In the second chapter of The Wee Free Men, I AM ABSOLUTELY SMITTEN WITH HOW GREAT TIFFANY ACHING IS. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Discworld.
Holy shit, what is this book? Why is it like this??? WHERE WAS TIFFANY ACHING WHEN I WAS A KID AND WANTED TO READ FANTASY BUT COULDN’T FIND THE STORIES I DESIRED??? Look, y’all, there’s a sense of whimsy here that doesn’t feel quite like all the other Discworld books, and I admit I’m having a hard time nailing down why that is. What is it about this chapter that so thoroughly entertained me and made me want to DEFEND TIFFANY ACHING AT ALL COSTS?
I suspect part of it is that this whole chapter is almost entirely about women. It’s women talking to one another, about one another, exchanging stories, and navigating a complicated, nuanced situation. These last few Discworld books have been mostly men dealing with conflicts and adventures and tragedy, so on a very basic level, it’s refreshing. It’s different. And I remember how much I loved Equal Rites, and I am getting just the slightest bit of familiarity from it. That’s not to suggest these two stories are the same, aside from featuring two young girls who want to be magical. I think the approach to them is very different. There’s an interplay here between Tiffany and Miss Tick that’s hilarious, full of nuance and meaning, and remarkably profound. I think we’re seeing the start of an incredible friendship, of a mentor finding a mentee who she can help come into her own.
That’s an important distinction, though. As it is, Tiffany is wise beyond her years, and it’s one of my favorite things about her. She’s able to cut through the bullshit that she’s been fed. Not immediately, mind you, but it’s really satisfying to watch her work out how she feels about the world, how she uses logic and reason to arrive at her conclusions. That opening interrogation about whether or not Miss Tick is a witch is so fascinating because The Wee Free Men is clearly a conversation about stories. In all the stories and myths and stereotypes, witches wear all black, have pointy hats, and can do curses. And as Tiffany questions Miss Tick, she peels away these layers. What if Miss Tick presents herself a certain way to avoid people thinking she’s a witch?
And if that’s the case, does that mean there are other people out in the world who qualify as witches? Does that mean Tiffany should become a witch herself? These notions are woven together in this layered conversation, and all the while, Miss Tick tests Tiffany. She pushes her to examine exactly why she wants to be a witch, and she does so by making it clear that being a witch is not exactly what Tiffany believes it is. And that conversation isn’t just with Tiffany; it’s with the reader as well, WHICH IS SO FASCINATING TO ME. Granted, if this isn’t your first Witches book in the Discworld series, then you know that Granny’s headology is part of being a witch. Most witches use magic as a last resort, and the relationship they have with other people is often this unspoken arrangement, this muted understanding of what role each person plays and what is expected of them.
Then there’s the danger! Does Tiffany want to be a witch even though there’s a huge risk in being one? The answer, of course, is a resounding YES, and I admire so much that someone as young as Tiffany gets to be courageous and brave SO EARLY INTO A BOOK. But my absolute favorite part of this chapter is Tiffany’s attempt to prove that her Grandmother was a witch, too. By the qualifications that Miss Tick references and the stereotypes/myths that Tiffany knows, she technically seems to be a witch, right? Yet even that is broken down, and the magic that Tiffany perceived growing up has an explanation. That being said?
But that time it had been magic. And it didn’t stop being magic just because you found out how it was done.
And if there’s any message about what witches are and what they do, that’s a pretty damn good one.
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