by Terry Pratchett
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
Many cultures tell stories of women who, through no fault of their own, garner the attention of some deity. In Wintersmith, Terry Pratchett turns the story on its head by showing the titular being’s infatuation with the thirteen year old witch Tiffany Aching from her point of view.
Tiffany, who has previously appears in The Wee Free Men and A Hat Full of Sky, draws the Wintersmith’s unwanted attention when she inadvertently participates in a reverse Morris Dance, taking over the role of Lady Summer. The attention of the gods is never welcome, and in this case the attention is from an amorous elemental trying to learn what it means to be human in his clumsy attempt to capture Tiffany’s love.
There is a lot more going on in Wintersmith for Tiffany than merely being the object of the Wintersmith’s affection. Miss Treason, the witch with whom Tiffany has been serving her apprenticeship, suddenly announces her own imminent death and Tiffany must not only deal with that, but also the arrangements for the community and the fact that Miss Treason’s cottage must be disposed of.
The latter issue puts her between Miss Tick, a witch who wants to see her apprentice, Anagramma, installed in Miss Treason’s cottage, and Granny Weatherwax, whose preferred candidate is Tiffany. This is more than a personnel issue as it pits Granny’s “headology” against Miss Tick’s magic-based style of witchcraft.
Weaving their way through the story are Tiffany’s constant companions, the Nac Mac Feegle. Although their goal through the book is to protect Tiffany in their own bellicose manner, they eventually come to the conclusion that they must help save her by making sure narrativium, Pratchett’s process of Jungian story-telling, is adhered to. This results in the descent of Roland, Tiffany’s distant, but human, paramour, into the Underworld to help rescue the story.
While Wintersmith has Pratchett’s typical humor, the satire is more restrained that in his other recent novels. This may be due, in part, to the target young adult audience, although the earlier Tiffany Aching novels and The Amazing Maurice and His Education Rodents certainly did not skimp on satire. When Pratchett does include humor, as in the fencing match between the Nac Mac Feegle and Roland (or, truth be told, any of the scenes with Roland) the humor provides a great counterpoint to the tribulations Tiffany is undergoing
Of course, what is easy to forget, given Tiffany’s underlying competency and her accomplishments through the two earlier works, is that she is only thirteen. However she is thirteen and Pratchett writes her as a thirteen-year-old. For all her competence, she does show the insecurities that plaque people at that age (and which are magnified in the Wintersmith’s own attempts at becoming human). These insecurities rear their head when Tiffany mush deal with her own social group, the expectations of society, and, worst of all, boys, whether Roland or the Wintersmith.Wintersmith is an entertaining look at what it means to take on responsibility, whether one is prepared for it or not. Further, Pratchett shows that responsibility to community means helping others, even if the help is not openly appreciated. Perhaps the most important part of growing up Pratchett and Tiffany show in Wintersmith is taking responsibility for ones actions even when the difficulties they cause is inadvertent.