Let us join hands and cry, “Waily, waily!” at the passing of Sir Terry Pratchett, a writer whose ability to elicit giggles and guffaws from his readers was equaled only by his passionate love for flawed humanity.
I came late to Pratchett, I must confess. I did not grow up on Discworld, and I have not actually read any of his books for adults. But I have read many of his books for children, and each one leaves me immensely grateful for Pratchett’s genius and terribly sad that it has been silenced. He specialized in creating characters who grabbed readers with their sheer likability and then led them on deceptively light explorations of basic human truths.
It’s Tiffany Aching who stands out for me as Pratchett’s finest, most human creation. I watched her grow up, from the 9-year-old who ventured into fairyland armed only with a skillet to rescue her whiny baby brother in The Wee Free Men to the almost-16-year-old of I Shall Wear Midnight, when shehas come into her own as a witch but not yet as a young woman. Her hard-won coming of age is characterized by grief and loneliness and also by a surpassing love for the people she serves.
Mind you, even as Pratchett forced readers to grapple with big ideas, he kept them in stitches, as in The Wee Free Men, when Rob Anybody Feegle tries to explain pictsie cosmology to Tiffany: “We wuz alive. Then we wuz good boys back in the land o’ the livin’, and so when we died there we wuz borned into this place,” a heaven “just as advertised! Lovely sunshine, good huntin’, nice pretty flowers, and wee burdies goin’ cheep,” with the fightin’, an’ the stealin’, an’ the drinkin’—"Everythin’ laid on, even things to fight!” (I would submit that you haven’t really had fun until you’ve read Feegle dialogue aloud. Try it.)
Happily, readers will get one more adventure with Tiffany before saying goodbye to her, as we have to her creator. The fifth book featuring her, The Shepherd’s Crown, is tentatively scheduled to publish this coming October. Then we can all cry “Waily!” one more time.—V.S.
Vicky Smith is the children’s & teen editor.