Book reviews, art, gaming, Objectivism and thoughts on other topics as they occur.

May 22, 2007

Tiffany Aching

Terry Pratchett is definitely one of my favorite authors so I thought I'd say a few words about his newer books that are intended more for a younger audience. Granted, this doesn't prevent adults like myself from enjoying them, but the opportunity for a fun and worthwhile way to entertain your youngsters should not be ignored.

Pratchett is mostly a satirist and a lot of his work is derivative, but his slanted take on familiar subjects is worth a look--worth a second look, too, in fact. I mention this because the Tiffany Aching books (The Wee Free Men, A Hat Full of Sky, and Wintersmith thus far) bear an odd superficial resemblance to the famous books of another popular British fantasy author that writes for the same age group . . . an author whose name starts with a J. and ends with a Rowling, if you get my drift.

The resemblance is odd because although the books share some faint surface details--Harry Potter is about a boy learning to be a wizard, the Tiffany Aching books are about a girl learning to be a witch--you couldn't find two takes on roughly the same subject that were more different if you tried. Harry Potter attends a school where magic is pinned down in books and readily accessable. Tiffany Aching discovers that the only school for witchcraft is the entire world and that no one can teach you the most important lesson: the real trick about magic is knowing when not to use it.

And, of course, you have the Wee Free Men, described by Pratchett as being like Scottish smurfs that have seen Braveheart a few too many times. They can make a special child that can talk to the fairies kind of wish she couldn't.

In the end, the Tiffany Aching books are good fun thoroughly mixed with good sense. Get them for your kids.

Rating: 3.5


Toiler said...

I checked out Pratchett at the bookstore and decided not to buy. I'm avoiding him. Maybe you can help me overcome my reluctance.

As you know, satire pokes fun at something, and I get the impression (perhaps wrongly) that Pratchett's stories "lighten up" and "have fun with" fantasy themes. Is that true? If not that, then what is the butt of his satire?

Here's where I'm coming from: I get upset when an author makes fun of fantasy per se, for example, turning a quest to stop a deadly dragon into a charade of self-conscious in-jokes -- e.g.

"Stand down from my raised staff or I'll...I'll...I'll--"
"You'll stammer?"
"Yes, I'll stammer until we all die of...of...of.... Oh, never mind. Let's go."

-- or of silly antics that lead to accidental wins, and so on. There's a clear line in my mind between that sort of thing and what Tolkien did with humor in The Hobbit (which I loved).

Jennifer Snow said...

Hmm. This question is going to end up having a very complicated and lengthy answer.

Pratchett does satirize fantasy themes in some of his books, particularly his earlier ones when he was first putting Discworld on the map. However, he doesn't satirize them by making them into dumb jokes, he does it by taking the fantasy *more* seriously than many fantasy writers do and then extrapolating what would happen from there.

I concede that there are a number of in-jokes and one-liners in his novels and that they really aren't of any value if you don't "get" them, but they are not a substantial part of any of his books and you can cheerfully ignore them.

Maybe it would help if I told you about a specific one of his books so that you can see more clearly what I mean.

Guards! Guards! is, on the surface, a very typical story about a dragon terrorizing a town. What is very *atypical* is the way Pratchett handles it. The grim evil of trying to "deal with" or "compromise" with the dragon is revealed beautifully. The silliness of expecting some hero to come and wave a magic sword and vanish the problem is brought up. Who eventually ends up dealing with the problem? The dull, plodding, everyday city guard that everyone thought of as a kind of joke. They do it because their commander sees it as his job to protect people and refuses to quit. It's really a kind of paen to people that achieve great deeds simply by getting up every day and going to work and doing their job . . . a kind of everyday heroism.

Now, Pratchett is no Objectivist; he relies mostly on "common sense", which you may recognize as actually being rationality. Most of the people he writes about aren't Romantic, idealized heros, but the everyday sort. They kind of remind me of Heinlein's protagonists, if you're familiar with them, only with less math.

His writing is very Romantic, however, because it really is all about people exercising their volition, choosing to defend the good. He *doesn't* make fun of the good guys. What he does make fun of are some of the goofier parts of modern culture by transporting them into a fantasy world where the contrast is even more pronounced.

Sorry, I didn't mean to write a dissertation here. I don't have any patience with modern "humor" that makes fun of things that aren't actually funny. Pratchett does make fun of things that are funny. Some of the things that the main character in Guards! Guards! says are lines from Clint Eastwood movies! They're funny because they're, well, cliche but the character says them in exactly the right situation.

I think you would like Pratchett but I can definitely say that all his books aren't created equal. Mort and Wyrd Sisters and Guards! Guards! are all good ones to start with. If you like those, you will probably also enjoy reading his other offerings.

Jennifer Snow said...

P.S. if you like Neil Gaiman at all you will probably like Terry Pratchett a LOT, and I really enjoyed the book they wrote together, Good Omens.

Toiler said...

You wrote: "He does it by taking the fantasy *more* seriously than many fantasy writers do..."
"He *doesn't* make fun of the good guys."

Okay, this addresses the critical issue for me. I'm feeling hopeful.

Re: Guards! Guards!: "Who eventually ends up dealing with the [dragon]? The dull, plodding, everyday city guard that everyone thought of as a kind of joke."

This definitely piques my interest.

I have always liked the idea of uncommon virtue found in "everyday" people. After all, virtue isn't just for the most beautiful, richest, highest-born, etc. Of course, people of uncommon virtue aren't really "everyday" at all, but that's really the point.

So you win. I'll give Pratchett a go.

Thanks for the info!