully-fledged, working alone, doing all the things a witch is needed for.
There’s a particularly horrible example of this up front. A man called Petty, an unusually stupid, aggressive and sodden man, has savagely beaten his daughter, to the extent that she has miscarried her baby. What he has done has sparked the rough music, a spontaneous decision by the rest of the people that a situation has passed the point of being tolerable, or else ignorable, and that something will be done about it. It’s a kind of folkloric lynching, to be frank, the difference being that instead of prejudice, it’s a communal purge.
Tiffany has to deal with this in all its cruel, vicious, stupid, pathetic and horrific aspects, including keeping the villagers from murder, however justified. She has to rescue and heal the girl, Amber. She even has, the morning after, to save Petty from hanging himself.
What goes by almost without comment, is that Amber, who has lost her child, is herself only a child, a thirteen year old. As is William, her ‘beau’. Yes, severely underage sex, which is to be perpetuated given that, when we get to the epilogue, a year later, Amber and William are a married couple, at fourteen.
Pratchett once again shows his underlying intelligence as to structure by placing all of this is Chapter Two, and having the sexual aspect be an ironic reflection of the dilemma introduced into the deliberately light opening chapter. It’s the Summer Fair and Tiffany, in her usual green dress, is enjoying herself among the country pursuits, one of which, traditionally, is finding a beau. It’s of concern on two levels this year, one being whether a witch wants, needs or even acknowledges a sexual relationship (Nanny Ogg being the glaringly obvious exception).
The other is that, after three books of preparatory work establishing a common bond between Tiffany and the Baron’s heir, Roland, the moment puberty’s seriously hit, he’s only gone off to get engaged to Letitia Keepsake, a particularly pale, weedy and damp blonde girl, with a seriously bullying, stuck-up, more-aristocratic-than-thou mother of a Duchess.
Or should that be Duchess of a mother?
And Tiffany’s miffed. In her head, she’s accepted it, accepted that what brought her and Roland together to begin with was not attraction to each other, but mutual exclusion over their differences from others. In her heart, though, Tiffany is suffering from the only evidence that she is actually a fifteen year old girl on the cusp of sexual maturity, namely jealousy.
All of this, and the after-effects of the Pettys, takes up quite a bit of space. For once, Pratchett is in no hurry to get to the meat of the story. There is another element to introduce, to dovetail with those already on the page. The Old Baron is still dying, slowly, with Tiffany daily taking his pain away. But the time has come: the old man is temporarily lucid and thoughtful, showing signs of the deeper character behind the bluff Baron-ness that goes with the role. And there is a beautiful moment of memory and delight that is one of the best things Pratchett ever wrote, that merges into the old man’s death.
After which there is mourning, from all the Baron’s subjects, genuine mourning, without pretence or reservation. But there is also a worm in the apple, in the form of Nurse Spruce, a poisonous hater of witches, a castigator of unholy powers, who sows the seed of discord that will twist throughout the book.
Nurse Spruce is the forerunner. She’s lazy, unhelpful, malicious, overtly religious, and she’ll be found to be a thief too, but she’s the poisonous precursor to the Cunning Man, who Tiffany will have to face and overthrow, not only for her own sake, but for that of Witchdom.
The Cunning Man was once an Omnian Priest, in the witch-burning era of the Church. He found and arranged to burn a witch, but fell in love with her and plotted to enable her escape. She, seeing in him all he had done, and the continuing conflict between his ‘duty’ and his impliedly temporary ‘love’, refused escape and clasped him to herself in the fire.
Ever since, he has been a discarnate force, recurring at times, occupying, burning out and destroying bodies as he pursues his rotting, stench-laden pursuit of witchery, mouthing vile imprecations. He has no eyes.
The Cunnning Man is a frightening, corrupt, almost invincible thing. He’s been attracted towards Tiffany because she became visible two years ago, kissing the Wintersmith into dissolution. Granny Weatherwax dismissed him once, but he always returns, because he is Hate and Fear, and there is something of him in every one of us. Tiffany must defeat him. The rest of the witches will stand by, not to help, because a witch deals with her own problems or she is no witch, but to deal with whatever  emerges if Tiffany loses…
Given what the Cunning Man is, actual contact with him must be brief and attenuated in order to keep the book going until the inevitable confrontation. But the rising tide of anger, fear and resentment towards witches in general – which has already spread as far as Ankh-Morpork, where Tiffany goes to break the news to Roland and bring him home – and its personal effects on Tiffany, suspected of killing the Old Baron, are more than enough to maintain the story without any sag, and to build a gradually accelerating sense of menace and tempo.
The biggest surprise comes when Pratchett brings the utterly wet Letitia on stage as something more than the cartoon figure of Tiffany’s resentment. Letitia is indeed weepy as hell, but she has a lot to be weepy about, what with her repressive mother (who, in a glorious nod to Pratchett’s only Twentieth Century superior at light comedy, P. G. Wodehouse, turns out to be a jumped-up Chorus Girl) and the fact that, being a natural, untrained witch herself, her jealousy towards Tiffany has kick-started the whole thing.
With that knowledge in place, and with Letitia’s goodwill tipping the balance back in Tiffany’s favour, Pratchett sets up the climax, which is to take place between the Old Baron’s funeral and Roland and Letitia’s wedding.
Crucial to both is Nanny Ogg, who dissolves the tension of the former by allowing the guests to relax into memory and celebration in a genuinely touching fashion, and who, at Tiffany’s instigation, takes the soon to be blushing bride on one side for a good talk…
But though the elder witches are to hand, the battle is Tiffany’s, and her alone. It doesn’t preclude her from seeking non-magical aid once she realises the course she has to adopt, and whilst that’s meant to be Preston, the young, clever, Castle Guard who is clearly the non-romantic real thing for Tiffany, it expands to include both Roland (covered in pig-shit after his stag do) and the determinedly helpful Letitia.
And, of course, the Feegles, who I haven’t mentioned so far, but who are in the thick of things throughout.
So Tiffany dispels the Cunning Man, until next time. She asks for things from the New Baron that are meant to uplift, improve and expand the horizons for the young folk of the Chalk, in a scene whose spirit and effect is lifted directly from those regular chats with the Patrician at the end of a City Watch book. And she has her beau in Preston, who understands both her and the role he has in her life.
All is well. Tiffany is now a Witch, a Witch of the Chalk, respected in full measure as an equal by her elders. Childhood has ended. All’s right with the world, the story is complete. If only it were.
I’ve left out an awful lot of what goes on in the pages of I Shall Wear Midnight. It’s a big book, in its way, and the many stories are inter-related to a greater degree than most other multi-plotted Discworld books. To go into further detail would mean going into further detail yet, and I’d prefer to allow new readers to take things in from Pratchett, rather than from me.
It is a tightly-woven, beautifully-conceived and effervescently-written book that entirely refutes any suggestion that Pratchett’s condition was affecting his work and that’s what most needs saying.
There is one further aspect of it that needs to be considered separately, and that’s Pratchett’s surprising decision to return to a character long unseen. This is Esk, Eskarina Smith, the girl who became a Wizard a very long time ago in Equal Rites.
Her presence is very odd indeed, and it’s the only thing in this book that I am not sure about. She’s a concrete reminder, and a re-validation of a book that made a very poor start on Granny Weatherwax. She’s also considerably older than she should be for the years that have passed, and which have transformed her into a mini-myth of her own. Structurally, she’s a deus ex machina, removing Tiffany from danger and feeding her exposition about the Cunning Man, before disappearing again, not to have anything more than peripheral effect upon the rest of the book.
Eskarina has the ability to travel in time, an ability that she will, in small ways, exercise for Tiffany’s benefit. She also as a son whom she must protect, but that’s a throwaway line, a dangling mystery that might once have led to a book that will now never be written.
She serves, in the finale, to bring Tiffany face to face with her much older self, Granny Weatherwax old, there to reassure her that all will go well, and drop a stonking great hint that Preston is, indeed, the one, and that Tiffany will be happy.
Except that Pratchett has done this before. It’s all back to sex again, the great absence. How many times has Pratchett done this to Susan Sto-Helit? Wound her up to harmony with a man who can provide her with what is good about a relationship, including snogging sessions in the stationery cupboard, only to vanish him the next time the character is wanted?
There will be another outing for Tiffany, and once again Pratchett will undercut his previous ending and tear it apart. But I’ll say what I have to say about The Shepherd’s Crown soon enough, so let it wait till then.

In Praise of Pratchett: Wintersmith


In the last dozen years of his life, Terry Pratchett wrote more books about Tiffany Aching, young witch in training, than he did about any of his other characters and scenes. There were two City Watch books, three about Moist von Lipwig, three about the Wizards (counting two Science of Discworld stories) and one non-series book (Monstrous Regiment). These are set against five Tiffany Aching books, of which Wintersmith was the third and the midpoint.
We hardly needed telling that Tiffany Aching was Terry Pratchett’s favourite amongst all the characters he created, did we?
Wintersmith was also the first Young Adult book to be published in the same full-size hardback as the other Discworld books.
Though Tiffany’s still only a young girl (she turns 13 during the course of this story), the subject of this book is sex, and of course Pratchett’s regular theme of what it is to be human. Tiffany finds herself being pursued by two very different suitors, one very ancient yet even more ignorant of the subject of sex than a twelve year old girl who’s grown up on a sheep farm and has older, married sisters, the other an undeclared, only just vaguely adolescent who’s got even less idea than the Wintersmith.
Surprisingly, Pratchett begins in media res, and very close to the end, before winding back to the beginning. It’s an unusual technique for him, not repeated elsewhere in the Discworld books, and I query its effect, given that it mainly calls attention to itself without necessarily advancing the story in any better direction to know what the issue is to be ahead. Indeed, I think it would probably have been better to employ the usual purely linear approach, and let the danger creep up slowly and subtly.
Tiffany is currently with Miss Treason, a witch out Lancre way who has been blind for decades and sees out of others eyes, usually mice. She takes Tiffany to see the Dark Morris, the version of the Morris that brings in the Winter Solstice, that ‘kills’ the Summer and brings forward the Winter. Something about the music draws Tiffany in, impulsively, recklessly, to dance the invisible part of the Fool: as a consequence, she is seen by the Wintersmith, the essence of Winter. He takes her for the Summer Queen and falls in love with her.
For her, he will make himself human, whatever that requires. For her, he will make her the Summer Queen herself. For her, he will make Winter last forever, freezing everybody and everything until eternity.
Though the consequences were unintended, they are Tiffany’s to deal with, and she shows her essential nature by accepting that: witches take responsibility, witches deal with things. Even when they don’t know what to do and are faced with an indomitable force throughout a long winter of other duties.
Because even in the face of deadly danger, when it’s not actually in your face itself, a Witch’s responsibilities are still there, and Tiffany is still learning. For instance, from Miss Treason, before she dies of being 113, our girl learns about Boffo. It’s not actually magic in itself though it is a magic: the power of advertising, if you will. Giving the people what they expect to see in order to be able to give them what they need.
Underneath the idea, which is quite ingenious and perfectly Discworldian, there is however a slight degree of contempt for the ordinary, everyday, perfectly stupid mass of people who fall so easily for Boffo. Pratchett is regularly angry at stupidity that accepts, indeed rushes towards mental imprisonment in systems, and this wilful blindness towards what is no more than jokes, tricks and costumes is an offshoot of the same sense, but expressed without the anger.
It isn’t helped by the fact that Tiffany’s ‘enemy’, Anagramma Hawkins, who inherits Miss Treason’s cottage, says these things out loud. Of course, Anagramma being Anagramma, and a pupil of the entirely misdirected Mrs Earwig, we’re supposed to discount everything she says as being wrong, but I can’t help but think that sometimes the innate stupidity of the basic Discworld peasant could do with being enlightened, rather than indulged.
Anagramma gets the cottage by Granny Weatherwax’s contrivance. It’s a subtle move in a game of power with Mrs Earwig (that the latter hasn’t a hope in hell of winning): Anagramma gets the cottage in order to fail spectacularly at being a witch, to demonstrate how misguided Mrs Earwig is. However, Tiffany isn’t about to see the people who depend on their Witch suffer, and compounds Granny’s victory by teaching Anagramma how to do the job well. Including Boffo.
All of this is sideshow to the main event. The Wintersmith is coming and Tiffany still has no idea how to stop things, though in the event it will mean leaving the Ramtops and returning to her home ground of the Chalk, her place of power, as we know from that opening chapter.
But I did mention above that Tiffany has two suitors in this book, and her second beau, though removed from the rest of the story, has a more direct role to play in the ending.
This is Roland, the Baron’s son, and he’s now 14, going on 15. He’s been a bit of a cypher to date, but now Pratchett has him demonstrate qualities that enable him to move up to the somewhat nebulous role of Tiffany’s maybe-one-day-when-they’re-old-enough boyfriend. Of course it’s in their future: they write letters every week that contain absolutely no mention of love whatsoever and are too embarrassed at being near each other to actually say anything when they meet. It’s obvious.
But Roland’s life isn’t all peaches and cream right now. His father, the Baron, is dying, his Aunts (who will be his guardians) are infesting the castle, rapacious harpies both, and Roland is a virtual prisoner, except that the locks are on the inside and he holds the keys. And he’s turned into a quiet, intelligent, determined young man, with a thoughtful head, which puts him in control of the situation. He’s going to be fit for Tiffany when the time comes, and he’s going to be the ‘hero’ who, accompanied by the Nac Mac Feegle, braves the underworld to free the Summer Lady and allow Tiffany to restore everything to the way it should be.
Which she does with a kiss. Not of passion, but of heat, melting the Wintersmith, and ending the winter as it ought properly to end. At the last, it came down to the lambs. The Wintersmith killed a dozen lambs with his cold, so Tiffany’s anger, born of her Granny Aching, kills the Wintersmith, in his proper season.
Much of Pratchett’s work utilises mythic elements, but usually for the purpose of mockery, of narrativium. Wintersmith is comparatively rare in taking a mythic situation quite deadly seriously, and responding to it in serious mythic manner.
So Tiffany triumphs again, further proving her entitlement to the respect and friendship of such luminaries as Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg, and furthering her reputation among her contemporaries, even Anagramma. And still only thirteen. Whatever will the girl achieve next?

In Praise of Pratchett: A Hat Full of Sky


The original idea behind the Young Adult Discworld series had been perceived as a run of one-offs, set away from the main body and the main characters and settings of the Old Adult series. The revelation that Pratchett had at least toyed with another Maurice book, this time as a ship’s cat, seems to support this notion, but A Hat Full of Sky torpedoed it for sure. We now had a Tiffany Aching series to, ultimately, supersede that of the Three Witches.
Two years have passed since The Wee Free Men (as they had in real life). Tiffany was now eleven and about to leave home for the first time, to enter the service of Miss Level, a witch over towards Lancre, where she expects to learn all about magic and how to use it.
In fact, it’s very much the opposite: Pratchett has made this point many times with both Witches and Wizards, and it’s the one that’s always hardest for the young and eager to learn, which is how not to use magic. Which Tiffany finds both frustrating and easy.
A Hat Full of Sky is actually a very conventional, almost commonplace children’s witch story. Tiffany’s frustration at the lack of direct instruction escalates steadily until she goes off the rails, making exactly all the mistakes that she should be learning not to make, with dire consequences that require the intervention of a senior, and much more powerful witch to show her how to correctly use her powers to resolve the mess she has created.
There’s also the traditional first meeting with her peers, the other would-be witch girls of varying degrees of competence, of course led by the noisiest and most arrogant girl, who thinks she already knows more than everybody else and that her conception of witchery – one hundred and eighty degrees away from the truth but attractive temporarily to the heroine who has not yet learnt better – is the only possible method.
But though Pratchett is using only the most tried-and-tested of materials, that’s merely the framework for the story. Tiffany’s going-off-the-rails moment is less her fault than an issue that arises out of too much natural magical ability and insufficient training. In order to get around a lack of mirrors, she’s invented a spell that gets her out of her own body, a variation on Borrowing that renders her vulnerable to the hiver, a kind of compound mind that seeks bodies in which to hide itself, immediately releasing all their inhibitions.
It’s a necessary Rite of Passage for Tiffany, who commits two very serious crimes when she no longer has her sense of self-restraint, and her strength lies in understanding that she is directly responsible for the actions she takes, since they come from her desires and her desires only, but also that she is now, in a sense, inoculated against temptation and the future risk of becoming a cackling Witch.
And it’s all down to Tiffany, though a lot of it is due to the effective channelling provided by Granny Weatherwax, and even some to the determination of the seemingly hopeless Petulia Glum, a semi-promising pig-Witch to be who, despite her hesitancy and her insubstantiality, aligns herself with Tiffany simply because Tiffany needs help.
The section with Granny Weatherwax, during which Pratchett articulates even further the role of witches as edge people, is surprisingly long: with the exception of the long short story, The Sea and Little Fishes, it’s the longest sequence of Granny that we ever see this side of Carpe Jugulum. And it’s beautifully played in every moment.
Of course, one can’t ignore the Nac Mac Feegle. There’s a new Kelda, Jeannie, and before the end there’s the first Feegle babies, helping to root this Clan into the Chalk, but Jeannie herself has a rite of passage to go through, starting the book by showing jealousy towards Tiffany, who she sees as her rival, however inappropriate the thought may be.
Despite the desperate situation in which Tiffany finds herself, A Hat Full of Sky is still very much a Young Adult Discworld book. There’s a lightness to it, a lack of detail that betrays the fact that Pratchett is aiming at a lower forehead level than usual. Like it’s two Young Adult predecessors, this is seen in the size of the original volume, which was smaller and thinner than the Old Adult books before and after it.
That would not last: when we next see Tiffany Aching, her books will be exactly the same adult size as the standard Discworld format, and the complexity will continue to grow, commensurately.

In Praise of Pratchett: The Wee Free Men


The second Young Adult Discworld book looks, at first glance, to be about the Pictsies, the Nac Mac Feegle, crivens!, the Wee Free Men introduced in Carpe Jugulum and given their heads to rattle, battle and rampage to their hearts content. But it’s not. Instead, it’s about one small girl and the rest of this brand of Discworld novel will be about this one small girl’s progression until she becomes the last character Terry Pratchett wrote about and for whose final book we all awaited with such mixed feelings.
Welcome Tiffany Aching, daughter of the Chalk, witch-to-be.
This first book takes place when Tiffany is nine years old. She’s a quiet, unobtrusive girl, youngest of six daughters, second youngest child. She has brown hair and a very realistic, detached manner. She’s already very good at butter and cheeses, a talent very useful on a working farm, daughter of a farmer who was son of a shepherd.
Or rather the Shepherd, Granny Aching, Sarah Grizzell as was, two years gone at the time of this book, an old lady who knew everything that could be known about the caring for sheep. Not a witch, at least, not in terms that anyone would understand, or anyone who reads these books would recognise, but in her own way, on the Chalk, where witches aren’t supposed to be possible, an equivalent to Granny Weatherwax.
In fact, Granny Aching was the local Wise Woman, which is what witches really are, but the magic she wielded was of knowledge and approbation. She was the one you went to to see if you had done it right. Not the Baron, who owns the land, but Granny Aching, who was the land.
And what Granny Aching was has transmitted itself to the wonderful Tiffany, who is already a witch at the age of nine, albeit one with a lot of formal knowledge to learn, but a witch nevertheless, for the simple reason that she can see what is there, what is really there, and because she watches herself.
Though The Wee Free Men and its successors were always described as Young Adult Discworld, I don’t believe it. Maybe for this book, and its immediate successor, as Tiffany works through the remnants of her childhood and the difficulties of her adolescence. Maybe the authorial gaze is downwards, to a point, writing for children in writing about children. Maybe the geography, as in The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents, is imprecise and distant, unlocated on and unanchored to the Discworld itself.
But this is not a book alone. It’s the beginning of a longer story. It’s why there are no more Granny Weatherwax books, because Granny and Nanny, wonderful creations that they are, are finished in terms of development, and because the two younger witches don’t really fit into one role.
Tiffany, though, is at the beginning, and that makes her far more interesting to a writer. She can slip, stumble and fall, she can learn from mistakes, she can from the very beginning accept responsibility in the way of a true witch, and still have to work out how to do it. She’s in a way, a purer version of Granny Weatherwax, who was not bred of the Chalk.
But all that’s getting away from the story itself, and especially from Tiffany’s co-stars, the Nac Mac Feegle. The story itself is strong, bright, clear, a children’s fairy story given a workover in Discworld terms. The Queen of the Elves is taking an active interest in the Chalk, her parasite world has attached itself, intent on sucking until it is full of the substance of elsewhere. She’s already taken the Baron’s son, Roland, a year ago. Now she takes Tiffany’s younger brother, Wentworth.
He might be permanently sticky, useless, self-absorbed and taking up entirely too much of her time in looking after him, but he’s Tiffany’s brother, her brother, which is more important than whether she loves him or not, and besides, she’s the only one who knows where he’s actually gone and that makes her the only one who can get him back. And because she can, she must. It’s her duty. And Tiffany is that kind of sane, rooted, determined child who not only knows what her duty is but understands why it has to be performed.
With only the help of the Feegles – a thousand or so six-inch tall, red-haired, blue-skinned, tattooed, aggressive, raging, Scotsmen turned up until something falls off, warriors – Tiffany goes to Fairyland to get Wentworth back. Roland is a bonus, even if everyone decides afterwards that it must have been him who rescued her and Wentworth. At least Roland knows otherwise.
And so do those who count, namely Tiffany’s fellow witches. That is to say, Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg, summoned to do as Granny Aching would have done, to nod and say ‘That’ll do.’
The Wee Free Men is a lovely book, a lively book, a vibrant flowing current of life. Because it is this thing called Young Adult, it is more single-minded in its approach to the tale, but because it is Terry Pratchett, it knows when to divert into little eddies and streams that make this a more comprehensively painted world than most children’s books portray.
Crivens! We will not be fooled again!

Thank you Rhianna Pratchett


If there’s one piece of good news in the sad loss of Terry Pratchett, it is in the announcement today by his daughter Rhianna, to whom he has left the intellectual rights to Discworld, that firmly closes the door upon the risk of literary necrophilia.

Ms Pratchett has confirmed that the forthcoming The Shepherd’s Crown, the fifth Tiffany Aching and the Nac Mac Feegle novel, the 41st Discworld novel, will be the last ever.

There will be no attempts to continue, not by herself (though her father gave her his blessing to do so), nor by any person licenced by her.

Thank you Ms Pratchett for making that plain. Thank you for shielding our many lost friends from being distorted at the hands of others, from being sent on false journeys and down wrong pathways, from saying things false, phoney and untrue. Though we will miss them like we miss your father, we are grateful to you for your forthrightness in doing the only right thing to do.

In a world in which the heirs to P.G.Wodehouse and Agatha Christie have gotten so greedy for more that they have commissioned – not merely sanctioned, solicited – the most egregious breaches of their own trust, your resolve gives me a little bit of heart. You can be proud of yourself.