Review: The Wee Free Men, Terry Pratchett

You know how sometimes you really, really want to like a book?  Because maybe people have suggested it to you with great enthusiasm, and you think they are lovely people, and you don’t want to hurt their feelings by disliking their book?  And also it is a book by a British author full of British humo(u)r, and when you were in England maybe several different people told you that Americans have bad senses of humo(u)r and don’t understand irony, and even though you know those people were absurd and Alanis Morrisette is Canadian, there is still a tiny portion of your brain that wants to continue to prove them wrong by appreciating British humo(u)r wherever you encounter it, even if in this case you find it self-conscious and prone to telegraphing its punch lines a bit?  And you spend maybe half of the book feeling frustrated because it’s not enjoyable in exactly the way you expected it to be not enjoyable, but then after a while you start liking it a bit better and at the end you feel perhaps a little fond of its heroine and you think you might read another?  And you wonder if it’s the same sort of “think you might have another” that happens when you encounter a new cookie that proves ultimately to be addictive and before you know it you’ve eaten twenty of them, or the sort of “think you might have another” where you want to want another so you go ahead and have another even though you are not sure you really want one?

Well, that’s where I’m at on this book.  The Once Upon a Time Challenge this year is turning into the Deeply Ambivalent Challenge for me here.

Reviews by people not overwhelmed by conflicting motives:

Book Lust
Fyrefly’s Book Blog
The Written World WITH Stephanie’s Confessions of a Book-a-holic
Valentina’s Room
Adventures in Reading

Tell me if I missed yours!

  • Love all the questions!!! 🙂

    I haven’t read this but I enjoyed this review. And I have a strange sense of humor.

    • Thanks! I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it, as you can probably tell. I need to get back to reviewing books that I’m not so ambivalent about!

  • I know I am one of the people who recommended this book, but my feelings will absolutely not be hurt if you decide it’s not for you. Although, that said, I am secretly cheering for you to decide to have another cookie, since I liked A Hat Full of Sky better than The Wee Free Men – it’s a little bit more mature, and I thought the story flowed better.

    Really, though, what I liked most about the Tiffany Aching books was not actually the humo(u)r. There were certainly bits that I thought were hilariously funny, and bits that didn’t work for me so well, but what I really appreciated was Tiffany’s awesomeness, and the sensible worldview, and the not-talking-down-to-kids-ness of the books. The fact that they made me laugh was just a bonus.

    • I think I would have liked it better if it hadn’t sometimes seemed like the humor was trying too hard. Because I did like Tiffany, and I thought it was good that she wasn’t actually all that crazy about the little brother she was trying to save. (Though it did remind me of Labyrinth, and I kept hearing David Bowie’s voice saying “Go home, Sarah. Play with your toys. Forget about the baby.”)

  • Do have another? *hands cookie jar* 😛

    …but I promise we’ll all still love you just as much if you decide they’re not for you after all.

    (I feel much as Fyrefly does about these books, and Pratchett in general. The humour is the cherry on top.)

    • I think I will have another. Hat Full of Sky is checked out right now so it’ll have to wait for a bit – maybe that will give me time to anticipate. 🙂

  • People recommend Pratchett to me all the time. I’ve tried him and don’t like him. My 13-year-old thought his sense of humor was “kind of adolescent.” I’ve decided that he’s one writer everyone else likes that I don’t appreciate.

    • I was probably about 13 the last time I tried Pratchett, and that was my reaction too. I felt the same way about Douglas Adams. It’s not that I hate them, I really don’t, it’s that I desperately want to love them, and instead I feel just so-so on them.

  • Sorry, I’m a Pratchett scrooge. I’m waiting until there is an environmental apocalypse and I wander into a crumbling, deserted mega-bookstore, looking for something to read, and naturally there is a plentiful supply of Pratchetts. Then I am sure I will love his books more than I did the first two I tried.

    I share your hang-up (is that a fair term?) about British humor. I like some kinds a lot, but the kind they generally refer to as irony, I would call sarcasm because it has no subtlety.

    I have recently come to the conclusion that Americans *do* understand “irony” (ha! accidental ironic quotes), they just don’t think it’s funny. We understand it in the sense of, “we perceive the surprising reversal of meaning, we know that with your shared cultural background–particularly your penal educational system–it is spontaneously hilarious, but the humor depends on that shared cultural background, therefore: not laughing.”

    I would argue that in the same sense Americans don’t understand irony, the British don’t understand wisecracking and understatement (American style understatement). The difference is that they don’t bother themselves about it!

    There are a lot of kinds of humor that cross national boundaries with ease. Absurdism, black humor, clowning, character humor and wordplay go down pretty well everywhere–witness Monty Python. Americans may be more geared to some of those because of the whole melting pot thing, but long to be deemed cultured enough to “get” British irony because of the whole DAR thing.

    Have you seen the English TV show Black Books? I think you would like it!

    Whew! A screed! I should have mailed it to you in a crinkly envelope!

    • I’m never sure what specifically these people were referring to as the irony Americans didn’t et, although I’m guessing they were just repeating things they’d heard from other people. Because they both mentioned the Alanis Morrissette song (which at the time I hadn’t heard of) and gave me examples of the non-ironic lyrics.

      Yes! I have seen Black Books! I think Black Books is charming. I was watching the second series this weekend actually. 🙂

      • trapunto

        I heard that song so much. It played all first semester my Freshman year of college. Ouch. Pain. Please knock me out with a mallet to end the associated flashbacks.

        The secret initiates-only irony is the lack of irony in a song called “Ironic.”

        Have you seen the drunk cooking one yet? I can’t remember which DVD it was on…

    • Carol

      I’m actually surprised that Americans can understand Pratchett at all, because so much of the humour is culturally-specific. I’m a Brit now living in Canada. I would dispute that his humour relies on irony – it’s part of it, but for me it’s more to do with the rich cultural and literary references which allow the works to be read on so many levels. The more levels you understand, the more you ‘get’ the humour.

      The mainstream Discworld novels are many-layered – they can be enjoyed on a surface level by young adults, but I well recall that when I read a book report my son did in Jr High on a Pratchett book, he’d entirely missed the more subtle levels such as in-jokes referring to Chekhov’s plays, political allegory and cultural references that just went over the head of someone who’d spent most of his life in North America (and I suspect go entirely unrecognized by many devoted Pratchett readers on both sides of the Atlantic). But that’s OK – he still enjoyed the books reading on the level he could comprehend – but in a few years he may find himself enjoying the books on a totally different level.

      In terms of the Tiffany Aching books, they’re aimed at Young Adults so you’ll find fewer literary allusions – but the cultural and linguistic references are very deeply layered. For me, half the pleasure in these books is the little jolt of recognition when I encounter something based on folklore, linguistics, history or whatever. You might have fun looking at some of the notes on the Wee Free Men on the L-space Web (a Pratchett fan site) where folks have amused themselves by providing illuminating ‘footnotes’ to some of the references. http://www.lspace.org/books/apf/the-wee-free-men.html
      I’d be interested to know how much of that stuff you ‘got’ at the time you were reading the book.

      Of course, you may well read it and then think ‘So what? I still don’t find that interesting/funny’ but it might give you a better idea of what other people find funny/intriguing in his work. Sense of humour is a deeply personal thing, and sometimes things which are so deeply culturally specific just don’t ‘translate’ well.

      • Pratchett’s got oodles of American fans, so I’m not sure the “culturally specific” explanation accounts for it. I “got” a lot of the things from your link when I was reading–I was fond of ballads, particularly ones about fairies, so those references were not lost on me. I think it’s less that I’m missing a majority of the jokes, and more that Pratchett isn’t my particular sense of humor. There’s something rather self-conscious about it, and instead of thinking about how naturally funny it all is, I notice that Pratchett’s being funny. But like I said, I’ve only read one or two of his books, and I may like future ones better.

  • I loved this book but it’s quite possible I loved your review of it more. Particularly as each sentence is about 50 words wrong and yet, while reading them, I was thinking, “Yes, I DO know!” I also love your tag about her second thoughts and third thoughts. 🙂

    • Really? As I was writing these, I was laughing at myself for how ridiculously specific they were getting. I like it that you stayed with me all the way through. 😛

  • Jenny

    Do you like other Pratchett but not these, or are you completely anti-Pratchett? I’ve read a few other Pratchett novels (my dad and husband adore them) and liked them so-so, but have not tried these. It sounds like I would like them so-so.

    • I’m not anti-Pratchett in the sense that I want to burn him down and salt the earth, or anything. I read a bunch of Douglas Adams one summer, and liked them so-so, and I suspected I would feel the same about Terry Pratchett. Which I did, exactly, and since then until now, I haven’t read any other Pratchett books. So I guess I’ll have to read a few more before I finalize my position on him.

  • Mumsy

    To all your questions, I answer: YES! I know! And this is why I will probably not read any Pratchett novels ever.

    • But what if they’re really good once you get into them? Remember how I used to think Buffy the Vampire Slayer was too obvious? And then it turned out to be amazing? I should give him a fair chance.

  • A bit off the kilt but I’ve always confused Pratchett with Perotta. I don’t remember reading neither.

    • *giggles* I think they are nothing at all alike, apart from the initials. Pratchett writes YA and adult fantasy with a character called Death that is reputed to be very funny, and Perotta writes books with spare, grim-sounding titles about life in America. (If I’m thinking of the right dude.)

  • Yes. I agree with some of your other commenters – it doesn’t really matter if you don’t like Terry Pratchett (even though he’s brilliant) or his humour – we’ll not think less of you! I find him hilarious, but I didn’t always, and like someone else said, the reason I love the Tiffany Aching books is because Tiffany Aching and how fabulous she is!

    • Aha! You didn’t always? When did you not? What changed your mind! Tell me your Pratchett conversion story!

      This is why I’m inclined to keep trying – I would like to like Pratchett, and I’m hoping that giving him a fair showing will convert me.

  • I have never read Pratchett because he’s not my sense of humour. And I’m British. So I wouldn’t claim it as a sense of humour tied irrevocably to a nation, but it is a particular kind of funny.

    • Oh, yeah, it’s definitely a particular kind of funny. Douglas Adams kind of funny. Seems like the same people tend to like Tom Robbins as well, but maybe I’m just lumping all the funny people I don’t find funny into one category. Maybe Pratchett will grow on me…

  • lol, love the review. I’m a huge Pratchett fan, but I go through phases of it, and I haven’t gotten around to this series-within-a-series yet

    • Do you have a favorite of his standalones? I’m willing to read at least three of his books before giving up, so supposing A Hat Full of Sky disappoints me, what would you recommend?

  • I’m one of the biggest Douglas Adams fans you’ll ever find, and I don’t agree that Pratchett and Robbins are similar.

    • Indeed? Well, there goes my theory. Obviously lumping humorists in together when they don’t belong together then. :/

  • Unfortunately, that was exactly my issue with every Pratchett (and indeed, Gaiman) book that I have tried to read. I *want* to like them, but I just… don’t.

  • Oh, so sorry to hear that. It is one of my favorites, but of course every book isn’t a good fit for everyone. The build-up can also be too much – expectations can make a reading experience (or film, etc.) deadly! I hope the challenge turns around for you!

    • I hope so too! I may try some more Terry Pratchett, though, because I want to give him a fair chance.

  • Just noticed your Books I’ve Read link. As it happens this IS one of my favorites, but I won’t hurt you! But if you’re still looking for more Terry Pratchett so as to give him another chance, might I recommend Nation? It’s not a Discworld book, so it doesn’t outright try to be funny (it is sometimes; but it’s also sad– I was reading it at work and found myself getting all weepy, which isn’t good at work), but I thought it was wonderful in every way. It might be more your speed.

    Then, if you WANT to give more Discworld books a try, go with the later ones rather than the early ones– the early ones are more outright spoofy (and the first couple among the most uneven books in my opinion). Night Watch is a favorite of mine. As for the rest of the Tiffany books, I personally DIDN’T like Hat Full of Sky as much as Wee Free Men, but Wintersmith I loved almost as much.