The Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchett and Princess Priscilla’s Fortnight by Elizabeth von Arnim

The Wee Free Men

Girl goes into Fairyland to get back her brother who’s been stolen by the fairy Queen. Tiffany has already decided that she is going to be a witch and she learns throughout the book what it means to be a witch. Her dead grandmother was, basically, a witch and Tiffany spends a lot of time getting to grips with what made her grandmother special and coming to terms with her death and her own future continuing her work. This definitely has one of the fullest, if not the fullest, unfoldings of Pratchett’s particular take on life. The witches who seem to be most closely identified with Pratchett’s own ideas have an earthy, almost saturnine or dour approach and aren’t quick to allow themselves or other people frills. By taking on the witch role they’re denying themselves other things in their lives and their reward is knowledge, being close to the workings of the universe. Evil distorts reality and Pratchett leans especially hard on this idea here with the fairy Queen. Duty is heavily emphasised. Magic is stepping up and doing your job and doing it well.

All this stuff about what it means to be good is my sort of thing and I particularly like stuff about how goodness is essentially a true understanding of life.  I liked the Granny Aching stuff.  However, I felt there were slacknesses and that the book didn’t match my favourite Pratchett Witch books. I felt I could detect too much resentful defence of being a taciturn, logical person sometimes, in a way that didn’t feel as if it had quite enough to do with Tiffany. Then again, that was probably because Tiffany didn’t feel nine. Thirteen would have been better. She seemed to have too much baggage about the kind of person she was but then, not being that kind of person, I don’t suppose I would know at which age baggage might accrue.   The confrontation scenes with the fairy Queen were too repetitive, both of other Pratchetts and in themselves. The plot is kind of a tag-on. I don’t think that the humour is broader or more juvenile really than other Pratchetts, but it felt quite slabby, like “Now here is a humorous scene.” I think that’s what I would say about this book; the humour and the ethics are both less folded into each other than in better Pratchetts.

Princess Priscilla’s Fortnight

A well-behaved young princess from a small Ruritanian country breaks out in search of the simple life, attempting to settle in an idyllic English village and wreaking havoc on the inhabitants in her desire to bring them help and pleasure.

This is new to me but I reread The Enchanted April and Christopher and Columbus in recent months, which, like this, are very sunny. Christopher and Columbus, like Princess Priscilla, has the feel of one of those charming, slight, whimsical and slightly odd black and white films. I was thinking about Arnim’s themes when I read these, because it’s interesting to see how the same stuff can be turned to different purposes. The way people who are truly sincere cannot make themselves understood, as if they are speaking a different language, which leads to misunderstandings both comic and tragic. The intoxication of getting away from one’s responsibilities. Not a permanent getting away, as far as I can recall, and certainly not here. Whimsical framings of trains of logic which sometimes leads her characters right and sometimes wrong. Sunny as some of Arnim’s books are, the same themes and tics are used to much more depressing effect in some of her others like Vera, Love and, ultimately, The Pastor’s Wife, which deal with psychological oppression and manipulation and desperation. The stony ground on which the tremulously ingenuous fall on.

This is a slight and whimsical read with some darker aspects that might grate. Not a great work or anything but I enjoyed it a lot.


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