Love enough to break a heart

Terry Pratchett just gets better. I’ve always loved the Discworld books (except the first two; they’re okay, but not up to the standards of storytelling of the later ones). The stories are so imaginative that it’s easy to forgive a few places with sloppy point of view or a climax that drags a little.

I think one of the reasons his books work so well is that you have to suspend so much disbelief that it leaves you open for unexpectedly touching moments or drama that, if you’d consider it outside of the Discworld context, would be clumsy. “Reaper Man” and “Soul Music“, for instance, are surprisingly moving stories.

The third Tiffany Aching book, Wintersmith, is probably the best I’ve ever seen him write. Even if it is in the teen section. While it might be being marketed as young adult, that seems due to its thirteen-year-old heroine rather than any attempt to write down to a junior market. There’s still plenty of boozing, innuendo (“Is this about sex?” Tiffany asks Nanny Ogg) and musings on what the Nac Mac Feegle wear under their kilts. If Nanny doesn’t add any verses to “The hedgehog can never be buggered”, well, she hasn’t done that in a while.

What do you need to make a man?

Iron enough to make a nail,
Lime enough to paint a wall,
Water enough to drown a dog,
Sulfur enough to stop the fleas,
Poison enough to kill a cow,
Potash enough to wash a shirt,
Gold enough to buy a bean,
Silver enough to coat a pin,
Lead enough to ballast a bird,
Phosphor enough to light the town,

Strength enough to build a home,
Time enough to hold a child,
Love enough to break a heart.


  1. Leta
    Posted November 11, 2008 at 10:44 am | Permalink

    Hey there.
    I was running a search for the “How do you make a man” rhyme, and your site cropped up. It was surprisingly frustrating to find that rhyme!
    I read Terry Pratchett, too (obviously), and I think you’re exactly right about the suspension of disbelief and the unexpected, sparkling heartbreak that slips in.
    It’s difficult to articulate to people how good the books are – the fantasy element seems to turn people off; I always stumble over trying to emphasize the humor and satire, and the forgiving parody of the iniquities and kindnesses of human behavior.
    Reaper Man is very moving, as is Night Watch (one of my hands down favorites).
    If you haven’t read it yet, The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents (also marketed to a younger crowd) is equally excellent.
    Here’s to a fellow Discworld enthusiast.

  2. iain
    Posted November 11, 2008 at 11:02 am | Permalink

    Oh, I’ve read them all, and I hope that he still has a couple left to write. Alzheimer’s is terrible for anyone, but for someone who loves words like Pratchett does, it must be heartbreaking.

    I searched for the poem, too, and couldn’t find it, so I ended up keying it in. Like so much of his writing it’s simple, somewhat silly, and (in my opinion) quite moving.

  3. n nomad
    Posted November 29, 2010 at 5:22 pm | Permalink

    Wow. thanks for posting this wondrous peom/verse/chant/skipping rhyme. I want to memorize it by heart. By any definition it is a really cool work of writing. I deeply enjoy this series, especially hearing them narrated/acted by the phenomenal and hilarious Stephen Briggs on Harper audiobook editions. He truly brings the characters to life and their worlds’ imaginary dimension to another level. Total listening pleasure!

  4. Jack Cox
    Posted April 10, 2012 at 6:00 pm | Permalink

    Cheers for posting this. I’m just 18 and the Tiffany achin books are the the first books (well wee free men) that I have properly enjoyed reading. I’m on winter smith at the moment and have just read tr bit about the children describing what makes a man and was fascinated to find the actual poem. So glad I found it in the end, just searching “what makes a man” is no help at all in the en I just posted a quote. Terry Prattchet is an amazing writer it’s suh a shame what he is going through just a shame it couldn’t have been my lifetime that he was writing through. I’m just glad I have all his books to look forward too.

  5. iain
    Posted April 19, 2012 at 12:57 pm | Permalink

    Yes, it’s heartbreaking to think what he’s going through, now. For someone who has always used his imagination to find his thinking processes are deteriorating must be terrible. Yet he’s still writing, and still writing *well.*

    This poem remains one of my favorite passages.

  6. Paul
    Posted December 1, 2014 at 7:23 pm | Permalink

    If you haven’t heard it try looking on youtube for Steeleye Span, ‘Wintersmith’.

    They did a CD of music based on the book, in collaboration with Terry Pritchett, and used the rhyme as one of the songs on the CD.

  7. iain
    Posted December 2, 2014 at 9:18 am | Permalink

    Oh, wow, I did not know that. I love Steeleye Span – hadn’t heard them in years until I bought “Storm Force 10” last year just to re-listen to “The Black Freighter”. I definitely need this album. Thanks!

  8. Posted July 3, 2016 at 10:39 pm | Permalink

    The Steeleye Span song, taken from the poem, is utterly wonderful. Chokes me up every time I listen to the Wintersmith album.

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