For years friends have recommended I read Terry Pratchett’s five-book Tiffany Aching cycle (from the larger Discworld series). The first book is The Wee Free Men and everyone sells those little blue men–drunk, cursing, and stealing sheep–because they are so funny. What I didn’t realize until I threw myself into reading was that all those initial conversations and recommendations let the little guys overshadow the real star…young Tiffany Aching, a witch-to-be.
“‘They think written words are even more powerful,’ whispered the toad. ‘They think all writing is magic. Words worry them. See their swords? They glow blue in the presence of lawyers.’” –The Wee Free Men
Tiffany is a humble girl…salt of the earth. She comes from the chalk hills of southern England with its wide expanses and animals to tend. She has a powerful connection to the earth. Even when Tiffany goes away to learn more about being a witch, she’s tied to the land she loves by a soul-deep connection to the home of her ancestors.
It’s a rare thing that a book will make me tear up every 20 minutes or so, but that first experience with Tiffany Aching in The Wee Free Men really did it to me. Somehow, meeting her was a bit like meeting my younger self with all the knowledge that comes with age.
For Tiffany, memory is powerful. Her guiding light is the remembrance of her grandmother, a respected shepherdess and witch who didn’t need to show off or be the center of attention. She support her “flock,” the sheep and the people around her, and she passed that sense of duty and respect for others to Tiffany. A pretty snazzy attitude for a witch.
I’m not a talented witch (oh, the unfairness of it all), but I am resourceful, practical to a fault, and I miss my grandmother. She was superhuman to me, and only years after her death did I realize how much I inherited her seriousness, focus, practicality, and how well they serve me.
“Yes! I’m me! I am careful and logical and I look up things I don’t understand! When I hear people use the wrong words, I get edgy! I am good with cheese. I read books fast! I think! And I always have a piece of string! That’s the kind of person I am!” –The Wee Free Men
Maybe most of all, the books in the Tiffany Aching cycle resonate with me because I feel that soul-deep connection to my home even though it’s not the best home around.
I grew up in Northeast Texas with all its wild west machismo and conservatism. It’s scrubby, and there aren’t too many businesses beyond corporate chains. It’s absolutely impossible to find cultural experiences without driving to a big city. As a liberal, feminist book nerd, this area is not always hospitable to me. Yet somehow I can’t leave it. I have left, just as Tiffany left her home to pursue her education. I’ve looked for adventure and learning elsewhere, but there’s always a deep and abiding pull to return to my less-than-perfect home.
For all its impracticalities and things that make me roll my eyes, as much as I disagree politically and ideologically with 75% of the people around me, they would pull me out of a burning building, and I would do the same for them.
“Protect them! Save them! Bring them into the sheepfold! Walk the gale for them! Keep away the wolf! My dreams! My brother! My family! My land! My world! How dare you try to take these things, because they are mine!
I have a duty!” –The Wee Free Men
Tiffany Aching’s gumption is probably the thing I love most about her. Evil to fight? Use what you have: good friends, a frying pan, a pocket full of rocks, or a beloved necklace. Resourcefulness is key.
I’ve often wondered why I stay here. If there are places that suit me better with more opportunities, why not make a break? The short answer is that I just can’t. It isn’t fear…it’s the belief that I do good for this place by offering a different perspective. Beyond that, I’m a good citizen, a good friend, and I like practical solutions for problems. I am among people I grew up with, families who have been a part of each other’s lives for generations. Do I want to make positive change? I want to live a positive life and if my presence or actions leads to change, yes.
While I won’t be able to do much with a frying pan or a flying broom, I believe in doing the best we can wherever we are…for our neighbors and cities and towns and the people with whom we coexist. Every night as we pray, I remind my five-year-old son to be a good helper.
Tiffany Aching showed me. That’s my purpose here.