Discworld / The Wee Free Men

"That was how it worked. No magic at all. But that time it had been magic. And it didn't stop being magic just because you found out how it was done..."

The 30th book in the Discworld series, the second for young adults and first in the Tiffany Aching apprentice witch series.

The Chalk has a problem. It is an isolated agricultural community near the highly magical region of the Discworld known as the Ramtops. And it has no witches. Not even one.

That means it is about to have Elves.

But Miss Tick, professional witch finder (that is to say, a witch who finds witches and teaches them how they are witches, not the other kind), is on the case. The problem is that you can't be a witch on chalk. Witching needs good strong stone, but her elbow says there's one there already, and she would not be much of a witch if she ignored her own elbow.

Tiffany Aching is the witch. A 9-year-old girl and granddaughter of the late Granny Aching, the best shepherd the hills ever knew and quite possibly a witch herself, not that anyone, possibly even her, knew it. When a monster appears in the local river, she gets annoyed and, using her brother as bait, hits it in the face with a frying pan.

When she sets out to learn more about the monster, she meets Miss Tick, who tells her to wait while she goes to fetch help. She leaves her talking toad to serve as Tiffany's advisor and goes off to get Granny Weatherwax.

Then Tiffany's baby brother Wentworth goes missing, and The Queen of the Elves is to blame. It is at this point that certain people make themselves known.

Noteworthy for being the first Discworld book not to feature Death. As a character, anyway.

Also available in an illustrated edition (art by Stephen Player) that includes original Bonus Material, such as the transcript of the event that led to the Toad being turned into a toad.

A film adaptation was announced in 2016, which is to be produced by The Jim Henson Company, with scriptwriting handled by Terry Pratchett's daughter, Rhianna Pratchett.

Preceded by Night Watch, followed by Monstrous Regiment. The next book in the Tiffany Aching series is A Hat Full of Sky.

This book provides examples of:

  • All Witches Have Cats: One of the pieces of "evidence" used against the old woman whose fate inspires Tiffany.
  • Army of Lawyers: The Elf Queen summons one; the one thing the Nac Mac Feegle are scared of.
  • Badass Bookworm: Tiffany in a nutshell. She read the dictionary cover to cover (although it was not a pronunciation dictionary) because "she didn't know you weren't supposed to."
  • Bewitched Amphibians: The Toad, though it takes it a while to remember it was once a lawyer, for the most time it's not sure whether it was transformed or enchanted to believe it had been transformed.
    • Miss Tick attempts to use the classic turn-you-into-a-frog threat to intimidate someone, but since that someone is already a Toad, he'd have considered it an improvement.
  • Blatant Lies: The two egg-stealing Feegles claim that they thought the eggs were stones, so needed to be removed for the hen's comfort.
  • Boisterous Bruiser: Pretty much all the male Feegles.
  • Book Ends: The novel begins with Miss Tick scrying on Tiffany in a dish of inky water, and the image draws back to reveal the Chalk dotted with sheep and sheepdogs streaking across the grass like comets. An identical pull-back view of the Chalk occurs in the very last paragraph.
  • Brown Note: Gonnagles specialize in this, either through hypersonic noise that causes excruciating pain to anything that can hear it or intentionally and phenomenally bad poetry.
  • Burn the Witch!: Tiffany is inspired to become a witch after what happened to a little old lady who was falsely suspected of being a witch. Tiffany's reason for becoming a witch? To make sure it doesn't happen again.
  • Canis Latinicus: Toad defeats a group of elf-made lawyers through this.
    • Actually, it might be a subversion; it's actually very accurate Latin. It's the message that's doggerel. It's the precise Latin for Nac Mac Feegle battle cries.
  • The Cavalry Arrives Late
  • Closer to Earth: Feegle keldas are almost the only ones with even a drop of common sense.
  • Cool Old Guy: The only exception to the Closer to Earth rule is William the gonnagle, who is easily the oldest and the most sensible Feegle after the kelda dies.
  • Covers Always Spoil: Technically the case, but so subtle that you wouldn't notice. It's mentioned that the Feegles' swords glow blue in the presence of lawyers. On Paul Kidby's cover, the Feegles standing around the Toad have glowing swords.
  • Delicious Distraction: This is how the dromes catch their prey, and also how to keep Wentworth, Tiffany's young, annoying brother, quiet.
  • Dream Weaver: Dromes make a habit of manipulating people's dreams so they'll want to stay forever while the drome feeds off their body. The Queen is also quite adept at manipulating dreams and illusions.
  • The Fair Folk: As seen in Lords and Ladies... unfortunately.
  • Fake Ultimate Hero: Roland gets all the credit for the rescue. At least he tries to tell the truth.
  • Foreshadowing: The cover. Look at the frog and the swords of Feegles closest to him.
  • Frying Pan of Doom: Tiffany wields one against Jenny Green-Teeth.
    • Justified: Jenny can only be seriously injured by Cold Iron. Tiffany was instinctively aware of this.
  • Gender Rarity Value: The 99% male Nac Mac Feegle follow the leadership of the Kelda, their one female. Of course, she is their mother.
  • Glamour Failure: Dromes can't make people that talk coherently.
  • Headless Horseman: One of the Queen of the Elves' minions.
  • Hero of Another Story: Miss Tick spends most of the novel off-page, seeking out Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg and convincing them to follow her in order to begin Tiffany's training.
  • Hostage MacGuffin: Rare gender reversal where the Baron's son has been kidnapped. Though it's not clear the Queen of the Elves knew who he was, but his riding out on a horse—which only a Baron's son would do—is implied to have led to his capture. It is fairly clear that that was why the vigilantes who hounded Mrs. Snappery to her death were never held to account (though they would have been if the area had had a real witch).
  • I Am What I Am: Invoked at the climax of the book.
  • Impossible Theft: The Feegle can get into anywhere - other dimensions, peoples' dreams... They can also get out of almost anywhere, unless that 'anywhere' has lots of alcohol in it. Then there may be a considerable delay. They use this talent to burglarize/mug people. And drink.
  • Insane Troll Logic: Tiffany's younger brother wants candy. He's surrounded by piles of it. He's sitting in the middle of them all, crying, every piece untouched. Why? Because if he takes one then he's not taking all the others. To be fair, Wentworth is three. This is a Shout-Out to Buridan's Ass.
  • It's All About Me: A rare heroic version. It doesn't matter to Tiffany if she loves her brother or not. The important thing is that he's hers. And look out when she expands her borders from "family" to "country".
  • Liminal Being: The hag has to look after the edges and gateways.
  • Literalist Snarking: When one of the travelling teachers condescendingly compliments Tiffany on knowing a big word like "zoology", she replies that "zoology" is actually quite short compared to, say, "patronizing".
  • Lotus-Eater Machine: The dromes' specialty.
  • Meaningful Name: In the Feegle language, Tiffany's name means "Land Under Wave" (and has a lot more vowels in it).
    • And it's real Gaelic, or at least very similar to it. ("Tír-fa-Tonn" in Scots Gaelic; "Tír-fo-Thuinn" in Irish.)
  • Miscarriage of Justice: Exactly what happened to the old, mentally ill woman who had the misfortune to look like a witch. The Feegles claim to be constant victims of this...
  • Moby Schtick: The Jolly-Sailor-and-the-whale story is told by Granny Aching, and enforced upon the Queen when she takes on the form of the whale.
  • Overly Long Name: Not-As-Big-As-Medium-Sized-Jock-But-Bigger-Than-Wee-Jock Jock. Becomes an Overly Long Gag when he and Tiffany begin discussing the name. That part is difficult to read aloud with a straight face.
  • Reality Ensues: Grimhounds are huge black dogs with eyes like fire and teeth like razor blades. Tiffany lures one out of the snow and into the real world. Turns out that outside of a dream, having a mouth full of razor blades doesn't tend to work very well.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: The Queen loves dishing these out at Tiffany. They all manage to work... until Tiffany's had enough, and shows why you do NOT mess with a witch on her home territory.
  • Shout-Out:
    • Wentworth's Insane Troll Logic reaction to lots of candy is a reference to Buridan's Ass.
    • The MacFeegle use a variety of battle cries, most of which are a reference something or another, like Braveheart and 12 Angry Men.
      • "We Willnae be fooled again!" is a reference to one of The Who's songs, though in-universe it refers to their former servitude to the Elves.
      • "There can only be wun 'ousand!" is a reference to Highlander, and in-universe refers to the size of the clan.
    • The use of weaponized bad poetry may be a reference to The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. (It's also a reference to the supposed powers of Celtic bards.)
    • "William the Gonnagle" is a reference to legendarily bad Scottish poet William McGonnagle.
    • The Wee Free Men parody The Smurfs. Really, really tough Smurfs. The one female in the clan is called Kelda and rules them as the one with the most intelligence.
    • Tiffany's speculations about the "witch school" include mention of broomstick-riding lessons, and "Are ye a hag or no'?" is a Feeglish translation of a line from Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone. Although Terry says that if the witch school is a reference, it's to The Worst Witch, which also has broomstick lessons.
    • The ballroom drome-dream resembles a scene from Labyrinth.
    • The not-quite-voice ("Fwa waa fwah waa wha?") of Tiffany's dance partner (during the ballroom dream) is reminiscent of how adult speech is rendered in the various Peanuts animated features.
    • A queen who lures children in with sweets rules over a land where it's always snowing and time doesn't pass at the same rate as the regular world, just like in The Chronicles of Narnia.
    • Feegle swords glow blue in reference to The Lord of the Rings, although in-universe they're triggered by the presence of lawyers, not orcs.
  • Shown Their Work: The Feegles' speech is nearly all authentic Scottish English or Scots.
  • Shut Up, Hannibal!: Tiffany to the Queen.
  • The Smurfette Principle: Justified Trope because the Wee Free Men parody The Smurfs. Really, really tough Smurfs. The one female in the clan is called Kelda and rules them as the one with the most intelligence.
  • Spoiler Cover: The cover shows Feegles armed with glowing swords around the Toad. Feegles' swords glow in the presence of a lawyer.
  • Spotlight-Stealing Squad: Granny and Nanny, not to mention the Feegles - but Tiffany bears up pretty well, considering.
  • Straying Baby: Wentworth gets into trouble this way.
  • Took a Level in Badass: Tiffany.
  • Trademark Favorite Food:
    • Tiffany likes cheese. Enough so to briefly hesitate when the dromes create some in her dream.
    • Wentworth is obsessed with candy, though given that he's a young child that's hardly surprising.
  • Training the Gift of Magic: Tiffany is recognised as having the right stuff to become a witch, despite some assumptions about her home environment, and her training begins.
  • Twice Told Tale: To Childe Rowland and Burde Helen, though in this case Roland is the one captured by the Elves, and it's the girl who has to rescue him. Word of God is that Sir Terry wasn't familiar with this story, and it's a coincidence "but it's eerie, innit? I think I might start pretending I had that in mind all along:-)". Strangly enough Tiffany seems to be aware of that story.
  • Uncanny Valley: In-Universe. The Queen is said to look perfect. Too perfect, in a unnerving way that no human could.
  • Upper-Class Twit: Roland, the Baron's son. He gets to be a lot less of a twit in the later books when he's free of the influence of Fairyland.
  • Violent Glaswegian: Every last male Nac Mac Feegle.
  • Why Did It Have to Be Snakes?: The Feegles' only weak spot, apart from an inability to get out of pubs, is lawyers.