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The Wee Free Men

Annotations | Information | Quotes

+ [title] The working title of this book was For Fear of Little Men. See also the annotation for p. 287/207 of Lords and Ladies .

+ The Nac Mac Feegle appear to be very Scottish in nature. Terry says:

"Um. The Nac Mac Feegle are not Scottish. There is no Scotland on Discworld. They may, in subtle ways, suggest some aspects of the Scottish character as filtered through the media, but that's because of quantum."

+ [p. 15] "They call it the Chalk."

The Chalk has many similarities to the English Wiltshire region, where Terry himself comes from. He says:

"[It's] based wherever there was something I wanted. But probably mostly on the southern Chalk, it's true. It's what I know.

The term 'the Chalk', by the way, is not from Kipling as suggested elsewhere. It used to be, and may still be, a general term for, well, the chalk country. I actually do have a copy of an old book called Wild Flowers of the Chalk..."

+ [p. 24] "'I can't do,' said Miss Tick, straightening up. 'But I can teach!'"

As the old insult says: "Those who can, do. Those who can't, teach". The UK government at one time used "Those who can, teach." as an advertising slogan to try and get people to train as teachers.

+ [p. 29] "Jenny Green-Teeth."

Lancashire folk stories tell of a kind of spirit or boggart who lived underwater named "Jenny Green-Teeth". Her presence was indicated by the growth of duckweed, which thrives in still fresh water.

+ [p. 32] "'You're very yellow for a toad.' 'I've been a bit ill,' said the toad."

So, clearly, what we have here is a yellow sick toad. See also the annotation for p. 159/132 of Moving Pictures .

Terry says: "I just happened to note a toad had a skin which had had unfortunately gone a bit yellow because it had been ill, Far be it from me to make a pun. You did that:-)"

+ [p. 41] "Yan Tan Tethera"

This is indeed the ancient counting language of shepherds in Northern England. It was also used by the Nac Mac Feegle themselves in Carpe Jugulum.

+ [p. 42] "[...] especially ones strong enough to withstand falling farmhouses."

A Wizard of Oz reference. See also the annotation for p. 139/122 of Witches Abroad .

+ [p. 51] "[...] she climbed to the top of Arken Hill [...]"

The legends concerning Arken Hill are similar to those of Dragon Hill, Oxfordshire (where some people claim St George fought the dragon) and Silbury Hill, Wiltshire (alleged burial of a knight in gold armour, or possibly the forgotten King Sil, whoever he might be). Both hills are flat topped, like Arken Hill, and believed to be artificial.

+ [p. 67] "'It's a' gang agley.'"

"It's all gone wahoonie-shaped". One of the best known bits of Scots, due to it being what the best laid plans o' mice and men do in the poem "To a mouse" by Robert Burns.

But Mousie, thou are no thy-lane,
In proving foresight may be vain:
The best laid schemes o' Mice an' Men,
Gang aft agley,
An' lea'e us nought but grief an' pain,
For promis'd joy!

+ [p. 74] "The headless man would catch her on the flat."

From The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving -- and many other similar folk tales.

+ [p. 75] "'[...] yer bogle [...]'"

'bogle' is Scots for ghost or apparition.

+ [p. 75] "'[...] courtesy of Big Yan!'"

Glaswegian comedian Billy Connolly (who, at least to my Dutch ears, speaks very much as I imagine a Nac Mac Feegle would) is known as "The Big Yin".

+ [p. 83] "'Ach, see you, pussycat, scunner that y'are!' he yelled. 'Here's a giftie from the t' wee burdies, yah schemie!'"

'Scunner' is a Scots word for something or someone to which/whom you've taken a strong dislike. A 'schemie' is a pejorative Scots term for someone who lives in a Housing Scheme, i.e. a nasty concrete housing estate built as replacement for slums, but rapidly becoming slums themselves.

+ [p. 92] "'[...] it means our kelda is weakenin' fast, [...]'"

'Kelda' is a Scots word derived from the Old Norse 'kelda', meaning origin or source (in the spring/well sense).

+ [p. 93] "'See their swords? They glow blue in the presence of lawyers.'"

In the The Lord of The Rings books, various weapons glow blue in the presence of Orcs and other evil creatures.

+ [p. 107] "There were odd carvings in the chalk, too [...]"

Chalk figures like the Rude Man of Cerne or the horses (such as the Uffington White Horse) that you find all over the chalk areas of Britain. See also the annotation for p. 302/217 of Lords and Ladies .

+ [p. 113] "'Onna black horse.'"

The Elf Queen rides a black steed in the ballad of 'Tam Lin'. See also the annotation for p. 141/103 of Lords and Ladies .

+ [p. 116] "Grimhounds!"

There are various Hellhound/Devil Dog legends in Britain. Specifically, the "grim" part of the name and the reference to them haunting graveyards suggests the Kirk Grim, which hangs around churchyards to protect the dead buried there from evil spirits or the devil.

There are many Devil Dog legends in Sussex, most of them on, yes, the Downs. Most of these creatures are described much as the grimhounds, and to see them is a portent of death: presumably if they're visible to you, then you need their protection (and so are or will soon be dead).

+ [p. 123] "'You live in one of the mounds?' Tiffany asked. 'I thought they were, you know, the graves of ancient chieftains?'"

In folklore, Bronze Age Burial Mounds are supposed to be the homes of fairy folk. On the Disc, of course, they're both.

+ [p. 135] "When a well-trained gonnagle starts to recite, the enemy's ears explode."

A reference to William Topaz McGonagall, Scotland's Worst Poet (he was to rhyme and meter what B.S. Johnson was to bricks and mortar, as my correspondent puts it), and also a slight exaggeration of the abilities accredited to bards in Celtic tradition. Note that the gonnagle turns out to be called William.

William McGonagall's most famous poem is probably The Tay Bridge Disaster which recounts the events of the evening of 28 December 1879, when, during a severe gale, the Tay Rail Bridge near Dundee collapsed as a train was passing over it. The first verse reads:

Beautiful Railway Bridge of the Silv'ry Tay!
Alas! I am very sorry to say
That ninety lives have been taken away
On the last Sabbath day of 1879,
Which will be remember'd for a very long time.

+ [p. 138] Tir-far-Thiónn

In actual Gaelic, I am told that this means "Land over word that does not exist". "Land Under Wave" would be "Tír-fa-Tonn", and there is in fact such a place in Irish mythology, a sort of Gaelic Atlantis.

+ [p. 149] "He's got a bo-ut for chasin' the great white whale fish on the salt sea. He's always chasing it, all round the world. It's called Mopey."

Puns on the classic "Moby-Dick; or, The Whale" (this is in fact its original title) by Herman Melville.

+ [p. 152] "He spoke differently too, [...]"

While the other Nac Mac Feegle sound like people doing Rab C Nesbitt impressions (Nesbitt is a well-known Scots character (of the dirty, foul-mouthed, sexist drunkard kind) from a BBC comedy series), William has the sort of exaggerated Ayrshire burr you might hear folk put on when reciting Robert Burns (the famous Scots poet, who wrote 'Auld Lang Syne').

+ [p. 153] "'We'll dance the FiveHundredAndTwelvesome Reel to the tune o' "The Devil Among The Lawyers"'"

There are Foursome, Eightsome and Twelvesome Reels, which involve exchanges of partners between two, four or six couples. 512 is eight cubed, so presumably it's more complicated, but basically the same. "The Devil Among The Lawyers" is possibly a reference to Burns' "The Deil's Awa' Wi' The Exciseman", or to 'The Devil Among The Tailors', a well-known folk-dance tune (which is in fact, I'm told, the original tune for an Eightsome Reel).

+ [p. 159] "Trilithons, they were called, [...]"

'Trilithon' is the technical term for any group of three stones arranged so that one sits flat atop the other two.

The mention of stones arranged in circles suggests Stonehenge and the Avebury circle (which isn't far from Silbury Hill; see the annotation for p. 51). Although they seem to have been erected for much the same reason as the Dancers in Lancre, there is no mention of them being magnetic, certainly the frying pan gets through without trouble.

+ [p. 168] Nac Mac Feegle battlecries

"They can tak' oour lives, but they cannae tak' oour troousers!" This is "They can take our lives, but they'll never take our freedom", from the movie Braveheart.

"Bang went saxpence!" is of those punchlines everyone's forgotten the joke to, reflecting the alleged meanness of the Scots. It comes from a Punch cartoon in which a Scotsman complains about the expense of London. "Mun, a had na' been the-erre abune Twa Hoours when- Bang went Saxpence!!!"

"Ye'll tak' the high road an' I'll tak' yer wallet!" is based on the refrain of 'The Bonny, Bonny Banks of Loch Lomond': "Ye tak' the high road, and I'll tak' the low road".

"There can only be one t'ousand!" is still based on the "There can be only one" quote from Highlander, as already seen in Carpe Jugulum.

"Nae king! Nae quin! Nae laird! Nae master! We willnae be fooled again!" echoes the sentiments of The Who's song 'Won't get fooled again'.

+ [p. 173] "'Cloggets are a trembling of the greebs in hoggets,' [...]"

I have no idea what cloggets and greebs ('grebes' are a particular type of 9 inch long duck -- I doubt whether Terry had them in mind) are, but a hogget is the term used to describe an adult female sheep before she has had any offspring.

+ [p. 180] "'"The King Underrrr Waterrrr"'"

Possibly a reference to the Jacobite toast "The King Over the Water".

+ [p. 192] "'If ye eats anythin' in the dream, ye'll never wanta' leave it.'"

Various legends (including Childe Rowland and Burd Helen, see below) mention that eating fairy food is a sure way to get trapped in Elfhame/Fairyland.

+ [p. 199] "'..oooooiiiiiit is with grreat lamentation and much worrying dismay, [...]'"

Exactly the sort of thing McGonagall wrote. Although the "oooooo" bit seems to have crept in from Spike Milligan's William McGonagall: The Truth At Last.

+ [p. 204] "Tiffany looked up at a white horse. [...] And there was a boy on it."

In the ballad of 'Tam Lin', Fair Janet is told she can recognise Tam when she goes to rescue him, as he is the only rider on a white horse.

+ [p. 204] "'This is my forest!,' said the boy. 'I command you to do what I say!'"

More 'Tam Lin': see the annotation for p. 141/103 of Lords and Ladies .

+ [p. 204] "'Your name is Roland, isn't it?' she said."

Roland's name suggests the ballad 'Childe Rowland and Burd Ellen', about a young boy who has to rescue his sister (and the brothers who had previously failed) from the King of Elfland. Of course, the DW version is worse than useless.

Terry had no connection in mind, however:

"I chose Roland because it's a) old b) a solid kind of name, suggesting the kind of boy he is and c) probably, because I used to live next door to a Roland when I was a kid."

"['Childe Rowland and Burd Ellen'] doesn't mean anything to me, I'm afraid, but it's eerie, innit? I think I might start pretending I had that in mind all along:-)"

+ [p. 206] The ballroom scene reminded many people of a similar scene in the movie 'Labyrinth'.

+ [p. 210] "'[...] pretend ye're enjoying the cailey.'"

Usually spelt "ceilidh" , this is the Scots Gaelic word for a party. These days used almost exclusively to signify Scottish Folk Music Festivals.

+ [p. 212] "She cut Roland's head off."

Rowland had to cut off everybody's head but Ellen's in order to break the spell on her.

+ [p. 215] "'Crivens!' (She was sure it was a swear word.)"

Like Truckle the Uncivil, it's possible that, in the mouth of a Mac Feegle, anything's a swear word, but in fact "crivvens!" translates into Sassanach roughly as "good grief!". It's now a bit of a joke, used only by Sunday Post cartoon characters "Oor Wullie" and "The Broons", and "I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue"'s Hamish and Dougal.

+ [p. 225] "'Well, there was this fine lady on a horse with bells all over its harness and she galloped past me when I was out hunting and she was laughing, [...]'"

Tam Lin was captured while hunting, although the circumstances were different. When Thomas the Rhymer (see the annotation for p. 174/126 of Lords and Ladies ] met the Queen "At ilka tett of her horse's mane/Hung fifty siller bells and nine".

+ [p. 285] "'[...] ye bloustie ol' callyack that ye are!'"

"Callyack" is probably meant to represent the Gaelic 'cailleach', old woman, which is actually pronounced 'kyle-yak' (with a good hard cough on the k).

+ [p. 287] "'[...] once I was a lawyer.'"

As has been strongly foreshadowed throughout the book. In addition, once you know, a glance at the cover shows the swords of the Feegle immediately surrounding him are glowing blue...

+ [p. 287] "'Potest-ne mater tua suere, amice.'"

"Vis-ne faciem capite repleta" ("Would you like a face that is full of head?") is translated on p. 289. Similarly, this means "Does your mother have the ability to sew, friend?"

+ [p. 289] Nac Mac Feegle legal battlecries.

"Twelve hundred angry men!" comes from the film title Twelve Angry Men.

"We ha' the law on oour side!" This phrase, OTOH, has been used so often that if there was ever an original source (which there probably wasn't), it's long gone. Chalk it up as a cliché.

"The law's made to tak' care o' raskills!" is an almost verbatim quote from The Mill on the Floss by George Elliot, who spelt "rascals" like that all the time. Note that in that book "take care of" means "deal with". The Feegles seem to be using it to mean "protect"...

+ [p. 292] "The Queen... changed shape madly in Tiffany's arms."

Another commonplace of folk tales, where the hero(ine) has to keep a tight grip on the villain(ess) whatever (s)he becomes. In particular, there's Tam Lin again, and the battle between the Queen of Elfland and Fair Janet although in that case it was Tam himself Janet had to keep hold of.

+ [p. 298] "The broomsticks descended."

There was some confusion on afp as to the place where The Wee Free Men fits in the Discworld chronology. With Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg flying to the Chalk, is the third witch left holding the fort in Lancre Magrat or Agnes?

Terry says:

"As for the chronology, it's 'now' -- or at least, after Carpe Jugulum. Since Carpe Jugulum a clan of NMF have been living in Lancre, too."

"The Wee Free Men was doodled around the time of Carpe Jugulum, but with a young male hero and set in Lancre. It evolved for all kinds of good and vindicated reasons, but among them was the realisation that it'd be too damn hard to keep the witches from taking a major role.

That's one of the constrictions to writing a long-term series like this. If something big, bad and public happens in Ankh-Morpork now, it will have a terrible tendency to become a Watch book. It's not inevitable, given the palette I've got to play with, but it is a consideration."

+ [p. 317] "'[...] that big heap o' jobbies that just left [...]'"

'Jobbies' is a modern Scots word for solid excrement.

+ [p. 318] "For ever and ever, wold without end."

From the Christian prayer 'Gloria Patri': "As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end, Amen."

Note that the 'wold' in the text is not a misprint -- a wold is an area of high, open, uncultivated land or moor.


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