Monday, April 25, 2011

A slip of a girl in a pointy hat

I have really enjoyed reading/listening to Sir Terry Pratchett's books about Tiffany Aching, the Hag o' the Hills. In I Shall Wear Midnight, Tiffany has pretty much finished with her training, and is efficiently tending to the needs of the denizens of The Chalk -- aiding the sick, seeing that the dying are comforted at the end, cleaning up after the shenanigans of the Nac Mac Feegle. Her tentative romance with the Baron's son, Roland -- rescued by Tiffany from the nasty Queen of the Fairies -- has evaporated now that he has become engaged to Leticia Keepsake and she's sensing that people are feeling sorry for her. In truth, Tiffany is feeling a little isolated, a little bit of an outsider, and that maybe people are a wee bit frightened of her as she makes her way around The Chalk on her broom in her pointy black hat.

As the story begins, Tiffany helps the old Baron to his peaceful death. Accused of hastening his death and of stealing some money that the Baron gave her, she hies off to the big city (Ankh Morpork) to find Roland and tell him that his father has died. Along the way -- accompanied by the Feegles, who love the feeling of their kilts flapping in the wind -- she encounters a terribly evil presence. It doesn't have substance, it's just a feeling. When Tiff arrives in London, she meets up with a very old witch who tells her that the presence is the Cunning Man, witch-hunter and -hater. Discworld's witches manage to control him, but every once in a while a spell mistakenly releases him, and he takes human form (by finding a body to take over) in order to wreak his havoc. When Tiffany kissed the Wintersmith, she unwittingly unleashed the Cunning Man (it didn't help that Leticia also tried to hex her). Now it's up to Tiffany to send him away again.

I find these books to be hilarious. Pratchett has such a way with wordplay that the puns, the plays on words or phrases, and the miscellaneous jokes keep a smile perpetually on one's face while listening. At the very beginning of this novel, Pratchett does a whole riff on the chalk figure of the Rude Man (Cerne Abbas Giant) that is quite funny, without being the slightest bit ribald. And another great scene takes place at the King's Head where Tiffany manages to track down Roland, Leticia and Leticia's gorgon of a mother, Lady Keepsake (or is she a lady?). And then there are the Feegles. Always good for a laugh, or twenty. I'm going to miss the Feegles.

Stephen Briggs does the narrating honors, as he does for all of Tiffany's adventures (plus a few more of Pratchett's Discworld novels). He reads very quickly (very) and has an emphatic, staccato-like delivery. It could be annoying, except that his dry humor is a perfect match for Pratchett's. His speed trips him up just a few times. Briggs' characterizations are quite skilled -- he manages quite a large cast of characters mostly without caricature. (Some of the characters are caricatures by nature, of course.) He does girls and women without sounding femmy and he brings out the English class differences with ease.

And then there are the Feegles (I'm repeating myself). Rob Anybody and his gang of mischief makers are truly brought to life through Briggs' brogue. In this novel, we meet another Feegle (who doesna know he's a Feegle): Wee Mad Arthur. He bests the Feegles in a barroom brawl. Crivens! They are a literary creation worthy of ... well, J.Lo!

The title of this novel refers to Tiffany's habit of not (yet) wearing black, as most witches do. When I am an old woman, she says, I shall wear midnight. This seems to be inspired by a poem called Warning by Jenny Joseph, which seems an odd choice for a book for teenagers. Not so odd, though, for a man who appears to be facing his own mortality with calm, grace and great humor. Check out this video. He wore pajamas!

I Shall Wear Midnight by Terry Pratchett
Narrated by Stephen Briggs
HarperAudio, 2010. 9:46

1 comment:

proseandkahn said...

I adore Terry Pratchett, but I almost equally adore Briggs' performances of his books. I read Nation, and the first three Tiffany Aching Books with my ears. I purchased I Shall Wear Midnight for my iPad to read when I went to the YALSA symposium. I loved reading it with my eyes, but missed hearing Briggs' voice in my head.

These books are such favorites that I own both print and audio versions and would happily reread these any way, any time.