Archives for posts with tag: Comic Fantasy

It’s high time for some midsummer madness so this week I’m recommending J.B.Priestley’s light-hearted Arthurian Fantasy, “The Thirty-First of June”. This book, which was first published in 1961, was out of print for many years. Recently I was pleased to discover that most of Priestley’s novels are now available as ebooks. Better still, there is a new paperback edition of “The Thirty-First of June” (from Valancourt Books) complete with John Cooper’s charming original illustrations.

This is a story set in two very different places – London, England in 1960 and the small kingdom of Peradore during the reign of the legendary King Arthur.  One of these places is real and the other is imaginary but no-one can agree which is which. In London, frustrated artist Sam Penty works for an advertising agency run by Dan Dimmock (“Call me D.D.”) . When Sam is told to produce a drawing for the Damosel Stockings campaign, he pictures a medieval princess and falls in love with her. The next morning Sam wakes up convinced that it’s a day which shouldn’t exist – the 31st of June.

Meanwhile in Peradore, Princess Melicent has fallen in love with a strangely dressed young man whom she’s seen in a magic mirror lent to her by an enchanter. Melicent’s peppery father, King Meliot, warns her that Sam is only imaginary but Malgrim the Enchanter has already sent the castle dwarf to find him. Malgrim is plotting to get hold of a magical brooch given to the royal family of Peradore by Merlin himself. So is his uncle, a wily old enchanter known as Master Marlagram. Back in London, Sam abandons work and goes off to the Black Horse pub while a harassed D.D. has some baffling encounters with a dwarf in medieval costume and a laughing rat. Marlagram escorts Melicent to Sam’s world but Malgrim has already lured Sam and a drinking companion to Peradore.

Sam encounters a wicked damsel-in-waiting instead of his princess and gets thrown into a dungeon for “being improperly dressed”. D.D., several of his staff and the barmaid from the Black Horse all end up in Peradore. Some of these visitors find themselves playing much the same roles in Peradore as they did in London; others are startlingly transformed. Melicent endures bizarre experiences during her visits to London, including an appearance on television, while in Peradore Sam is required to act like a medieval hero, which he’s very sure he’s not. He can’t even work out what species of dragon he’s meant to be fighting. Can Sam and Melicent, and their worlds, ever be united?

J.B.Priestley (1894-1984) was a prolific novelist, playwright and journalist. You can find out more about him on the website run by the J.B.Priestley Society ( Priestley is remembered as a plain-speaking, pipe-smoking Yorkshireman who campaigned against social inequalities and nuclear weapons, so you might assume that he was strictly a realist writer. In fact, there are supernatural elements in many of his novels and plays (including his most famous play, “An Inspector Calls”) and much of his work was influenced by esoteric ideas about the nature of time and reality. This novel explores those ideas in a playful way, suggesting that “whatever has been imagined must exist somewhere in the universe” and that “Which is real, which is imaginary, depends upon the position of the observer.” Malgrim the Enchanter explains that in the sphere of the imagination times-streams can converge or become intertwined so that it possible to pass from one to another. It all sounds jolly convincing but bear in mind that Malgrim isn’t a particularly reliable person and he has just drunk a whole bottle of créme-de-menthe.

I’ve read “The Thirty-First of June” numerous times and it still makes me laugh. Think “Mad Men” meets “Camelot” but played as farce. I wasn’t too surprised to learn from Lee Hanson’s introduction to the new edition that “The Thirty-First of June” was originally a play-script. It would make a wonderful TV drama. The plot is full of surprising entrances and dramatic exits and most of the characterization is achieved through the sprightly dialogue. Each member of the cast is given catch-phrases and distinctive turns of speech. One of my favourites is “Captain” Skip Plunket, whom Sam meets in the Black Horse. He constantly tells irrelevant anecdotes and tries to sell people dubious schemes or goods. Thus Plunket’s response to Malgrim’s abstruse explanation of time-streams is, “And, talking of times, I can put you on to a fella who has four gross of Swiss watches in the spare tank of his motor yacht.”

The subtitle of this novel is “A Tale of True Love, Enterprise and Progress, in the Arthurian and Ad-Atomic Ages” so it is now doubly a period piece.  Priestley was familiar with the conventions of medieval Arthurian literature and has fun with them in this story. For example, in Malory’s “Le Morte D’Arthur” (see my February 2016 post on “The Death of Arthur”) knights tend to encounter two standard types of damsel – virtuous oppressed ones and seductive deceitful ones. In “The Thirty-First of June”,  Melicent’s two damsels-in-waiting are meek and mousy Alison – whose double in London is D.D.’s overworked secretary – and glamorous Ninette who conspires with Malgrim out of sheer love of mischief-making. Ninette torments Sam by making him believe that he has to speak in a pseudo-medieval manner (“Noble damsel- er – ye say sooth.”) before suddenly pointing out that he’s “no great shakes at this kind of dialogue.”

Priestley makes jokes about what doesn’t change between eras, such as doctors who prescribe useless remedies based on bogus theories. So, to cure their flights of fancy, Melicent is ordered to take mummy paste, mandrake root and powdered dragon’s tooth because her humours are out of balance while Sam is told that he has an unstable metabolism and is offered calcium and vitamin D. tablets.  It’s fairly clear though that Priestley himself was more attracted to an idealized version of the Middle Ages than he was to modern urban life. Most of the things his characters find stressful in 1960 – noisy construction work, traffic jams, ridiculous advertising campaigns for rubbishy products, and absurd television shows and competitions – still annoy people today. No wonder that Plunket and D.D. come up with the idea of selling time-travelling tours to peaceful Peradore.

When Sam is asked why he wants to marry Melicent, his answer is that she seems to combine, “two wonderful qualities….a beautiful strangeness and a loving kindness.” So does this novel. Thanks to the rival enchanters, delightfully strange things happen in the course of the plot but Priestley is too kind-hearted an author to punish any of his characters severely for their faults. Ultimately, everyone is allowed to benefit from their exposure to another place and time. In Priestley’s world, the 31st of June is the one day on which people who are barely existing are given the chance to live a different and more rewarding kind of life. So, may I wish all my readers a happy 31st of June! Until next time…





This week I’m recommending “The Incompleat Enchanter”, a light-hearted Fantasy Classic which makes ideal holiday reading. It consists of two novellas co-written by a pair of well-known American SF/Fantasy authors: Lyon Sprague de Camp and Fletcher Pratt. Both novellas recount “the Magical Misadventures of Harold Shea”. “The Roaring Trumpet” sends him to the world of Scandinavian Myth and “The Mathematics of Magic” to the world created by Elizabethan author Edmund Spenser for his epic poem The Faerie Queene. These stories were first published in the magazine Unknown in 1940. The book version, under the title of “The Incompleat Enchanter”,  came out in 1941 and has been reprinted many times. You can now get this, and its two sequels, as ebooks.

“The Roaring Trumpet” introduces Harold Shea, a young psychologist at the Garaden Institute. He’s bright but bored. Harold keeps trying new things, like learning to ski and fence, but it isn’t enough. He longs for a real adventure and to meet his dream girl. Harold’s older colleague, Dr Reed Chalmers has a solution. He has invented a syllogismobile – a mathematical formula for shifting people into parallel worlds with very different natural laws. Chalmers’ theory is that in a world “where all minds were attuned to receive the proper impressions, the laws of magic would conceivably work.” Harold decides to use Chalmers’ formula to transport himself to the world of Irish myth. He intends to go well prepared, packing a colt revolver, a box of matches, a torch and the Boy Scout Handbook.

The formula works and Harold is thrilled to find himself in a strange landscape with a cloaked horseman approaching. Unfortunately, the horseman is Odinn the Wanderer. Harold has accidentally arrived in the world of Scandinavian myth just before the final battle between the gods and the giants. Meeting the haughty Norse gods, and the warriors who serve them, is an humiliating experience for Harold. Everyone regards him as puny and useless. Harold tries to impress the gods by claiming to be a powerful warlock but finds that none of his modern gadgets will work. The gods still take him along on a quest to recover two magical weapons, the Hammer of Thor and the Sword of Frey. Harold teams up with the friendliest of the Norse gods, Heimdall the Watcher, and begins to understand how the laws of magic function in the Norse world. After he and Heimdall are captured by the Fire Giants, Harold uses both magic and psychology in a daring escape plan…

During the epic battle of Ragnarok, Harold was suddenly flung back into his own world. In “The Mathematics of Magic”, Harold is keen to go on another adventure and this time Dr Reed Chalmers wants to come along. After perfecting his “structural theory of a multi-universe cosmology” Reed thinks it’s time to seek a more enjoyable life in a fictional world. Harold suggests the one created by Spenser for his immensely long (but unfinished) poem, The Faerie Queene. This is a part-Classical, part-Medieval world filled with kings and queens, knights and damsels, witches and monsters. Harold and Reed hope to win a place for themselves by helping the Faerie  knights of King Arthur and Queen Gloriana to defeat the evil enchanters who are their chief enemies.

Harold’s fencing skills come in handy as the adventurers encounter ill-tempered knights, ape-like monsters known as Losels and a Celtic tribe keen on human sacrifice. Reed thinks that he’s mastered the rules of magic but his spell-rhymes rarely produce the expected result. When he tries to conjure up a single fierce dragon, one hundred gentle vegetarian dragons appear instead. Reed has been distracted by falling in love with a beautiful damsel who turns out to be a creature made out of snow by a witch. Meanwhile, Harold has met two potential dream girls – the golden-haired warrior Britomart, who can defeat almost any knight, and flame-haired archer and hunter, Belphebe. Unfortunately, they are both already betrothed. Reed and Harold’s plan to infiltrate the headquarters of the evil enchanters doesn’t go too smoothly either. Is there any hope of a happy ending for these “incompleat enchanters”?

L.Sprague de Camp (1907-2000) and Fletcher Pratt (1897-1956) were close friends who met in 1939 because of a mutual love of war-gaming. They started writing together almost straight away and produced five Harold Shea stories between 1940 and 1954, later published in book form as “The Castle of Iron” and “The Enchanter Compleated”. In these stories, Harold and his companions visit the worlds of Ariosto’s Orlando Furioso (with a side-trip to Coleridge’s Xanadu), the Finnish Kalevala and, finally, Irish myth at the time of the famous “Cattle Raid of Cooley”.  According to Sprague de Camp, Pratt provided most of the backround information. They would then work out the plot together before Sprague de Camp wrote the first draft and Pratt the second. This unusual method of collaboration doesn’t produce elegant prose. What the two writers mainly shared were fertile imaginations and an irreverant sense of humour.

In the introduction to the 1975 reprint of “The Incompleat Enchanter”, Sprague de Camp described the Harold Shea stories as “sword and sorcery” fiction long before the term was invented. They are packed with exciting action scenes but I would classify them primarily as Comic Fantasy. I don’t often recommend books in this genre because humour is such a personal thing but if you enjoy early Terry Pratchett novels such as The Colour of Magic, the misadventures of Harold Shea will probably make you laugh. Some of the humour is quite broad. For example, in a world where spells have to be in verse, Harold defeats the terrifying Blatant Beast by reciting “The Ballad of Eskimo Nell” at it. He then spends the rest of the story trying to avoid explaining this erotic poem to virginal Belphebe. In “The Roaring Trumpet” Pratt and Sprague de Camp were working from source material which is already full of rumbustious humour. Much of the comedy comes from mythical beings such as giants and trolls talking like American gangsters and from over-confident Harold’s humiliations. He’s given the nickname “Turnip Harald” after unwisely asking for some vegetables with his boiled pork.

In “The Mathematics of Magic” the comedy arises from the contrast between the solemn source material and the farcical way that it’s treated. Spenser wrote beautiful stately poetry but no-one has ever praised him for his sense of humour. The Faerie Queene is an allegory in which the leading characters are meant to embody virtues such as Chastity and Justice. Pratt and Sprague de Camp have fun with characters who take themselves far to seriously, such as a virtuous wife Amoret who bores everyone with her endless tale of woe (“Oh , the perils I go through!”) and enthusiastic enforcer of the High Justice, Sir Artegall, who rarely stops to think before he jousts. The Harold Shea stories may be light reading but they are based on a detailed knowledge of myth, Fantasy literature and anthropological research on magic. Fletcher Pratt knew all about the ancient ideas of magic working through laws of Similarity or Contagion and he must be one of the few people in history to have read the whole of The Faerie Queene for pleasure (I never have).

Harold Shea has the distinction of being one of the few fictional characters to be killed off by another writer – by L.Ron Hubbard in 1941. His creators decided to ignore this piece of literary rudeness but it seems prophetic that the founder of Scientology would disapprove of Shea’s ingenious uses for his psychological training – such as persuading a troll that he needs a nose-job and teaching Dame Britomart how to boost the fragile male ego. Even Sprague de Camp describes his hero as brash and conceited but Harold does mellow and become more likeable after marrying his dream girl.

The attitude towards women shown by the American males in these stories now seems prehistoric but fortunately Spenser, who lived and wrote during the reign of a formidable queen, had provided some strong female characters to work with. In The Faerie Queene, the damsels rescue the knights as often as the other way around and Belphebe, who is thought to be based on aspects of Elizabeth I, makes a spirited and attractive heroine for “The Incompleat Enchanter”. The Harold Shea series was revived in the 1980s by Sprague de Camp and other writers but these later stories mainly lack the charm of the originals. So, my advice is to stick with the first three books. Until next time…










I’m interrupting my normal blog to pay a brief tribute to Sir Terry Pratchett who died today at the far too early age of 66. Normally I try to avoid repeating a word, but I shall be using the word great a lot in the next few lines. Pratchett was a great Fantasy author and a great champion of Fantasy as literature. Endlessly inventive, he forged his own style and broke every literary rule with irreverent glee. He was, and probably always will be, the foremost writer of Comic Fantasy but his books are never just funny. They are full of wisdom and compassion as well as wit. His humour may often have been broad but his humanity was always deep.

The Discworld novels mock many of the conventions of High Fantasy but they are also one of the greatest feats of world-making in all Fantasy. Pratchett created a huge number of memorable characters. I particularly love many of his witches (see my February 2014 post on `A Hat Full of Sky’) and his version of Death is high on my list of all-time great Fantasy characters. In the last few years, Pratchett faced his own impending death with wonderful courage and characteristic humour. Anyone who has a friend or relative suffering from dementia (as I do) must be grateful to him for his work to raise the profile of Alzheimer’s Disease and encourage research into possible cures. Sir Terry’s death has made me sad but his books have made the world a funnier and more bearable place.


This week I’m recommending a captivating story about a boy who is transformed into a cat. Matt Haig’s`To Be A Cat’ was published in 2012 and has charming illustrations by Pete Williamson. It is marked on the cover as being suitable for readers of 9+. Please concentrate on the plus bit rather than the nine. Haig has written acclaimed science fiction novels for adults (`The Humans’ ) and young adults (`Echo Boy’) on the theme of what it means to be human but in my opinion `To Be A Cat’ is as good or better than both of these books. Paperback editions of `To Be A Cat’ are easy to find but if you’re embarrassed to be seen reading a children’s story, just order it on your Kindle. No-one need ever know…

In the boring town of Blandford lives a boy called Barney Willow. His parents are divorced and Barney lives with his Mum and his dog, Guster. Two hundred and eleven days before the story starts, Barney’s Dad disappeared. On his twelfth birthday, Barney is bitterly disappointed to hear nothing from his Dad and his Mum has to work. Barney’s best friend Rissa ( a very tall girl with `Hair like a pirate’) does give him a handmade card but the rest of his birthday is `Totally Terrible’. Barney is tormented at school by a gang of bullies led by Gavin Needle and he unfairly gets into trouble with the child-hating head teacher, Miss Whipmire. No wonder he detests his life and fervently wishes that he could swap places with a cat…

Barney wakes up the next day as a small black and white cat and soon realizes how wrong he was to think that cats have lovely lazy lives with no worries. He has a lot of worries. His Mum and his dog don’t recognize him. He’s thrown out of his home, while a cat in his body goes to school in his place. Barney is now a `no-hoper’, a former human trapped in a cat body. He’s pitied by `firesides’ (cats who are content living with people) and chased by the vicious street cats known as `swipers’, who fear nothing but the legendary Terrorcat. While Rissa is on the trail of Barney’s missing father, Barney is uncovering Miss Whipmire’s dark secret and learning why she wants him dead. With Rissa’s help, can Barney survive long enough to seize his only chance of being turned back into a boy?

`To Be A Cat’ is what I would call a `what if?’ fantasy. Everything stems from the one question – what if people could become cats and cats could become people? This in itself isn’t an original premise. I’ve already recommended Fantasy novels in which a cat suddenly becomes a woman (`Fudoki’, March 2014) and a boy learns important life-lessons by being transformed into a series of animals (`The Sword in the Stone’, December 2012). What makes this book different is Haig’s thinking on why cats and humans might want to change places. Humanity seems to be divided  into dog-loving people and cat-loving people. I’m a cat person. Judging from the number of adorable dogs in his books, Haig is a  dog-person but he still has a shrewd understanding of cat psychology. He knows about cats’ contempt for human rules, their single-minded devotion to their own comfort, and the fact that they will do almost anything for tinned sardines. The Siamese cat who has become Miss Whipmire has been traumatized by casual human cruelty. She wants power over her own destiny, or at least to be able to open tins herself. She’s fiercely protective of her only kitten and totally ruthless towards everyone else – a truly terrifying Fantasy villainess. As someone brought up in a house full of Siamese cats, I found her behaviour perfectly plausible.

Much of what happens to cat-Barney is very funny, especially in the Needle household, where he’s treated like a toy by Gavin’s ghastly little sister, but there is an underlying seriousness to his adventures. Barney and Rissa have both been picked on for being different but Rissa sees this as meaning that she’s special. Besides, she genuinely doesn’t care what other people think of her. Barney does not have Rissa’s self-confidence. He has a `glass half empty’ outlook and he’s inherited from his father a tendency to run away from difficulties and responsibilities. Becoming a cat, gives Barney the opportunity to find out how imperfect other people’s home lives are and learn to appreciate the good things about his own situation. In order to break the spell, Barney has to want his own life back but becoming human again means accepting an inevitable mixture of success and failure, hope and fear, happiness and sorrow.

Matt Haig is an author who has suffered from severe depression himself. He `wrote himself out of depression’ by creating stories about people who find reasons to go on living, however bleak things may seem. His books celebrate the often taken for granted pleasures of friendship and family life and the amazing capacity of humans to love one another. So, why read `To Be A Cat’, rather than Haig’s novels for older readers? For a start, the conventions of children’s fiction allow Haig to insert a delightful version of himself into the narrative. As `the author’  he addresses the reader directly  – `…stories aren’t always lies. They are things stored in all our imaginations’ – and keeps interrupting the story to point out the important bits, even though he has promised not to – `I’m not good with promises, they make me itchy’.

The book still has a strong plot (there’s a brilliant twist concerning the Terrorcat) and a fast pace. Children’s authors have to condense their ideas until they can be expressed in the very bones of the story and that often makes them come across more strongly. You can’t get away with sloppy story-telling when writing for children and you must never, ever be boring. Another thing you can’t get away with is sentimentality. Some people find Haig’s adult novels a bit sugary and sentimental. `To Be A Cat’ has a pleasing sharpness about it. The plot may be fantastical but the human and animal characters are presented with realistic flaws. Consequently there cannot be a simplistic family-reunited happy ending. `But that’s what life is like sometimes. It has bits of sadness in it, splinters in the happiness.’

If I still haven’t convinced you to try `To Be A Cat’, go to Haig’s excellent website ( and look at his `10 reasons why it is okay to read YA’. He makes a strong argument for the value of Children’s and Young Adult literature. Until next time…


P.S. I think I may have changed places with my Birman cat years ago. It explains a lot.




This week I’m recommending `A Hat Full of Sky’, a wise and sensitive novel by the king of Comic Fantasy, Terry Pratchett. If wise and sensitive aren’t words you associate with Terry  Pratchett, perhaps you haven’t read much (or any?) of his work. `A Hat Full of Sky’  (2004) is less well known than many of his Discworld novels because it was published as a children’s book. It is the second in a sequence of four novels about young witch, Tiffany Aching. The sequence began with `The Wee Free Men’ (2003) and the third and fourth books are `Wintersmith’ (2006) and `I Shall Wear Midnight’ (2010). They are all available in every possible format but the audio version of `A Hat Full of Sky’ read by Tony Robinson is particularly good. As a bonus there is now an album by folk-rock band Steeleye Span based on the Tiffany Aching novels. It’s called `Wintersmith’ (2013) and one of the tracks features Sir Terry talking about why witches shouldn’t cackle. (I’m so pleased that he got knighted for services to literature that I’m going to use his title throughout this review).

At the start of this novel, eleven-year old Tiffany leaves her beloved home in the Chalk hills to begin her training as a witch. There are several things about Tiffany that make her unusual even among young witches. She has already rescued two boys from the Queen of Fairyland and become the temporary Kelda (ruler) of the Chalk Clan of the Nac Mac Feegles, a host of boisterous blue pictsies. The Feegles continue to feel protective towards their `big wee Hag o’ the Hills’ and keep a constant watch over her. These feats have even impressed the formidable  Granny Weatherwax. Witches don’t have a leader and Granny Weatherwax is the leader they don’t have. Tiffany has some uncommon powers and one of these, the art of stepping outside of herself, attracts the attention of a hiver – an ancient group mind in search of a body. The chief Feegle, Rob Anybody, realizes that Tiffany is being followed by something dangerous but his wife, the new Kelda Jeannie, forbids him to go after her.

Tiffany has been assigned as an apprentice to a witch called Miss Level, who happens to have two identical bodies. In spite of this, Tiffany finds life with Miss Level rather dull. Most of her time is spent on ordinary household chores and on doing good to the local villagers. Tiffany was hoping for `serious witch stuff’ such as `guarding the world against evil forces in a noble yet modest way’ rather than clipping old men’s toenails and dealing with children with runny noses. Worse still, when she is invited to join a Circle of young witches, their bossy leader Annagramma dismisses Tiffany as an ignorant nobody. After Jeannie has a change of heart, Rob and the Feegles are sent to protect Tiffany but by the time they get there it’s too late. Tiffany has been taken over by the hiver, which makes her do some very uncharacteristic things. Miss Level, the Feegles, and Granny Weatherwax all help the young witch to fight the hiver, but in the end only Tiffany can deal with the monster in her head.

`A Hat Full of Sky’ is set in a very British part of  Discworld. Sir Terry has captured the bleak beauty and  magical strangeness of  the real English chalklands, with their extraordinary hill-carvings such as the famous White Horse of Uffington which `is not what a horse looks like, but what a horse be.’ Although this is Comic Fantasy the story is realistic about the harshness of agricultural life and Tiffany is a very convincing farmer’s daughter able to milk goats, make cheese and help deliver lambs. Younger readers will identify with Tiffany’s embarassments and crises in confidence as she tries to cope with her new life as an apprentice witch. Older readers shouldn’t be put off by the fact that the heroine is only eleven during this novel. Smart and ambitious Tiffany, with her three levels of thought and her mystical  link to the Chalk and its people, is an interesting character at any age. When she makes mistakes, the consequences are always going to be dramatic.

Writing for children, Sir Terry is equally inventive but rather more disciplined than in his adult novels. He sticks to telling a strong story about the central character and doesn’t just toss in anything that appeals to his rumbustious sense of humour. In `A Hat Full of Sky’ the  broad humour is mainly confined to the antics of the Feegles. These little blue men who love fighting, thieving and drinking, and are terrified of having to explain themselves to dominant females, are basically comedy Scotsmen. When I first  began reading this series I was determined not to laugh at the`Wee Free Men’. I failed. Perhaps it’s my Celtic blood, but I couldn’t help being charmed and amused  by these daft creatures and touched by their loyalty to Tiffany. Even this strand of the novel is given depth by the plight  of the Kelda Jeannie, who has had to leave her own family for ever to become the lone female voice of common sense among the wildly irresponsible Feegles.

One of my main reasons for choosing this particular novel is that it provides such a good introduction to Discworld’s witches. Sir Terry is famous for writing novels about wizards (starting with `The Colour of Magic’) but in my view his witches are more remarkable and appealing. If you are looking for an older woman as a role-model you could hardly do better than cunning Granny Weatherwax, a witch so tough that `when some vampires bit her they all started to crave tea and sweet biscuits’. The witches in `A Hat Full of Sky’ may be eccentric and gossipy and much more competitive than they pretend, but most of them are a force for good. Not Good with a capital  G as in some grandiose war between Good and Evil but good as in making a practical difference in ordinary people’s lives. Sir Terry has drawn on the traditional role of  the village `Wise Woman’, with her skills as a midwife and herbalist, and he is shrewd about why, even in our world, people still want to believe in magic.

There are some witches in the story, like awful Annagramma, who try to practise Magick with K and think it’s all about fancy spells, glittery amulets and dancing in circles but Granny Weatherwax shows Tiffany that `A witch deals with things’ and that `the soul and centre of witchcraft’ is healing the sick, comforting the dying and caring about people, including the stupid, mean and ungrateful ones. Tiffany must learn to help the apparently undeserving and to accept rewards that she doesn’t think that she deserves. A Discworld witch must take  responsibilty and show compassion. Oh, and wear a very tall pointy hat. I wish there were more witches like them in our world.  If I had a teenage daughter, I would strictly forbid her to read `A Hat Full of Sky’ – in the hope that she would immediately do so. Until next week…