I’ve been reading a wonderful series of books by a guy named Terry Pratchett. Rereading really. I read them once, and now I’m reading them to Trevor. Most of them take place on a planet (if you can call it that) named Discworld, and most of these books use the same 8 or 10 characters. Recently (as in 5-6 years ago) Mr Pratchett developed a new character. Her name is Tiffany Aching, and she is a witch. Only she’s not like any witch you’ve ever read about before. She is young, smart, resourceful, and talented at working. She also does the magic stuff well, but that is really a rather small part of the novels with her in them. Mostly what she does is grow up and learn from other witches, and its what these other witches teach here that I find amazing.
Below is a long quote from the second Tiffany Aching book (out of four) called A Hat Full of Sky. In this scene she is having a conversation with Mistress Weatherwax, who everyone agrees is the best witch around. In this conversation they refer to two different witches who are polar opposites. They are Miss Level who is the kind, long-suffering witch that Tiffany is now training under, and Mrs Earwig, who is selfish, conniving, and not the least bit helpful to others.
Miss Level’s life is difficult because she is so self-effacing that no one respects her, they literally walk all over her. Mistress Weatherwax understand this, mentioning it at the beginning (its her speaking at the start), but look at where she goes with it.
“Respect is meat and drink to a witch. Without respect, you ain’t got a thing. She doesn’t get much respect, our Miss Level.”
That was true. People didn’t respect Miss Level. They liked her, in an unthinking sort of way, and that was it. Mistress Weatherwax was right, and Tiffany wished she wasn’t.
“Why did you and Miss Tick send me to her, then?”
“Because she likes people,” said the witch, striding ahead. “She cares about ’em. Even the stupid, mean, dribbling ones, the mothers with the runny babies and no sense, the feckless and the silly and the fools who treat her like some kind of a servant. Now that’s what I call magic – seein’ all that, dealin’ with all that, and still goin’ on. It’s sittin’ up all night with some poor old man who’s leavin’ the world, taking away such pain as you can, comfortin’ their terror, seein’ ’em safely on their way . . . and then cleanin’ ’em up, layin’ ’em out, making ’em neat for the funeral, and helpin’ the weeping widow strip the bed and wash the sheets – which is, let me tell you, no errand for the faint-hearted – and stayin’ up the next night to watch over the coffin before the funeral, and then going home and sitting down for five minutes before some shouting angry man comes bangin’ on your door ‘cos his wife’s havin’ difficulty givin’ birth to their first child and the midwife’s at her wits’ end and then getting up and fetching your bag and going out again. .. We all do that, in our own way, and she does it better’n me, if I was to put my hand on my heart. That is the root and heart and soul and centre of witchcraft, that is. The soul and centre!” Mistress Weatherwax smacked her fist into her hand, hammering out her words. “The . . . soul. . . and . . . centre!”
Echoes came back from the trees in the sudden silence. Even the grasshoppers by the side of the track had stopped sizzling.
“And Mrs Earwig,” said Mistress Weatherwax, her voice sinking to a growl, “Mrs Earwig tells her girls it’s about cosmic balances and stars and circles and colours and wands and . . . and toys, nothing but toys!” She sniffed. “Oh, I daresay they’re all very well as decoration, somethin’ nice to look at while you’re workin’, somethin’ for show, but the start and finish, the start and finish, is helpin’ people when life is on the edge. Even people you don’t like. Stars is easy, people is hard.”
So Mistress Weatherwax thinks the most important thing about being a witch is helping others. Obviously the author does too because this is a theme that is constant through all of the Tiffany Aching books. Work hard, help others, measure your value by how you help people, don’t waste your time on material things, its the people that count.
To give you an idea, here’s a quote from the first book in the series, The Wee Free Men. In this quote a very young (9 year-old) Tiffany is talking to Miss Tick who is a witch finder (a lady who looks for girls showing unusual signs of power). All of this is done partially in secret; where Tiffany grows up, they don’t like witches. In fact they kill an old woman because they think she was a witch. But I digress.
“Witches are naturally nosy,” said Miss Tick, standing up. “Well, I must go. I hope we shall meet again. I will give you some free advice, though.”
“Will it cost me anything?”
“What? I just said it was free!” said Miss Tick.
“Yes, but my father said that free advice often turns out to be expensive,” said Tiffany.
Miss Tick sniffed. “You could say this advice is priceless,” she said, “Are you listening?”
“Yes,” said Tiffany.
“Good. Now…if you trust in yourself…”
“…and believe in your dreams…”
“…and follow your star…” Miss Tick went on.
“…you’ll still be beaten by people who spent their time working hard and learning things and weren’t so lazy. Goodbye.”
Notice how the traditional advice given in movies (trust in yourself, believe in your dreams, etc.), all those things we like to tell our children, the author happily tramples with hard work, and an education. This is a kids book, and yet the advice is so absent of fantasy, and so full of practical good advice that it tickles me pink.
And you know, every time I run across these words I am reminded how much they sound like Jesus. Which I find fascinating.