In the fourth chapter of The Wee Free Men, Tiffany is concerned that she won’t know how to help find her brother. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Discworld.
So, it’s no surprise that I love young adult fiction at this point; I cut my teeth reviewing it. A young adult book is one of the books that set me on my path towards being a writer. (Specifically, that would be A House on Mango Street.) I have known for a long time that when I actually finished a novel myself, it would be within the genre. There’s a flexibility within YA that I’ve just never really found in adult fiction, or at least not in a lot of mainstream stuff. I want to explore multiple genres; I want to talk about transitional experiences; I want to talk about change and growth and power and terror. And it’s not that you can’t address those themes in adult fiction. It’s just that for me, these things fit better within young adult narratives. (And middle grade, which I wanna try my hand at, but… that’s for another day.) Even within The Wee Free Men, I can see how Pratchett is addressing a lot of the same themes that I deeply, deeply love.
Namely: what do you do when the world goes to hell?
I mean that in both a small and a grand sense. I certainly feel like the world is slowly eroding around all of us these days, but a world can end in other ways, too. Much more personal ways. There’s an otherworldly, horrific threat to Tiffany’s world that’s personified by the Queen and by Jenny, but the disappearance of Wentworth is the end of a world, too. There’s a frantic urgency to the text as everyone in the Chalk begins to band together to try and find Wentworth, but it’s all filtered through Tiffany’s eyes. What do we get out of that? Well, Tiffany is still fiercely interested in the world around her, and much of the opening of the fourth chapter is her interrogation of what’s in her immediate view. In this case, that’s Miss Tick’s toad, who might have once been a human, or they could have been a toad given a mind that makes them think they’re human. (Two very different things, each of them equal in their ability to cause an existential crisis.
But once the dire nature of Wentworth’s disappearance becomes unavoidable to Tiffany, she immediately worries about how she can help. And that anxiety is so personal and so terrifying. There are few things worse than that sense of helplessness when you’re young, when you are convinced that only adults can affect change and save the world. Even here, you can see how Tiffany initially tries to rely solely on some unspoken authority to solve this problem:
“I wish I could find my brother,” she said aloud.
This seemed to have no effect.
She speaks her desire aloud, and there’s an implicit hope there: Maybe someone else will help her fix this. That’s not gonna work, though, is it?
Don’t wish, Miss Tick had said. Do things.
And that’s precisely what she does. To me, that’s a transitional moment for Tiffany. She’s not just growing older and maturing. She is accepting that she has to be different, that her approach to problems she has must be proactive. Thus, she utilizes a resource she knows that she has access to: the Wee Free Men. Which I also love because it shows that it is perfectly fine to ask for help! There’s no need to be a lone wolf or a singular force for good. Invite other people to help if they can and they want to.
Granted, the Nac Mac Feegle aren’t exactly eager to help out, and it’s clear that the Queen is a force to be feared. But there’s some personal shit going on here, too, such as Tiffany’s very honest admission that she doesn’t know how to comfort her mother, who treats Wentworth as her “favorite.” Which… ouch, y’all. I know what it’s like to perceive that you’re not the favorite child of your parents, and for Tiffany to know this at such a young age? That stings a little. I suppose I take a little comfort in her honesty, though. I don’t know that I could have been that honest with myself at her age! Perhaps that’s one of the reasons why the head Feegle—Rob Anybody, BLESS HIS NAME FOREVER—decides to give Tiffany his name and why the Feegles don’t turn and run away from her. She’s honest.
And in the midst of this, there’s a big flashback, one that confused me just a little bit first. In hindsight, though, it’s that final line that really makes the story stick:
That was how it worked. No magic at all. But that time it had been magic. And it didn’t stop being magic just because you found out how it was done…
It’s a theme we’ve seen before in this book and in the Discworld at large, and the flashback reflects that theme. Granny Aching solved Baron’s problem through a “magical” means, even though it relied on her knowledge of an old ewe protecting her lamb. So, applying the same technique to the current situation, Tiffany tells a little lie. She lets the Wee Free Men believe that she knows what they are talking about. That illusion inspires them to feel confident in her, and it’s how she’s able to convince them to help her rescue her brother. And if it looks like magic to them, why say anything otherwise?
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