On Tiffany Aching and Autobiographical Writing

 

 

I once read an interview with Terry Pratchett where he was asked if he put real people into his characters. “I certainly hope so,” he answered. He wanted his characters to breathe, to feel so alive you wouldn’t be surprised to run into them doing their shopping. In fact, he wanted them to be people you actually have run into doing their shopping. That’s how real they needed to be.

Tiffany Aching is, I suspect, as close as Sir Pratchett ever came to writing a truly autobiographical character. Tiffany read the dictionary through at a young age, just like Sir Pratchett says he did. She grew up poor on the Chalk, just like Sir Pratchett.

Something I’ve noticed while reading through fantasy award lists and classics is that there are still not enough girls. It’s still dominated by boys on their adventures. Diana Wynne Jones said that children’s books tend to be centered around a neutral character–and in our literary culture, a boy can more easily be neutral than a girl. So, boys continue to be more common then girls.

That’s why a really good girl protagonist in a big children’s and young adult series is a gift. I don’t mean the dystopian warrior girls who are all practically interchangeable these days–those books are good, but they’re not GREAT. And the Tiffany Aching books are GREAT, and they’re about a girl whose reaction to a monster in the lake when she was 9 was to use her brother as bait and hit the thing with a frying pan.

The world needed Tiffany. Thousands, if not millions of girls will love Tiffany. And I can muster nothing but gratitude for Sir Pratchett’s gift of her to us.

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