If in The Wee Free Men Tiffany decides to be a witch, then in A Hat Full of Sky she discovers what being a witch means. A Hat Full of Sky is the perfect continuation of the story begun in The Wee Free Men.
At the start of the story Tiffany is apprenticed to Miss Level whose chief skill, it appears to Tiffany, is her ability to co-exist in two bodies simultaneously. Miss Level’s idea of witchcraft is not Tiffany’s for it seems to her that all Miss Level does is tend to the sick and help out with the odds and ends about the village. Dissatisfied with the notion that “witchcraft is mostly about doing quite ordinary things,” restlessness skims along just underneath the surface of Tiffany’s life.
What happens next cements my love for Terry Pratchett. Pratchett conceives of a foe whose vanquishing demands that Tiffany acknowledge the darkest of her thoughts and bring to light those parts of herself that she’d rather wish away. ALL of Tiffany is powerful, especially the parts that she would rather did not exist. It is only by making those parts visible that she can gain control over them, and begin to understand her enemy. It’s a clever, and deeply satisfying construct to watch unfold.
This integration of a bit of philosophy, a bit of metaphysics into the plot is one of my favorite things about A Hat Full of Sky. It is something that Pratchett apparently excels at and that puts me in awe of the breadth of his imagination and the depth of his writing skills.
There’s of course Nac Mac Feegle aplenty. There’s something utterly unsquashable about them! Just like they did in The Wee Free Men, the Nac Mac Feegle enliven A Hat Full of Sky, balancing its profundity with hearty humor and at times bringing to the humor that runs rampant in Pratchett’s stories a smidge of profundity. They’re Tiffany’s cheerleaders and staunch allies, going with her to places nobody else would dare.
Tiffany also gains other witchy friends, some her own age, some much older than she is—yes, I’m talking about Granny Weatherwax. There’s a scene between them which could be called a staring contest, only it’s not a contest, and is so much more than the two of them simply staring at each other. Their locked gazes create the impression of a ritual in which the older and the younger witch take a measure of each other. It is a ritual in which the two acknowledge each other, an acknowledgment that is oblivious of the world that’s swirling around them. It’s a scene that thrilled me to my core for within a page the reader knows that this is a relationship that is going to be one of the “soul and center” of this series, and of Tiffany’s life.
Another thread that runs through A Hat Full of Sky that resonated with me was the idea that we make sense of the things that happen to us by weaving them into narratives. Stories, Granny Weatherwax suggests, can “get things done.” They have the power to re-cast the unknown in terms that cause the unknown to become slightly more relatable, and in becoming more relatable, less mysterious. Does that mean that the “truth” loses its tarnish along the way? Possibly. But what good is the truth if nobody can understand it, or act on it is Granny Weatherwax’s (and Pratchett’s) point.
You have to tell people a story they can understand. Right now I reckon you’d have to change quite a lot of the world, and maybe bang Mr. Raddle’s stupid fat head against the wall a few times, before he’d believe that you can be sickened by drinking tiny invisible beasts [referring to microbes]. And while you’re doing that, those kids of theirs will get sicker. But goblins, now, they make sense today. A story gets things done.
The trouble in this story starts with Tiffany trying to see the hat that Granny Weatherwax had given her. A hat marks a witch, brands her as one with power and when her newfound friends tell Tiffany that she doesn’t really have one, it triggers a series of events that Tiffany couldn’t have foreseen. So it’s apropos that in the last chapter things come a full circle and Tiffany realizes that
The only hat worth wearing was the one you made for yourself, not one you bought, not one you were given. Your own hat, for your own head. Your own future, not someone else’s.
She hurled the hat up as high as she could. The wind there caught it neatly. It tumbled for a moment and then was lifted by a gust and, swooping and spinning, sailed away across the downs and vanished forever.
Then Tiffany made a hat out of the sky and sat on the old pot-bellied stove, listening to the wind around the horizons while the sun went down. . . .
The sun set, which is everyday magic, and warm night came.
The hat filled up with stars. . . .