A Hat Full of Sky
February 19, 2024 1:42 PM - Subscribe

It's been about two years since her adventure into the Land of the Faeries to battle the Queen and rescue her brother, and Tiffany Aching is off to see a bit more of the world as an apprentice. Witchfinder Miss Tick brings her to the very curious Miss Level, who teaches her the ways of folk medicine and generally being a good person to have in a community, while the local girls teach her what they understand about witchcraft. But something is after Tiffany, a being as old as the universe itself, with no thoughts, no body, and capable only of craving and fear... (Discworld #32, Tiffany Aching #2). By Terry Pratchett.

What's this? The Discworld Book Club is back in session? Why I never! And yet, here we are, continuing to pick up the pieces of whatever we haven't covered so far...

The Color of Magic
The Light Fantastic
Equal Rites
Wyrd Sisters
Guards! Guards!
Moving Pictures
Reaper Man
Witches Abroad
Small Gods
Lords and Ladies
Men At Arms
Soul Music
Interesting Times
Feet of Clay
The Last Continent
Carpe Jugulum
The Fifth Elephant
The Truth
Thief of Time
The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents
Night Watch
The Wee Free Men
Monstrous Regiment
Going Postal
Making Money
The Shepherd's Crown

By this logic, the next book we cover should be Wintersmith, appropriately enough carrying on with the adventures of Tiffany Aching.


It's been a couple of years. To Tiffany Aching, now 11, the events that led her into the Land of the Faeries with a band of drunken, violent "Pictsies" seem like a faraway dream. Roland, the Baron's son, remembers, or at least remembers well enough that, while less annoying than he was when Tiffany met him, he still seems to be hanging around a whole lot. The Nac Mac Feegle's have a new Kelda - one of their own kind, thankfully - who seems a wee bit jealous of Tiffany's place of honor amongst her new clan.

But that's all well and good, because Tiffany's leaving home anyway. Miss Tick, the Witchfinder who found Tiffany to begin with, escorts her to the tutelage of one Miss Level, a "Magical Researcher" witch who occupies two identical bodies, used to travel with the circus, and who operates much like the sisters in Call the Midwife, making the rounds around her community with folk medicine and meals and generally doing what she can for those who need doing.

This community also has a local coven of young witches in apprenticeship, which includes Petulia, a kind girl with a talent for all things pig, and Annagramma, a tall, stuck-up girl who is in all manners the Leader that this coven of course doesn't have. Tiffany attends one of their circles, which doesn't go well for her.

But there's something older and more terrible in store for Tiffany in the mountains - the Hiver. Only seconds younger than the Universe itself, the Hiver has no body, and no thoughts of its own, and can only fear, and crave, and inhabit a capable (read: powerful) mind for as long as that mind can sustain it before dying. And in that period of possession, it can grant the host whatever it wishes, minus the conscious thoughts and conscience that humans would normally put in the path of such wishes, of course.

The Hiver has its lack-of-a-mind set on Tiffany, who has been practicing a trick in private that makes her an all-too-appealing and easy target for it. The Nac Mac Feegle are aware of it, and the clan's new Kelda goes against her personal wishes to insist that they travel to the mountains to help. Also on their way are Nanny Ogg, Granny Weatherwax, and just about any other witch who can make it to the area for the Witch Trials, a sort of festival of witches showing off their stuff, with no judges, no winners, and no prizes (and if you'll believe that, Granny's headology can surely have its way with you.)

Tiffany has grown up quite a bit in these last two years, but she's about to grow up a lot more before she can return to the Chalk...
posted by Navelgazer (2 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
It's been too long since I dove into the Tiffany Aching books (which is to say, it's been about two years, but they've been a long two years, and I've read almost everything else in Discworld in the meantime, which I hadn't before.) One of the most notable things I think Pratchett does in this "Young Adult" series is to not dumb it down. The writing is as sharp as it is anywhere else in the larger series, it's just less cynical. Which isn't to say that it's less realistic. If anything, these books are more grounded in reality than anything you'll find elsewhere on the Disc, as can be seen in Tiffany and Miss Level making the rounds.

Read as counter-programming to the Harry Potter series, it's startling how, in that one, the Dursley's (and thus "our" world) is the awful place that Harry escapes from to the Magical World, which is more dangerous but also a clearly preferable place to be, whereas in the Tiffany Aching books, the Chalk is where she is truly home, and the "magic" is really her deepening understanding of it. While she's capable of magic, she has to learn both how to control it and how to not use it, and her bildungsroman comes from learning to trust her own instincts while also learning her duty to be the best person that she can be.

In this way, the Hiver is the perfect foil for her in this story, and it's rightly horrifying to watch her act with all the power she could hope for and none of the conscience in using it, just as it's a gut-punch to realize along with her that the Hiver is only giving her what some part of her wants, and she can't be let off the hook so easily as those around her would happily allow.

As for the Nac Mac Feegle, I'm not sure if they'll wear out their welcome for me in future books, but they haven't yet, if for no other reason than the scene of Rob Anybody "reading." And the background plot of Petulia coming into her own (with Tiffany recognizing that she doesn't deserve Petulia's friendship but has it anyway, recognizing her own skills and bravery, and watching Granny Weatherwax recognize those things in Petulia as well) is a great stand-up-and-cheer bit. Annagramma is awful but not entirely unsympathetic either, and has traits that Tiffany recognizes will make her a good witch some day as well. While these two seem like traces of Diamanda and Agnes from the Young Lancre Witches' Coven in Lords and Ladies, I don't mind as the dynamic is universal enough, and it's clear that Petulia is going to grow into a different person from Agnes.

So I loved this. I remember loving all of these when I first read them, with I Shall Wear Midnight being my personal high-water-mark, and I'm curious to see what I'll think on this much-better-informed re-read.
posted by Navelgazer at 2:01 PM on February 19 [5 favorites]

With the caveat that it has been a while since I have read this… Yes, I very much agree that the writing is not dumbed down, and I think it’s amazing that Pratchett is so sympathetic to and understanding of a tween. The vanity, the nervousness, the enjoyment of her powers—all of that rings true. (As does Annagramma’s queen bee behavior, and Petulia’s decency, all of this showing us the foibles but also the hearts of these girls. That’s an achievement.)

I love that the work of witchcraft is the work of the world, including pinging toenails. Not charms and jewelry, but being in community with people— in contrast to the HP world, also written for young adults. In the Discworld, magic has a physics, has consequences, and using it lightly is frowned upon among witches (shades of A Wizard of Earthsea, which I just read). That’s why headology and attitude and stick-on warts are useful tools. It’s not about claiming the Power, it’s finding your power and how it fits in with the community. (Thinking here about telling a story about moving a well when the rational explanation is unconvincing. A good witch knows her people.)

I think this book also gets at the loneliness of the job, which is hard enough for the senior witches, but especially so for a young girl. Tiffany is so young! And the training asks so much of a child. I like Pratchett’s compassion for her—and, in the end, for the Hiver.

Thanks for the post. The Tiffany Aching books are my favorites, and you did justice to this one in your summary.
posted by MonkeyToes at 6:10 AM on February 22 [3 favorites]

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