Review policy

Due to time pressures, I am unable to commit to reviewing books at the moment. However, please feel free to recommend or discuss by tweeting @MsTick68 or commenting on here. Thank you!

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Seasonal reading 3: Wintersmith

Image: fantasticfiction.co.uk

I have already explained how much I enjoy Tiffany Aching books. Until I decided to re-read it as a "seasonal read", Wintersmith  it wasn't one of my favourite Discworld witch  books. However, reading it at Christmas time, with memories of the last two snowy winters still fresh, has made me reconsider this point of view.


Tiffany Aching is now nearly thirteen years old. She is living with the 113-year-old Miss Treason, learning witchcraft from her. Miss Treason is different from the very diligent Miss Level, who was Tiffany's teacher in A Hat Full of Sky, who demonstrated a Discworld witch's role- a combination of vet, social worker and district nurse. Miss Treason, by view of her great age and the remoteness of her steading (area a witch is responsible for) is all those things, but also has a role in maintaining law and order and mediating disputes. In order to do this, Tiffany learns, she relies a great deal on "boffo" (show business) as much as on her skill.


Tiffany is a good apprentice to Miss Treason, but she is still a young girl. She and Miss Treason fly into the woods (Miss Treason seeing through Tiffany's eyes since her own no longer work) to the Dark Morris (performed without music to bring in Winter) she joins in, despite being told not to. By doing this, she attracts the attention of the Wintersmith, the Elemental personifying winter. He confuses Tiffany with the personification of summer, the Summer Lady- they only ever meet at the dance, and of course can never be together. His obsession with Tiffany has terrible consequences, as he goes to greater and greater extremes to impress her. Finally, when the snow and ice threaten the Downlands and Tiffany's family's sheep, she knows that she must confront him. With the help of the Nac Mac Feegles (small, blue, vaguely Scottish pictsies renowned for their fighting and drinking skills) and Roland, son of the baron local to the Aching family farm, she must return the seasons to their natural places.


On re-reading Wintersmith, I was struck by Pratchett's assertion of the importance of Story. Of course stories  about the stealing of Summer by Winter and the need to placate Winter to bring back the Sun are behind so many winter and light festival traditions (lights on trees, the Yule log and so on). In the Classical tradition there are several stories that Wintersmith echoes: Orpheus and Eurydice, Persephone and Hades. In the confusion of  Summer Lady with Tiffany,  she is sent a Horn of Plenty which dispenses food (ham sandwiches and live chickens, as this is what the wishers ask for!)

Image: Livia as Ceres, the Corn Goddess with Horn of Plenty (Louvre)

There is also, through the Witches (Miss Treason, Nanny Ogg, Granny Weatherwax, Miss Tick and Letice Earwig, as well as the young witches Annagramma Hawkin, Petulia Gristle, Dimity Hubbub and Lucy Warbeck), the consideration of the importance of the stories that we tell ourselves, constructing our own narratives, and respecting the stories of each other. Through doing this we can treat each other with more respect and understanding. Tiffany's exasperation with Annagramma as she understands the narrative Annagramma constructs of herself, and frustration at Granny Weatherwax's manipulation of her and others lessens, and we can see her growing maturity. The final novel in the arc so far, I Shall Wear Midnight, is one of the finest children/ Young Adult novels I have ever read. I sincerely hope that Tiffany appears in further Discworld novels. This is a funny, thought-provoking read, perfect for cold weather. I'd recommend it for readers 10+, and it would be great to read to children 8+.

3 comments:

  1. I loved this one - my favourite of the Tiffany Aching books by far (still haven't read the first two!). I love the poetry of it, and the atmosphere.

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  2. Thank you both! I adore the Tiffany Aching books. The witches' arc is my favourite in Discworld. I'm re-reading Witches Abroad at the moment; I love the fairy-tale theme of it.

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