Wintersmith, in my opinion, shows the weaknesses perhaps caused by Terry’s disease more clearly than any book to that time. But, after four or five very careful readings I changed my initial opinion (that it was one of the poorest books he’d written) and came to appreciate the generally skillful way he dealt with an adolescent, who is almost (but not quite) a full witch.
Tiffany carries this book in a way that she has not carried any of the others. Because of her nature, her age & inexperience—she stumbles into a very adult activity. The Dance of the Seasons can be seen without too much of a stretch as the old earth magic joined to a dreadful awareness of the possibility of ecological disaster by failure to preserve the balance of Nature. Tiffany, in some aspects, is the typical teenager—balanced unsteadily between child and adult. And to further complicate her life, not only does she have to deal with the whole idea of “boys,” but she also has inadvertently caused an elemental to fall in love with her and to behave in a most unusual way. No one can advise her among the witches, because no one has ever seen this phenomenon before. Dealing with a besotted elemental places terrible strains on her, but she learns to deal with boys and men as well as to become a mature witch by the end of the book.
And she learns, most clearly, not to idolize Granny Weatherwax but to learn from her while accepting her own separate self.
Tiffany leaps literally into the Black/Winter Morris precisely because of who she is. Neither Granny nor Miss Treason foresaw the strength of her bond with the land and neither expected what happened. Miss Treason tells Tiffany that many others have joined in the dance without harm, but when Tiffany joined, something happened
that has never happened before (page 74 U.K. hardback). Because Tiffany is so much a part of the land, both Lady Summer and Wintersmith are aware of her and she upsets the balance of the seasons by her actions. Tiffany isn’t excusing a mistake when she says ‘I didn’t mean to’, she just hasn’t yet identified her full power as a Woman and a Witch. But, as Granny says, Tiffany has to play out the story, and dance to the Wintersmith’s tune until she is strong enough and wise enough to restore the balance by stepping out, by being the center through which the power of summer overthrows winter as it always has.
And Tiffany is able to do this because Pratchett begins to show her development as an adult. The book opens with Tiffany bringing the cat, “You” to Granny. Tiffany is already sensing that Granny needs something, that she is far from perfect. Granny acts like a spoiled brat not a proper witch when Tiffany visits. And Tiffany is wise enough to manipulate Granny for Granny’s own good. She’s not yet stronger or wiser than Granny, but she’s becoming aware of the strengths and perils of being a witch. Tiffany has learned that most of witchcraft is not “zap, zap, glingle, glingle, glingle” but instead it is, as Granny has acknowledged, helping people (even those you don’t like, or who are stupid or vain) when life is on the edge.
By the end of the book, Tiffany is wise enough and strong enough to see through Granny’s machinations. She says (p.391)
“You planned it, didn’t you?” she said. “If you’d suggested one of the others they’d probably have got the cottage, so you suggested me. And you knew, you just knew
that I’d help her. And it’s all worked out, hasn’t it? I bet every witch in the mountains knows what happened by now. I bet Mrs. Earwig is seething. And the best bit is, no one got hurt. Annagramma’s picked up where Miss Treason left off, all the villagers are happy and you’ve won! Oh, I expect you’ll say it was to keep me busy and teach me important things and keep my mind off the Wintersmith, but you still won!”
Tiffany doesn’t get an immediate reaction to her accusation that Granny was playing a rather nasty trick on Mrs. Earwig and exposing her to all the other witches. But she is now able to demand a “reckoning” from Granny—that Granny show her the way to take away pain, something no other witch but Granny has been able to do. Pratchett does, in this novel, a fuller example of the exposure of both Granny & Mrs. Earwig that he had earlier done in "The Sea and Little Fishes", a short story
appearing in Silverberg's First Volume of Legends
. If you haven’t read this, rush right out and get it (the 2nd link is to the Amazon UK site).
There are a number of flaws in Pratchett’s creation of this novel. I think the opening scene (which doesn’t quite happen) is confusing and a mistake. The ending, with Rob trying to read heroically, takes away the grandeur of the real story. Pratchett here, as he does in later novels, tries to do too much, and puts in unnecessary bits while not developing other important characters enough. The tendency will be much more evident in Making Money—but you can see it here.