The Wee Free Men Introduction
In A Nutshell
English writer Terry Pratchett usually writes books for adults, but in The Wee Free Men he tumbles gleefully into the world of children's literature—just as the heroine of the story, Tiffany, tumbles (though not so gleefully) into the strange world of Fairyland.
In The Wee Free Men, Pratchett delves into a world that's known to readers of his Discworld series. And this world is full of mythology and magic—which isn't surprising from a writer who dabbles in astronomy and writes a whole lot of fantasy. This particular fantasy novel features a young, scrappy heroine that young readers can certainly relate to. Tiffany is brash, a little impulsive, and not particularly patient with her little brother—but she's also determined to carve her own way in life, and that determination comes in handy when she runs into trouble.
The trouble Tiffany finds herself in, namely, is that the Queen of Fairyland has stolen her sticky baby brother, Wentworth. Even though Wentworth is sticky and kind of a crybaby, Tiffany realizes that it's her job to go fetch him back. And with that, she marches bravely into the world of Fairyland with an army of little blue men (the Nac Mac Feegles) to back her up. The whole thing is wondrous, full of adventure, and just a bit scary.
The story revolves around the idea that anyone can make things happen—whether you're big or small. Tiffany may be young, and she may not have that many skills (she doesn't even possess the magical skills that the Nac Mac Feegles think she does when they start following her), but she more than makes up for it with determination and cleverness. Instead of giving up out of frustration or fear, Tiffany powers through the odious landscape of Fairyland and gets herself into—and out of—all sorts of traps and tricks through sheer imagination and grit.
So at the end of the day, though the story takes us to magical places, it isn't magical skill that is ultimately important. Instead determination and an understanding of how the world works are what count the most. Tiffany's far more curious and clever than the lazy Queen will ever be (after all, the Queen just uses magic to take care of things), and this serves her well in the end. So read up, learn up, and don't stop believing in yourself.
Why Should I Care?
A lot of children's literature revolves around the princess narrative (example: every Disney princess movie ever). There are exceptions, but very often girls in children's books—especially fantasy novels—are supposed to be demure, pretty, and ladylike. Well Tiffany Aching is definitely a different kind of heroine. She's got a mind of her own, isn't afraid of anything, and is ready to forge her own path, even if it means going through some pretty dangerous landscapes.
And that's why you should care about Tiffany. She's not the kind of protagonist who just sits around and bemoans her status in the world. Instead Tiffany makes her own way, even if no one else believes in her. She may be the youngest daughter in a big family, and she may often get overlooked, but Tiffany doesn't care. She doesn't need fame or acknowledgment; she just needs to know that she's doing everything she can to make things happen. And when she manages to defeat the Queen and bring back Wentworth at the end, we want to stand up and cheer for her, because that girl really earns her victory.