Terry Pratchett Book Club: A Hat Full of Sky, Part I


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Jul 18, 2023

Terry Pratchett Book Club: A Hat Full of Sky, Part I

It’s time to settle in for a little light reading of Fairies and How to Avoid Them… The story begins with some basic information on the Nac Mac Feegle from Miss Tick’s book Fairies and How to Avoid

It’s time to settle in for a little light reading of Fairies and How to Avoid Them…

The story begins with some basic information on the Nac Mac Feegle from Miss Tick’s book Fairies and How to Avoid Them. Something is searching for a new mind to inhabit, but sheep won’t do. Tiffany Aching is eleven years old now, and Miss Tick has come to take her away to a witch to be trained—though as far as Tiffany’s family is concerned, she’s going to be a maid to an elderly woman and learn more about the world. The Nac Mac Feegle of the chalk have a new Kelda named Jeannie, who has married Rob Anybody. As Tiffany and Miss Tick reach the area where the coach is meant to take her on, Roland, the baron’s son, arrives and gives Tiffany a gift he had made for her. He tells her not to open it until later. Miss prods Tiffany to open the present and wonders why she’s not crying. To change the subject, Tiffany asks about the witch she’s going to learn from, Miss Level. Miss Tick suggests that there might be another person there, too, and tells Tiffany that Miss Level is a research witch who tries to figure out new spells by performing old ones the right way. They pass by the white horse, which is carved into a cliffside.

The thing in search of a mind buzzes after Tiffany and the Nac Mac Feegle are concerned about it. Back home, Rob is learning to write because Jeannie comes from a clan that is okay with writing and she thinks he needs to learn it. Hamish and Big Yan report back to tell Rob that a hiver is following Tiffany. But Jeannie is new and alone and afraid, and so she tells the clan to stop watching after Tiffany. Miss Tick and Tiffany arrive at Twoshirts and Miss Tick senses something is amiss. She creates a shamble (sort of like a cat’s cradle), and senses something. Tiffany suddenly does too, as though the world is compressing, and the egg in the shamble explodes. Miss Tick insists it’s probably nothing, and they continue on their journey. They find Miss Level in the forest, and she and Miss Tick insist on having a private conversation. This annoys Tiffany, and she does her “see me” trick to step out of her body and listen in on their conversation. She’s called back because the compressing thing is happening all over again. Miss Level creates another shamble and stops the thing. Miss Level puts Tiffany on her broom, which is her first ride on one, and it’s horrible. They arrive at her home, and Tiffany knows something is wrong here…

Inside, Miss Level shows Tiffany to her room and gets her a bowl of stew, insisting that apprenticing can wait until morning. When Tiffany finishes the stew in her room, something tugs at the bowl and takes the tray from her. Tiffany wakes the next morning, deciding to open Roland’s present: It’s the white horse as a silver necklace. She writes a thank you note to Roland and one to her parents to let them know she’s alive. Using the “see me” spell to try on the necklace awakens the hiver and it sets off after her again. The cottage turns out to be full of circus posters, including one for Topsy and Tipsy, The Astounding Mind-Reading Act. Tiffany finally learns the truth: Miss Level is one person with two bodies. People assumed she was twins, but she isn’t, and because that frightened people, she ran away to the circus where she did the mind-reading act before becoming a witch. The invisible thing moving around isn’t her, it’s Oswald, an ondageist (basically the opposite of a poltergeist). Tiffany begins her chores: milking goats, tending beehives, learning about plants and their uses. A text at the Unseen University gives information about hivers and warnings to researching students. Rob Anybody is depressed, but Jeannie asks him not to go save Tiffany as his wife. When he agrees, she orders him to go save her as his kelda.

Rob gets a party together, including Daft Willie, Big Yan, and Wee Billy Bigchin, the new gonnagle, who has a plan to make a human scarecrow filled with Feegle to help them travel. Tiffany is learning about what witching really is, which is mostly helping out who needs helping and getting a little of what people have in return. One of the folks they help is Mr. Weavall, an elderly man who keeps coming back to having enough money for his own funeral. The Nac Mac Feegle steal a bunch of clothes and get themselves into them, board the local cart, and head off to find Tiffany, promising the Carter five gold coins to drop his cargo and get them to Twoshirts in time for the stagecoach. Tiffany tries to learn how to make a shamble, but she can’t quite get the hang of it, despite Miss Level’s advice. The Carter catches up to the stagecoach and the Feegle secure passage into the mountains. Tiffany meets Petulia, who Miss Level gives broom-riding lessons to, and Petulia asks if she wants to go to the sabbath with other girls. Tiffany decides she should go. The Nac Mac Feegle pay the stagecoach driver so well that he loses half the passengers and the other half get off because the strange figure smells of ferrets.

Miss Level being two bodies and one person is dead clever, though. All the Discworld books are great at playing with various ways in which women were thought to be too strange throughout history, and frequently punished (to the point of death) for it. Twins is one of those things that people who are suspicious and/or conspiracy-minded love to get weird about, and the idea that twins are eerily connected or might just be one soul separated into two bodies crops up all over the place. It’s such a great idea to literalize the concept.

The farther you get from Lancre, the better picture you get of just how far Granny Weatherwax’s reach extends. I love it for multiple reasons, but mainly for the juxtaposition between witches and wizards. In this era, the most famous witch is maybe one of the most purely good people on the Disc, while the most famous (just by virtue of how broadly he’s known) wizard is a coward who wants out of every dangerous situation.

And, of course, that’s a clue in its own way. The book at the university detailing how the wizard handled his hiver research is par for the course in how each group handles magical phenomena. The one wizard who tries his hand in this arena wants to control the thing and promptly gets taught a fatal lesson. Conversely, the witches will be able to handle this. We don’t know how at the start of the book, but you know it’s coming. It’s just how they’re made.

It’s relevant that in a lesser author’s hands, the difficulty Jeannie is having with Tiffany would be read as “women being catty to other women.” Which it patently never reads as to me here. If anything, it’s much more painful for how explicitly the parallels are drawn between Tiffany and the new kelda, how a point is made that both of them are in a situation where they are frightened and far from home and need to prove as quickly as possible that they are wise and capable. It makes Jeannie’s initial mistake that much more complex, because it’s pointedly not so simple as being threatened by a girl who briefly held her position. It’s about both of them finding their place in the world at the same time, and once Jeannie realizes that Tiffany is in the middle of the same struggle, she promptly sends her people to help.

Having the Feegle “four raccoons in a trench coat” their journey into the mountains is glorious, as is the choice to have them steal the coat from someone who handles tons of ferrets because, if you know anything about them, you know that weasel-smell is a large part of the reason why most human do not keep them as pets.

And we have Tiffany, who two years on from her first adventure is grieving less hard for Granny Aching—but the presence never leaves. And it couldn’t, really, seeing as she is the template for what Tiffany will become. The conceit of her grandmother being a witch without really knowing it works so beautifully from a narrative standpoint because it allows for Tiffany’s “discovery” by the rest of the witches, and for a different manner of learning that she would have found otherwise. It does make me wonder how often witching might run if families if witches have children? Not that it’s relevant—it just suddenly occurred to me that Tiffany is the first example we’ve been given of it running in families—apart from the Weatherwax sisters…

Sun and wind went straight through, but rain and snow somehow saw it, and treated it as if it was real.

Admittedly—and it took some admitting—he was a lot less of a twit that he had been. On the other hand, there had been such a lot of twit to begin with.

Despite sinister forces that would have people think differently, no toad had ever been called Tommy the Toad, for example. It’s just not something that happens.

She’d known the word, certainly, but the word hadn’t been so big, so set, and above all it hadn’t been so loud.

The beef stew tasted, indeed, just like beef stew and not, just to take an example completely and totally at random, stew made out of the last poor girl who’d worked here.

Learn how to learn fast.

After all, whatever had done it had even had the decency to bolt the door after itself, which meant that it respected her privacy, even while it ignored it.

Both of the hands had fallen off the clock face and lay at the bottom of the glass cover, so while the clock was still measuring time, it wasn’t inclined to tell anyone about it.

There was a sliding noise and a tinkle exactly like the tinkle a spoon makes when it’s put back among the other spoons, who have missed it and are anxious to hear its tales of life among the frighteningly pointy people.

It’s one of the duller phases of the moon and seldom gets illustrated.

“It’s still magic. Knowing things is magical, if other people don’t know them.”

The carter, white in the face, got down carefully and then lay on the ground and held on tight to the dirt.

Next week we’ll read chapters 5-9!