12 April 2015

Books: Wintersmith By Terry Pratchett (2006)

Let us now return to Discworld with Wintersmith, the 35th novel set there and the third featuring Tiffany Aching. Almost two years have passed since the last book and Tiffany is still in training as a witch. She spends her days with Miss Treason, a scary witch who -like many other witches of Discworld- use very little magical power and more common sense. In many ways, these witches are more like wise woman of stereotypical small towns, helping solve land, chicken, and cow problems. Helping the sick and the infirm and being the midwife to all that are born. But as a soon-to-be thirteen year-old, Tiffany still feels lost. She misses her family, and even Roland the son of the sickly Baron (and whom Tifffany rescued in Wee Free Men from the Queen of the Elves). As a matter of fact, she's not sure if she even has feelings for Roland, despite the sense that everyone around her thinks she does. Things get complicated when Tiffany is taken to see the Dark Dance, or the Morris Dancers, that is the crossover between summer into winter. Caught up in the beauty of it all, Tiffany does what no else has ever done -she leaps into the dance. This propels her into one of the oldest stories ever told and draws the attention of the Wintersmith. But as an elemental, the Wintersmith does not know humans. So as Tiffany, with help from Granny Weatherwax and, of course, the Nac Mc Feegle, tries to deal with the consequences of her actions -as giant Tiffany-shaped snowflakes hammer down along with giant Tiffany-shaped icebergs causing ship wrecks- Tiffany must figure out how to stop a god bent on becoming human. Of course, even this elemental has never met an Aching who is backed up by a group of blue pictsies who will do a lot of fighting' and thievin' to save their "big wee hag."
What makes these young adult books work is that Pratchett does not water down the themes for kids. As a matter of fact, he seems to think there is no reason to forgo those ideas, which makes for a wonderful, very touching and always funny tale. Tiffany, through her own blundering, must figure out how to save herself and the people around her from the Wintersmith, who really does not know or comprehend the damage he does. This theme of responsibility is woven through out the book. We see her lose a fellow witch, though the sadness is lessened a bit by a cameo appearance of Death. But there is a deep philosophy here about death and about acceptance of it. And Pratchett goes out of his way to alleviate the superstitiousness of witches (apparently there a store where witches can buy everything you would find in tales about witches. It reminded me of the Wicked Witch of the West in The Wizard of Oz. Picture her not as evil, but as helpful -yet bitter- woman who must put on the "face" of a witch because no one believe witches could look normal) along with just everything else. And while there is some seriousness to the tale, there is plenty of humor in the form of the ever brave, Nac Mac Freegle. 

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