Of witches and satire and a universe

Steve Wishnevsky takes a look at the latest book in the Discworld series, one in the subset of Tiffany Aching books. The Tiffany Aching books are technically classified as young-adult novels, suitable for high-school age readers. But as Wishnevsky well knows, that classification just means teenagers will also enjoy the books, not that older adults will not.

By Stephen Wishnevsky

I SHALL WEAR MIDNIGHT. By Terry Pratchett. HarperCollins, 2010. 368 pages. $16.99, hardcover.

Terry Pratchett has written about 41 volumes in the Discworld canon, four in the subset of Tiffany Aching books. What started out as a throwaway satire on fantasy novels has become one of the most impressive and entertaining universes of fiction ever written. Probably exceeding 3 million words of unflagging invention, humor and human warmth, Discworld has indeed become a universe, if not the largest creation of one writer ever.

The Tarzan corpus is about 28 books, Sherlock Holmes a mere four novels and 56 short stories. I imagine that some of the comic book series, such as The X-Men, run much larger, but they are the product of teams. This is an impressive output, even if relegated to the fantasy and science fiction ghetto.

Tiffany Aching, a typically resonant Pratchett name, is very young, 16 in this book, and a witch in a land called “The Chalk.” They have sheep. Tiffany has Mac Nac Feegles, an infestation of little blue Scots pixies prone to fighting, drinking, theft and drinking. And fighting. Tiffany has survived various run-ins with the Queen of the Elves, assorted disembodied evil beings, Mac Nac Feegle politics, an immature Dukling, and the personification of Winter himself, to become a full-fledged witch. This means that she does the dirty work for the Chalk folk, buries the bodies, cures the sick, comforts the dying, and dispenses rough justice and herbal cures with equal facility. It is her life’s work.

But something is askew. Something, someone is inducing the good folk to disrespect witches. Harmless old women are being murdered, their homes burned. Something must be done. Tiffany seeks counsel in the fabled and reeking city of Ankh-Morpork, as much a character of its own in Discworld as any mere human, and finds the evil there already.

The evil, a personification of the fundamentalist hate for the spiritual, must be confronted, the old Duke must be buried, the young Duke, who has had some history with young Tiffany, must be married, and threats to the security of the Mac Nac Feegles averted.

All in a day’s work. It’s what witches do, isn’t it?

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