WeeFreeMen

The first Tiffany Aching novel

and thirtieth novel in the Discworld Series

Illustrated by Paul Kidby

Winner of the Teen Choice WHSmith Book Award for 2004, and of the Locus Award for the Best Young Adult Novel, 2004

UK hbk: Doubleday, 1 May 2003 (0-385-60533-1)
Bookproof: 200 copies
Hbk edition with new Paul Kidby cover and map of The Chalk on the end-papers: Doubleday, 27 April 2017 (978-0-857-53545-0)

Pbk: Corgi, 29 April 2004 (B-format 0-552-54905-3; mass-market 0-552-55186-4)
B format black & Gold cover, June 2008 (978-0-552-15782-7) Initially sold exclusively through Waterstones, their copies having a white circular ‘Exclusive Waterstone’s Edition’ label on them.
A-format reissue, with new Kidby cover: Corgi, 1 July 2010 (978-0-552-56290-4) Contains the first few pages of A Hat Full of Sky at the end.
B-format, with the new Kidby cover, without the extract, Corgi, 24 May 2012 ( 978-0-552-54905-9)
New pbk with cover and illustrations by Laura Ellen Andresen: Corgi, 27 April 2017 (978-0-552-57630-7)

Bookclub: BCA, 2003 (CN 113129)

Large print: Isis, 2010 (hbk: 978-0-7531-8764-7; pbk: 978-0-7531-8765-4)

USA hbk: cover illus. Chris Gall, HarperCollins, 13 May 2003 (trade 0-06-001236-6; library 0-06-001237-4)
Bookproof: December 2002
Bookclub: 1144989

Pbk. HarperTrophy, 2004 (0-06-001238-2); new cover, illus Bill Mayer, 2006
Reprint with new cover: HarperCollins, 1 September 2015 (978-0-06-243526-2)

Library hbk of pbk: Turtleback (1-417-62764-6)

Bahasa Indonesian: Pria Cilik Merdeka, trs. Astrid Susanti, Penerbit Atria/PT Serambi Ilmu Semesta, July 2007 (978-979-1112-14-7)

Brazil: Os Pequenos Homens Livres, trs. Ludimila Hashimoto, Conrad, 2010 (978-85-7616-338-1)

Bulgarian: Волният Народец, trs. Katia Ancheva, Vuzev, 2011 (978-954-422-098-3)

Chinese [mainland]: 1. People’s Literature Publishing House, c.2004 [not seen]
2. Dook

Chinese [Taiwan]: [translated title: Tiffany’s Magical Journey], trs. Chi-Chun Hsieh, illus. Chien-Fung Wu, Global Kids Books/Commonwealth, 4,000 copies on 10 May 2004 (KLB04. 986-417-303-0; 0-7868-0828-4 [this is supposed to be the UK’s ISBN, but isn’t. It’s that of another book illustrated by the artist]

Croatian: Tiffany Protiv Vilinske Kraljice, trs. ???? , Skolska knjiga ????

Czech: Svobodnej Národ, trs. Jan Kantörek, Talpress, 30 November 2004 (80-7197-245-2)

Danish: De små blå mænd, trs. Svend Rasnild, Borgen, 2005 (87-21-02447-2)

Dutch: De Vrijgemaakte Ortjes, trs. Venugopalan Ittekot (pseud. of Ruurd Groot), M/De Boekerij, November 2004 (90-225-4069-3)
Reissued under the Mynx imprint, 2009 (978-90-8968-127-0)

Estonian: Tillud Vabamehed, trs.Kaaren Kaer, Varrak, June 2005 (9985-3-0904-9)

Finnish: Vapaat pikkumiehet, trs. Mika Kivimäki, Karisto, September 2003 (951-23-4453-X)
Pbk: Karisto, July 2005 (951-23-4696-6)  [not seen]

French: Les ch’tits homes libres, trs. Patrick Couton, L’Atalante, June 2006 (2-84172-339-9)
Pbk with Simonetti cover: Pocket, November 2011 (978-2-266-21265-6)

German: Kleine freie Männer, trs. Andreas Brandhorst, Manhattan, 2005 (3-442-54586-2)
Pbk: Goldmann, November 2006 (3-442-46309-2)

Greek: Χιλιαδες νανοι κι ενα τηγα , trs. Anna Papastayrou, Psichogios, March 2007 (978-960-453-065-6)

Hebrew: ‘ בני החודין הקטני, trs. Yonatan Bar, Kidmat Eden [East of Eden] May 20/08 (DNACOD 0031700000052)
 Winner of the 2008 Geffen Award for the Best Translated Fantasy Book

Hungarian pbk: Csip-csap népek, trs. Veronika Farkas, Delta Vision, 10 December 2014 (978-963-395-066-1)

Italian: L’intrepida Tiffany e I Piccoli Uomini Liberi, trs. Maurizio Bartocci, I Grandi Mondadori. September 2004 (88-04-53500-8)
Massmarket: Oscar Mondadori, February 2007 (978-88-04-56353-2)

Japanese: Asunaro Shobo. 6,000 copies in 20 October 2006 (4-7515-2352-X)

Korean: (in 2 vols.) Seoul Cultural Publishers, 2006 (89-532-9669-2 and 89-532-9670-6)

Latvian: Mazie Bríviw ,ķipari, trs. Liana Blumberga, Zvaignzne, 2,000 copies on 21 April 2006 (9984-37-025-9)

Lithuanian: Mažieji laisvūnai, trs. Danguolė Žalytė, Garnelis, 2007 (978-9955-428-87-9)

Norwegian: Skrellingene, trs. Torleif Sjøgren-Erchsen and Marita Liabø, Gyldendal, 2,000 copies in 2004 (82-05-32806-4)

Polish: Wolni Ciutludzie, trs Dorota Malinowska-Grupinska, Prószyński i S-ka, 7 January 2005 (83-7337-935-5)

Portuguese: Os Homenzinhos Livres, trs. Renata Carreira, Coleço TEEN/Saida de Emergencia, August 2010 (978-989-637-247-7)

Romanian: Scoţiduşil Liberi, trs. & notes by Cristina Jinga, Corint Junior, November 2006 (973-7644-59-X)

Russian: Маленький свободный народец, trs. Natalia Allunan, 1) with scenic cover design, Eksmo, 15 February 2016 (978-5-699-81690-3); and
2) with outline Feegle riding bird and Tiffany on the Chalk, against black background, Eksmo, 5 April 2016 (978-5-699-83996-4)

Spanish: 1) The Wee Free Men [Los pequeños hombres libres] [sic – English title used above the Spanish], trs. Pilar Ramíres Tello, Toromítico/Almuzara, October 2008 (978-84-96947-59-7)

2) massmarket pbk: Debols!llo, June 2017 (978-84-663-4113-4)

Swedish: Små Blå Män, trs. Mats Blomqvist, B.Wahlströms, 2007 (978-91-32-33372-9)

Turkish: Küçük Özgür adamlar, tr. Niran Elçi, Tudem, 3,000 copies in 2007 (978-9944-69-129-1)
Reissue: DeliDolu/Tudem,  September 2016 (978-605-5060-60-2)

Background illustration © and by courtesy of Marc Simonetti

 

Reviews

Last year Terry Pratchett won Britain’s Carnegie Medal for the best children’s book of the year. The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents focused on the adventures of its clever hero, a feline con artist who runs a Pied Piper scam with a troupe of talking rats and a street urchin who plays the flute. Pratchett naturally set this fantasy on his best-known creation, the Discworld, a kind of alternate Earth in which sword and sorcery adventures, classic folk tales and Dickensian rumbustiousness are used to comment on modern-day politics and social mores as well as the perennial failings and splendor of human beings. Many readers judge the 30 or so Discworld books to be the best comic novels of our time.
Certainly, The Wee Free Men, Pratchett’s second children’s “story of Discworld,” displays his usual virtues – a mimic’s ear for speech patterns and accents, perfect timing and balance to his sentences, a fast-moving plot that grows increasingly frenetic, monitory portraits of the self-important, narrow-minded and spiritually dry, a plea for kindness to animals and respect for the natural world and, not least, an exuberant and irresistible cleverness. Pratchett would almost certainly agree with Blake that energy is eternal delight.
Happily, a child doesn’t need to know any of this to lose himself or herself in The Wee Free Men — there’s scarcely a reference to Discworld or its celebrated characters, and except for the brief appearance of Pratchett’s beloved witches, the book might be set, at least initially, in a generic rural England.
It opens with Miss Perspicacia Tick crouching in the shelter of a hedge during a rainstorm, exploring the universe. “The exploring of the universe was being done with a couple of twigs tied together with string, a stone with a hole in it, an egg, one of Miss Tick’s stockings (which also had a hole in it), a pin, a piece of paper, and a tiny stub of pencil. . . . The items had been tied and twisted together to make a . . . device. . . . ‘Yes,’ she said quietly as rain poured off the rim of her hat. ‘There it is. A definite ripple in the walls of the world. Very worrying. There’s probably another world making contact. That’s never good. I ought to go there. But . . . according to my left elbow, there’s a witch there already.’ ”
Or is there? When Miss Tick scries into a saucer of water, she glimpses only a brown-haired, rather introspective 9-year-old named Tiffany Aching, the daughter of a sheepherding family that dwells on the chalk hills. But this – as any reader of fantasy immediately knows and any child will fondly hope – is no ordinary little girl.
Tiffany’s grandmother was a local eccentric, peculiarly adept at curing sheep of illness and with a penchant for wandering the edges of the Chalk with her two dogs, Thunder and Lightning. But grandma is dead now, and Tiffany is stuck with minding her sticky little brother Wentworth. In fact, life is mostly a routine of babysitting and churning butter – until unexplainable things begin to happen. Six-inch-tall blue men with red hair, wearing kilts, float down the river in a little boat. Ravenous fairy-tale monsters lunge up from the roiling water. Sudden silences and blurs pervade the landscape.
Troubled, Tiffany visits a band of wandering scholars to find some answers. She passes by the booth advertising “The Wonders of Punctuation and Spelling” (“Absolute certainty about the comma! I before E completely sorted out! The Mystery of the Semicolon Revealed!!!”) and then feels herself drawn to one headlined “I Can Teach You a Lesson You Won’t Forget in a Hurry.” There, she meets Miss Tick and her toad companion (“I’m not familiar . . . I’m just slightly presumptuous”), who reveal that the wee men are better known as the fearsome Nac Mac Feegle or “pictsies” (typical Pratchett wordplay – pixies with the drunken, warlike habits of the ancient Picts). But what about the other strange stuff going on?
“ ‘Another world is colliding with this one,’ said the toad. . . . ‘All the monsters are coming back.’
“ ‘Why?’ said Tiffany.
“ ‘There’s no one to stop them.’
“ There was silence for a moment.
“ Then Tiffany said, ‘There’s me.’ ”
And away we go. From here on, Pratchett races through half the tropes of classic fantasy. The Nac Mac Feegle are, for example, what is known as a wainscot society, living just out of sight of ordinary human beings. The Chalk is, to use John Clute’s term, a polder – a place protected by magic against outside forces pushing against its boundaries. To heal the danger-ous breach in the universe (and to rescue her little brother), Tiffany must discover a portal to the realm of the evil Fairy Queen, cross into a snowbound world, and there enter the dark woods to confront dreams, shadows and illusions. Along the way, she is aided by the Wee Free Men and by memories of her formidable grandmother. There are touches of spiritualism (“She opened her eyes, and then, somewhere inside, opened her eyes again”), Jungian arche-types (the night journey) and desperate games with regression and paradox. As with much YA fiction, Tiffany’s adventures serve as a rite of passage leading to the proper recognition of her true nature.
But The Wee Free Men is also a book about Story. Tiffany reflects on the nature of fairy tales, on how narratives shape our behavior, and ultimately comes to understand the particular Story she is in. More mundanely, Pratchett’s tale recalls, glancingly, a whole variety of texts in which underestimated heroines confront the forces of darkness – Meg Murry of A Wrinkle in Time, Coraline of Neil Gaiman’s recent novel, Lyra Belacqua of The Golden Compass, Miss Bianca of The Rescuers, even Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Adults will appreciate the occasional literary and artistic allusion, whether to Richard Dadd’s great fantasy painting ‘The Fairy-Feller’s Master-Stroke’ or the most famous line of William Allingham’s poem (“Up the airy mountain / Down the rushy glen”): When Rob Anybody, leader of the Nac Mac Feegle, recalls the old days, he says, “Aye, we wuz wild champion robbers for the Quin. People wouldna e’en go a-huntin’ for fear o’ little men.”
That said, there is however one foe whom the Wee Free Men themselves fear and eventually the desperate Queen gleefully, cruelly summons forth that remorseless enemy.
“Three figures had appeared in the air, a little way away. The middle one, Tiffany saw, had a long red gown, a strange long wig and black tights and buckles on his shoes. The others were just ordinary men, it seemed, in ordinary gray suits.”
The Nac Mac Feegle shrink back in utter, hopeless terror.
“ ‘See the one on the left ther’,’ whimpered a pictsie. ‘See he’s got a briefcase! It’s a brief-case! Oh, waily, waily, a briefcase, waily. . . ‘
The trio slowly approaches.
“ ‘Oh, waily, waily, he’s snappin’ the clasps,’ groaned Daft Wullie. ‘Oh waily, waily, waily, ’tis the sound o’ Doom when a lawyer does that!’
“ ‘Mister Rob Anybody Feegle and sundry others?’ said one of the figures in a dreadful voice. . . .”
Despite its slapstick, wordplay and ‘Simpsons’-like comedy, The Wee Free Men teaches, slantwise like all good fiction, the importance of trust, kindness, determination and responsibility. And as in any good fantasy tale, the Story ends with nothing changed and everything changed.
In particular, Tiffany learns about the true nature of witches. “ ‘We look to . . . the edges,’ said Mistress Weatherwax. ‘There’s a lot of edges, more than people know. Between life and death, this world and the next, night and day, right and wrong. . . an’ they need watchin’. We watch ‘em, we guard the sum of things.’ ” We guard the sum of things. Would that our own world were watched over by a few good witches.    Michael Dirda in The Washington Post

Tiffany’s witchcraft eschews the flamboyant tricks of wizards; it is quiet, inconspicuous magic, grounded in the earth and tempered with compassion, wisdom, and justice for common folk. Not as outrageous and perhaps not as inventive as The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents, The Wee Free Men has a deeper, more human interest and is likely to have wider appeal. All in all, this is a funny and thought-provoking fantasy, with powerfully visual scenes and characters that remain with readers. A glorious read.  Sue Giffard, Ethical Culture Fieldston School, NYC, School Library Journal

The Carnegie medal-winner’s fans will not be disappointed. «  Kirkus Reviews

Despite the title sharing the nickname of the Free Church of Scotland – and the fact that Wee Free Men’s characteristics are the opposite of what the denomination represents – Mr Pratchett insisted yesterday that there was no connection between the two.
Instead, he claimed, the ‘pictsies’ were more like ‘Glaswegian Smurfs who have seen Braveheart too many times’ – and never seem to be able to get out of the pub.
He also praised the amazing sense of humour of the Scots, which ‘let him get away with writing this book’…..
He was adamant that the title had no connection with the Free Church, although he acknowledged he had heard of the Wee Frees used in that context.
He added: ‘It makes a nice title – I doubt that anyone would mistake tine blue people with a religious organisation. Discworld doesn’t even exist, so no inferences should be drawn.’   Sarah Bruce, Aberdeen Press and Journal

The latest adventure set in Pratchett’s sprawling, free-from Discworld boasts a winning heroine, the plucky young witch-in-training Tiffany Aching. Funny, sassy, and spirited (‘She preferred the witches to the smug handsome princes and especially the stupid smirking princesses, who didn’t have the sense of a beetle’), the heroine turns what might have been a simple adventure yarn (although nothing Pratchett does is ever simple, really) into an enthralling and rewarding read. …  the ultimate showdown between Tiffany and the cold-hearted Queen of the Elves transpires as a joyous triumph of innocence over cruel ambition. As always, Pratchett weaves eminently quotable morsels (a person-turned-toad warns of the perils of fairy godmothers: ‘Never cross a woman with a star on a stick . . . they’ve got a mean streak’), into his artfully constructed prose. Some of the characteristically punny humor may pass over the heads of young readers, but plenty of other delights will keep them hooked.’ «                                                                                   Publishers Weekly

Twenty seven million copies of Terry Pratchett’s books have now been sold worldwide. Immense popularity presents him with a unique problem however. It doesn’t matter what the reviews say – a million people will buy this book anyway. That’s not the problem. The problem is continuing to be original when there is no pressure to do so.
Most authors, reaching the 30th book in a series, would be tempted to write sequels or recycle existing ideas. But Pratchett’s recent semi-Discworld projects, Amazing Maurice and now The Wee Free Men, indicate his blatant refusal to conform to any established formula. The latter is set on a Discworld landscape previously untrampled by Pratchett’s pen. The chalklands and sheep-rearing country of this backdrop are inspired by the downs of Wiltshire near the author’s home. Stonehenge gets a brief mention, but this is primarily a book about the interaction of people and the continuity of life no matter what tries to upset it….
The Wee Free Men of the title are the Nac Mac Feegles or Pictsies, briefly mentioned in Carpe Jugulum as having been an old race ‘turned out by Vampires’, but here having been turned out of fairyland for drinking, cussing and fighting.
The Pictsies are small homicidal ble hooligans with Scots accents who give the book the sense of joyful anarchy it will always be remembered for.
They may be fantasy, but the Nac Mac Feegle characters are already familiar. They’ve formed the front line of every British army for the past 300 years, and if, like me, you’re Scots, these were the guys you pictured when Grandfather said the MacGregors nicked our cattle.
Combine them with a setting reminiscent of the 1986 David Bowie film Labyrinth and you’ve got quite a story on your hands….
It’s not his greatest work, but it’s also unlike any of his others. It’s a novel for both children and adults, which Pratchett makes appear easy, but strangely it can’t be pigeonholed as one or the other. There’s not much else I can say without giving the story away, except perhaps that this book is a clear example of a comic fantasy classic and, well …. Crivens!
It deserves t’ sell a millyun copies.        Adam Corres in The Sunday Express

What a treat! …. A wonderfully funny fantasy for all ages.                            Kliatt

The opposite of funny, says Pratchett, is unfunny, and his books set out to be funny and serious. His latest novel succeeds in being both . . .  Pratchett’s comical fantasy tells us something about self-esteem. Love and grief, and the way that observation and reason, which he calls First Sight and Second Thoughts, can amount to a kind of magic. Old ladies come out of this book well: to call them witches is to mistake their powers of logic and insight. The novel reflects, too, on the history of landscape, and how chalk is composed of what were once living things. Quite a lot of lessons for such a rib-tickler.          Sunday Times Magazine

Stephen Briggs’ voice brings this story to life. Every character is clear and distinct. He does an especially fine job with the strong Scottish brogue of the Nac Mac Feegle. I suspect that I understood a lot more of what those crazy little blue warriors were saying due to the craft of his reading than I would have had I read it in print.      Books for Ears (USA)

Background illustration © and by courtesy of Marc Simonetti