Mark Reads ‘The Wee Free Men’: Chapter 7, Part I

In the first half of the seventh chapter of The Wee Free Men, Tiffany makes a bargain. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Discworld.

Trigger Warning: For discussion of death and grief. 

Well, this was unexpectedly heavy. 

This passing of the torch fits within a more archetypical narrative in fantasy, and I’m certain many of us have seen a version of it before. While the context is truly different, I was reminded of the opening episode of Deep Space Nine, in which Sisko is given a role that resembles what Tiffany is gifted in “First Sight and Second Thoughts.” She’s long been an outsider anyway, and the Feegles definitely were not the first people to make her feel that way. If anything, I’d argue that the Kelda doesn’t want to inspire isolation in Tiffany. 

Yet it’s easy to see how this further separates her, even though she’s now an integral part of Feegle society. WHICH WAS FURTHER EXPLAINED, BY THE WAY. Now I get why there are so few women; Pratchett’s analogy is akin to honeybees. In this culture, women can leave a clan to seek out a kelda in another clan, and they can bring other men (usually relatives) with them. And because a kelda cannot pass on the mantle to another woman related to them, that means the only woman around is… Tiffany. Who is not a pictsie, and which Fion is quick to point out as soon as possible. So what is she supposed to do? How can she be expected to manage an entire battalion of Feegles when she just discovered they existed a few days prior?

Pratchett doesn’t necessarily answer this question yet, as we only barely get to see Tiffany as the kelda before the artificial split I was given in this chapter. Instead, Pratchett focuses on both urgency and empathy. He drapes a frantic energy over the changing of the ruler by highlighting how much this reminds Tiffany of the death of Granny Aching. And oh lord, I was NOT READY FOR ANY OF THIS. Tiffany might not want to play this part, but as the kelda passes away, the gravity of it all weighs heavy on her mind. She LITERALLY watches this woman die, watches her daughter immediately grieve her, watches as the other Feegles contend with the odd, uncomfortable reality that they’ve all been dealt. I could tell that the Aching name at least held some meaning to the pictsies, but is that enough? Even Rob Anybody, who is largely supportive of Tiffany, seemed a bit on edge about the whole thing. (That’s less confirmed in the text and more of a feeling I got, though. I’M TOTALLY GUESSING HERE.)

Yet it’s the Feegles’ mourning that triggers a memory in Tiffany of when she was the one to discover that her Granny had died. I’ve spoken about grief at length for years through Mark Reads, and it still fascinates me just how differently it manifests for other people. And that includes the Feegles, who mourn in a way that seems strange to Tiffany. The biggest takeaway for me from her flashback was the notion of silence, how Granny’s death revealed a different kind of it. Even if Granny Aching never spoke much to her granddaughter about anything other than sheep, her absence birthed a worse kind of silence. And that intrigues me because of this line:

The old Feegle smiled briefly. “But for now, each Feegle remembers her in silence.”

It doesn’t seem like a coincidence, you know? Silence plays an important part in both of their mourning, though that silence has a vastly different meaning. It’s what the Feegle do to honor their mother (I STILL CAN’T GET OVER THIS DETAIL), but it’s what haunts Tiffany. She wants nothing more than to be able to talk to her, especially at this very moment. Instead, she’s own her own. Even with the toad, even as the kelda of the Nac Mac Feegle, Tiffany Aching is alone. That being said, this book is so rewarding because we get to see this character react to a world that’s falling apart around her. She’s remarkably adept at it, though, and it’s not just because she’s got that Aching line running through her. Sure, it probably plays some part, but I’m certain that because Tiffany has had such an interesting and challenging life at her age, she is more skilled at adapting than most people.

And this is one big adaptation, isn’t it?

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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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