Oct 17, 2007

Wintersmith by Terry Pratchett

Wintersmith is yet another book in the Tiffany Aching series, a series of Discworld books for younger readers. In this book, Tiffany is staying with Miss Treason, a 113 year old witch about whom the most gruesome tales abound. Miss Treason is teaching Tiffany about witchcraft, and one day she takes her to see the Dark Morris dance. As you may know, the Morris dance is a folk dance traditionally performed to welcome Summer. In the same way, in the Discworld the Dark Morris is supposed to welcome Winter.

While watching the dance, Tiffany listens to her feet rather than to her thoughts, and she cannot control the urge to jump into the dance. In doing so, she calls the attention of the Wintersmith, the personification of Winter itself, and she unwillingly enters one of the oldest stories ever told: this is the story of Persephone and Hades, the story of the Summer Lady hiding underground until the time comes for the snow to melt and for life to resurface. As a witch, Tiffany knows it’s her responsibility, once she enters a story, to see it to its end.

This book features extensive appearances by some of my favourite Discworld characters, Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg. I am of course also very fond of the Nac Mac Feegle and of Tiffany herself. These characters alone would be enough to make me love this book, but there is a lot more in it to love.

I have always loved the role that witches play in the Discworld. As it is said at some point in Wintersmith, witches know a lot more than most people, but they actually know enough not to think that makes them better than anyone else. Witches are there when lives begin and when lives end. They are healers, confessors, judges, juries, caretakers, midwives and undertakers. And, as often happens with those who know more than people are comfortable with, they are respected, but not necessarily liked. They inspire both trust and fear, both gratitude and resentment.

The books in the Witches subseries are always full of little moving moments, and this one was no exception. There’s the moment when Tiffany gives Granny Weatherwax a white kitten, there’s the interaction between Tiffany and Miss Treason, there is Tiffany telling Annagramma, another young witch, that she does not, in fact, have ANY better use of her time than to listen to people who go see her just because they are lonely and they have no one else to talk to.

Terry Pratchett is most famous for his humour – which is indeed remarkable – but the reason why I love him so much is his… humanity. His books, particularly the Death and Witches books, are full of a deep understanding of how people work, and of… both the smallness and the greatness of things. Some things are silly and small in the great scale of things, but perhaps that is the reason why they matter so much to us. And some things are actually very big deals, and that might be why we prefer to close our eyes to them. I think that perhaps his remarkable sense of humour would not be possible without this deep humanity.

Wintersmith reminded me a little of Witches Abroad and Hogfather in the way it deals with the power of stories – old stories, stories that humans have been using to make sense of the world for as long as they’ve been human.

I absolutely love Tiffany Aching. She is surprisingly mature in some ways, but at the same time she is a perfectly believable thirteen-year-old. She’s odd, but also easy to relate to. She’s down-to-earth, but she has a vivid imagination. She’s strong-willed, but also considerable and she understands people. Having said this, I do miss a “proper” witches book, focusing mostly on Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg. They are very much present in this book, but naturally they are mostly seen from Tiffany’s perspective, so we don’t get to see their interaction in the same way as in some of the other books.

One thing that actually surprised me about this book was the fact that Terry Pratchett seems to have made an effort to contextualize readers who might not have ever read a Discworld book before. This is a book that would make sense to a first time reader. Of course, those who’ve read other books will pick up certain little references, but these are not actually essential to an understanding of the story.

The first book in the Tiffany Aching series is The Wee Free Men. If you’re one of the people who’ve always wanted to read Discworld but are intimidated because there are so many of them and you don’t know where to start, do consider starting with this series. It will give you a taste of what Discworld is like without demanding any prior knowledge. It will also give you the chance to read some of the best YA literature I have ever come across.

Other Blog Reviews:
Rhinoa's Ramblings
Books & Other Thoughts
Read Warbler
Adventures in Reading
A Striped Armchair
Everyday Reads
Scrap Girl
Fyrefly's Book Blog


  1. I need to read these books, too!!

  2. I'm looking forward to getting to this series, it looks pretty cool. Just got a couple more to read in the adult series then on to this finally...

  3. Tiffany Aching is fast becoming my favourite character - and I always love the scenes with Tiffany, Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg. Hilarious.

    I love the white kitten that Tiffany gave to Granny Weatherwax. It just melted the old witch.:)

  4. Thanks Nymeth...you read my mind and answered my question..."where do I start?" I've really been wanting to dive into these since I started reading your blog. Then I got even more excited last weekend when I saw a commercial for the movie Hogfather which is going to be on TV in a few weeks. (Have you seen it? Is it any good?) I thought it might be fun to try to read it before the movie, but wasn't sure if it the books had to be read in any certain order.

  5. Robin: Indeed you do :P

    Rhinoa: I really think you will enjoy this series. It's among the best things he's done, in my opinion.

    Dark Orpheus: I love her, and I love those moments. You the kitten was just great. I loved the moment when Tiffany leaves after giving her to Granny, and shortly thereafter the door of the cottage opens just a little bit...

    Debi: I haven't watched the adaptation of Hogfather yet, but I have heard from Discworld fans who have that it's very well made. Hogfather is the fourth book in the Death subseries, but the story will make sense even if you haven't read any of the others, so go for it. I remember you mentioning that you were thinking of reading "The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents" - that would also be a great place to start, because it's a stand-alone novel with characters that had never been used before. It's also a really, really good book.

  6. You know, maybe I will just go ahead and start with The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents, since I already bought that one for Annie. (I tend to get a bit compulsive about reading series in order, and I probably couldn't get through four books before the movie's on anyway.) Is there an order in which you should read the subseries of Discworld?

  7. This graphic is useful: it shows the order inside each subseries. It doesn't really matter which one of the subseries you start with, though. And even though Discworld is a series, each book has its own complete story. It's just the characters and the settings that are the same from book to book. Some people read them in publication order, but I'm not sure if I'd recommend doing that. First because he got much better with time, so the first books probably won't give you the best impression of the series. And secondly because you will probably like some characters better than others, and you'll want to read more about them. But yeah, I do think "The Amazing Maurice" is a very good place to start.

  8. Wintersmith! I've been waiting for the paperback to reach the Philippines for a year now! Can't wait to sink my teeth into this one. I love this series as well (I mean what's not to love in Discworld, or in this case a subseries of Discworld!)

    Now that I skimmed through your review maybe I should not bring any money when visiting the bookstore. I might not be able to stop myself from buying the hardbound one. Hahaha!

  9. My son is completely hooked on the Discworld series, but he didn't like this book much. I'm not sure why!

  10. Oh, thank you so much, Nymeth! This diagram is just exactly what I need!

  11. Lightheaded: I waited a whole year for the paperback as well. It shouldn't take much longer now. If you can't find it near you you could always try http://www.bookdepository.co.uk - they have free delivery worldwide!

    Dewey: I guess that's one of the things about Discworld... there's so much variety in it that it's hard for anyone to like all the books.

    Debi: You're welcome :)

  12. Here is my link to my review of this book.


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