Thursday, January 11, 2007

Dangerous Worlds - Comments on Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchett

I have a confession: I rarely read Pratchett. I used to but I felt it all went through a bit of a lull until recently in the adult books. My wife gave me Wee Free Men (and the other two but they will be the subject of later posts) and I sat and devoured it whilst actually laughing.

To my mind a Pratchett book works best when it isn't playing for laughs but getting to the nub of a matter. The heart of the book (and it appears the series from the other jacket blurbs) is the deconstruction of children's fantasy and how it operates. Sort of like Neil Gaiman's Coraline, especially in the use of the mirror eyes (button eyes in Coraline) and the grey edges to the undreamt world. Pratchett makes it very clear that the versions of fantasy dependent on the person - the Wee Free Men's heaven is somewhat different from Tiffany's. We live in the age of the Multiverse after all. This series of Discworld novels appears to be bent on rescuing fairy tales from middle class clutches and releasing it back to readers as a novel which meanings and levels can be read into.

Sometimes you need a sad side to the humour and so it is with the construct of the Witch. The way he uses Tiffany to pull apart the fairy tale image of the evil hag in the forest (made all together too popular by the Brothers Grimm (but more anon) or Andersen's Snow Queen) or at the edge of the village. Women's and folk knowledge are far too underrated really. Pratchett does deliver some laugh out loud lines though to lighten the atmosphere.

The Wee Free Men's war cry takes apart the rationale for having a monarchy (let's face it they tend to be arrogant so and so's) in fantasy. It frees up the world and gives the characters far more room as well as reflecting the real world. The queen very much comes across like Gaiman's Other Mother in her attempt to control everything, leaving Tiffany in her version of creation. It is up to her to find her own way through, like Alice in the forest. Tiffany has to develop her own sense of the world and perhaps this is what children's fiction from the 1990s onwards is really about.

More on the other books as I get around to reading them...



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