The Nac Mac Feegles (also known as Pictsies (which is a combination of the word Picts and Pixies), the Wee Free Men (The 'Wee Frees' is a name given to the Free Church of Scotland.), the Little Men, and 'Person or Persons Unknown, Believed to be Armed') are a type of fairy appearing in Terry Pratchett's Discworld novels Carpe Jugulum, The Wee Free Men, A Hat Full of Sky, Wintersmith, I Shall Wear Midnight and The Shepherd's Crown.
They are six inches tall and are a parody of the Victorian concept of mystical and refined fairies, inverting everything about that genre and harkening back to the fairies of folklore, who were generally seen as occasionally helpful thieves and pests. Pixies also are traditional fairy folk of the west country of England of which Somerset where Pratchett lived for many years is a part. Many Story threads of the Discworld fairy lore have some of there roots in the traditional fairy lore stories of the west country.
The Nac Mac Feegles' skin appears blue because it is heavily tattooed and covered with paint, and all have red hair. The tattoos identify a Feegle's clan. Wings or similar features of any kind are out of the question. Their blue appearance, bearded leader and dramatically skewed sex ratio is obviously a parody of the Smurfs. Pratchett has said that they are "like tiny little Scottish Smurfs who have seen Braveheart altogether too many times." They talk what can only be described as some sort of variation on the Scots language, usually Glaswegian in the clans encountered so far, although William the Gonnagle (from a different clan) has a softer, Highland accent. They are notably strong and resilient, which comes in handy given that male Feegles (almost all of them) tend to be notoriously rowdy as a lifestyle.
The Feegles spend their time drinking, fighting and stealing, alone or in various combinations. The immense strength and rowdiness of these pictsies means that they will fight anything, and they have a particular fondness for headbutting creatures far larger than themselves. In a good fight, a Feegle will take on all comers, fight his fellow Feegles, with such enthusiasm that makes missing someone hazardous ("Crivens! I kicked meself in ma ain heid!").
Some clans have an apparently superstitious fear of their names being written lest their names appear on unwelcome legal documents. Some of the upland clans have mastered the concept of law as a weapon however, and note that it is a good idea "neever te sign a feegle contract; six inch high people write verra small print". Beware the cry, "We've got a cheap lawyer an' we're not afraid to use him!" Their swords glow blue in the presence of lawyers.
See also: Gnomes (Discworld)
History[edit | edit source]
According to their own history, the Nac Mac Feegle rebelled against the wicked rule of the (or possibly "a") Queen, or Quin, of the Fairies, and were therefore exiled from Fairyland. According to everyone else (including the Nac Mac Feegle themselves if they forget this story) they were kicked out for causing fights and being drunk at two in the afternoon.
The Nac Mac Feegle have an innate ability to cross dimensions, which they call "the crawstep". There appears to be no limit on what worlds they can cross into like this, including worlds that exist only in a person's imagination (although they can't use it to travel within a world - for this, they assure people, they have "feets"). The Nac Mac Feegle take pride in being able to get into, or out of, anywhere (although getting out of pubs presents something of a difficulty). In A Hat Full of Sky, they claim "the crawstep" is "all in the ankle, ye ken".
The Ramtops have many legends about the Nac Mac Feegle. One, similar to the legend of Wayland's Smithy, says that if you leave sixpence and an unshod horse at a certain Feegle cairn overnight, then in the morning the coin will be gone, and you'll never see your horse again, either. Another says that if you leave a saucer of milk out for the pictsies they'll break into your house and take everything in the drinks cabinet.
Social structure[edit | edit source]
Nac Mac Feegles possess a eusocial culture similar to bees, termites and other social insects. The clan is made up of hundreds of brothers, and one mother, called a kelda, who plays the role of the "queen". When a Clan's kelda dies, another is imported from a different clan. The new kelda chooses her husband, known as the Big Man, from among her adopted Clan when she arrives, and soon begins the lifelong task of begetting the next generation, often up to twenty tiny baby Feegles at a time. Depending on how long the kelda has been kelda, the majority of the tribe will either be her brothers-in-law (i.e., the sons of the previous kelda) or her sons. Daughters are very rare and, on coming of age, leave to become kelda of another tribe, taking some brothers, probably including a gonnagle (see below) with her. Young keldas are slim, but older keldas are virtually spherical. They also enjoy the odd nip of Special Sheep Liniment (which on no account should ever be given to sheep).
The role of the kelda is, essentially, to do the thinking. The Big Man is responsible for commanding his fellow Feegles and trying to maintain some semblance of order, but in truth the kelda decides what will be done and the Big Man works out the fine (for a Feegle's plans) details--although no Big Man shown so far would go on a serious expedition and not bring along the clan gonnagle (who tend to be much brighter than the other Feegles and have a fund of lore, stories, and ideas they can draw upon). Male Feegles are in dread of losing their kelda because there will be no one 'tae take care o' us'. To help her with this, she is given, before leaving her birth clan, a bottle of water from her mother's leather cauldron - which, of course, contains some of the water from her mother's cauldron, and so on. Theoretically (and on the Discworld theories of this nature tend to work, even if they aren't actually right, owing to narrative causality), the bottle contains water from the cauldrons of Nac Mac Feegle keldas since before history. By mixing a little of the water into her own cauldron, and drinking the result, the kelda can connect with the memories of those who have gone before her - and, more mysteriously, with those who are yet to come.
The males of the clan don't question this, accepting that keldaring is full of secrets (hiddlins) they aren't expected to understand. They are warriors, hunters, and foragers; Nac Mac Feegle foraging consists of taking anything that isn't nailed down (if it is nailed down, they will take the nails as well), up to and including quite large cows if enough foragers can be gathered to do the lifting (given their strength, one for each hoof). If one were to see a sheep rise off the ground six inches and move backward rapidly, four Feegles are sure to be responsible.
Among the warriors of each clan is a gonnagle, or war-poet, whose job is to create terrible poetry that is recited during battles to demoralise the enemy (see William McGonagall). A well-trained gonnagle can even make the enemy's ears explode and is equipped with "mousepipes" (bagpipes made from mouseskin, often with the ears still attached). In "A Hat Full of Sky" the gonnagle Awf'lly Wee Billy Bigchin can play the mousepipes so sadly that it will start to rain outside. A gonnagle tends to be somewhat more intelligent and level-headed than most Feegles, and often acts as advisor to the Big Man. Some of them travel from clan to clan, making sure the old songs and stories are still remembered and sharing the new ones.
Culture and beliefs[edit | edit source]
Despite their criminal tendencies, the Nac Mac Feegle do possess a sense of honour. They see no sport in fighting the weak. They may take one cow from a man with a herd of fifty; however, they will not steal an old woman's only pig, or an old man's only pair of false teeth. They claim it was difference of opinion over when to stop stealing that led to their exile by the Queen of the Elves.
The Nac Mac Feegle language is a mix of Morporkian (English) and the Glaswegian dialect: "Crivens! Whut aboot us, ye daftie". In Carpe Jugulum, their speech is almost undecipherable and has to be translated by Nanny Ogg; however by the time they meet Tiffany Aching, they are (somewhat) more understandable to "big-jobs". See the "Sayings" section below.
Nac Mac Feegle tend to have human names, usually abbreviated and with some sort of modifier (Rob Anybody, Daft Wullie, Big Aggie, No'-as-big-as-Medium-Sized-Jock-but-bigger-than-Wee-Jock Jock).
The Nac Mac Feegle clans that have appeared in the books are the Long Lake Clan, who settled in Lancre in Carpe Jugulum (but weren't named until A Hat Full of Sky) and the Chalk Hill Clan who feature in the Tiffany Aching books. The Chalk Hill Clan had, until the arrival of a new kelda (Jeannie) from Long Lake, a superstition that anything written down could be used against you in a court of law, and each of them carried swords that glowed blue in the presence of lawyers. The Long Lake Clan have similar superstitions about writing and lawyers, but believe it's possible to beat them at their own game and are famed for their "verra com-plic-at-ed documents".
Nac Mac Feegle clans tend to occupy ancient burial mounds. They avoid "bigjobs" (humans) if at all possible, as they are worried this might lead to folklorists and archeologists invading their privacy and writing things down. Since they can move about ten times faster than a human, they find it easy to go unseen when they wish to do so.
The Nac Mac Feegle males treat witches with a nervous mix of fear and respect. All witches, regardless of age, are called 'hags'. A very important witch, such as Granny Weatherwax, is acknowledged as the 'hag o' hags'. Feegles seem to know enough about witches to spot and respect a good one, and just as they accept their keldas know things they do not, they are willing to believe that "the haggin'" has its own secrets. They comically dread witches who know about them, with large amounts of dread being reserved for 'the crossin' o' the arms' and the 'tappin' o' the feets' and one witch nearly panicking them when she began to harangue them in their own dialect, which they called 'the knowin' of the speakin'.
The fearlessness of Nac Mac Feegle warriors in combat is derived from their religious belief that they cannot be killed, because they are already dead; they believe that they are in the afterlife, and that any Feegle who is killed has simply been reincarnated. They reason that Discworld, with the sunshine, flowers, birds, trees, things to steal and people to fight, must be some sort of heaven, because a world that good couldn't be open to just anybody. Despite carrying swords, their preferred weapons are the boot and the head; this results in most Feegles' noses being broken.
Known Feegles[edit | edit source]
- Big Aggie: The kelda of the Long Lake clan in Carpe Jugulum. Presumably the mother of Jeannie.
- Rob Anybody: He is the Big Man of the Chalk clan and is married to Jeannie of the Long Lake clan. He was briefly engaged to Tiffany Aching who was temporarily the kelda of the clan. He learned to read at the insistence of his wife and is determined to see his sons better at it than he is. He once attacked Death by headbutting him, to Death's annoyance (Death picked Rob out of his hood and asked Tiffany "IS THIS YOURS?"). He is likely inspired by Rob Roy McGregor combined with a Mel Gibson styled William Wallace, both famous Scottish heroes.
- Jeannie: The current kelda of the Chalk clan is originally from the Long Lake clan. She is married to Rob Anybody. Initially she has mixed feelings about Tiffany Aching as she is jealous of her 'relationship' with Rob. Eventually she realizes that Tiffany is not a threat to her and Rob's relationship and accepts her as 'their hag'.
- Fion: ill-tempered only female of the Chalk clan. Now a kelda of another clan.
- Daft Wullie : Not too bright, but a good feegle and champion stealer nonetheless. Only ever said the Right Thing once in his lifetime, before having said just the wrong thing on many occasions. Has an affectionate relationship with Horace the Cheese, adopting him as a kind of pet. Daft Wullie may be inspired by Oor Wullie, the character in the Sunday Post newspaper in Dundee Scotland; created by Thomson editor R. D. Low and drawn by cartoonist Dudley D. Watkins, the strip first appeared 1936.
- Big Yan: He is the mighty warrior of the Chalk clan who, at a height of 7 inches, is notably taller than most of the other Feegles. He is less trusting than the rest and is suspicious of everybody. Big Yan!'" is a reference to Glaswegian comedian Billy Connolly who is known as "The Big Yin". Yan in the 'Yan, Tan, Tethera counting system meaning "one".
- Awfully Wee Billy Bigchin: He came with Jeannie from the Long Lake clan and is the new gonnagle for the Chalk clan. He is notably smaller than many of the other Feegles, partly because he's just young and partly because he's just short. When Miss Level remarks how short he is, A Hat Full of Sky, he replies, "Only fra my height, Mistress." Like all members of the Long Lake clan, he can read and write and is also the thinker of the bunch.
- Hamish: He is a Feegle that flies on the back of a buzzard (named Morag) with a pair of Tiffany Aching's underpants as a parachute
- William the Gonnagle: He was the clan gonnagle in Wee Free Men before his retirement.
- No'-As-Big-As-Medium-Sized-Jock-But-Bigger-than-Wee-Jock Jock: He was the gonnagle-in-training of the Chalk clan for a time, before following Fion to her new clan.
- Wee Dangerous Spike: Is a young and inexperienced Feegle who does his first crawstep in Wintersmith.
- Horace the Cheese: He is a large, ambulatory Lancre Blue cheese, made by Tiffany. Horace was made a member of the Chalk Clan in Wintersmith and now sports their tartan. At one point, he attempts to sing Row, Row, Row Your Boat along with the Feegles, but, being a cheese, all he can manage to sing is, "Mnamnamnam". He likes to eat mice.
- Nearly Big Angus: Another Feegle, introduced in A Hat Full of Sky.
- Not-totally-wee-Georgie: Seen in Wee Free Men.
- Wee Bobby: Also seen in Wee Free Men.
- Slightly Sane Georgie: First appeared in A Hat Full of Sky, no details known, apart from the fact that he may be mostly insane.
- The Toad: A talking, intelligent toad, onetime witch's familiar and former lawyer. He achieved his present state after taking a case against a particularly unforgiving fairy godmother who had a problem with her spells differentiating between 'frog' and 'toad', Initially he is the familiar of Miss Tick but since then he has taken up residence in the Clan's barrow and gives advice on legal and other civilised matters in exchange for shelter and flies. Noted on how dangerous it is to give a clan of Feegles their own lawyer...
Sayings[edit | edit source]
- Ta' can onlie be one t'ousan! (Highlander)
- Waily, waily, waily!
- Nac Mac Feegle wha hae! (Scots Wha Hae by Robert Burns)
- They can tak' oour lives but they cannae tak' oour troousers! (see Braveheart)
- Ye'll tak' the high road an' I'll tak' yer wallet! (Loch Lomond)
- Nae king! Nae quin! Nae laird! Nae master! We willnae be fooled again! (Won't Get Fooled Again by The Who)
- Ach, stick it up yer trakkans! (trakkans appears to come from the game World of Warcraft meaning elf.
- Gie you sich a kickin'!
- They've got oour names! It's the pris'n hoose for us!
- Hey, youse scunners, we got a cheap lawyer and we no' afraid tae use him wi' prejudice!
- I could murrder a kebab!
- Ach, here's a headful o' dandruff for ye, ye bogle! (Usually followed by a direct headbutt) (bogle is a ghost)
- Bigjobs! (that is, humans)
- Lovely sunshine, good huntin', nice pretty flowers, and wee burdies goin' cheep!
- Crivens! I kicked meself in ma ain heid!
- Big wee hag (Tiffany Aching)
- The Hag O' Hags (Granny Weatherwax)
- Hey, pal, can yer mammie sew? Stitch this!
- "Gae awa' wi' ye, yer bogle" meaning get away you ghost or spirit.
- Yan, tan, TETHRA! (One, two, THREE!)
- 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 estate (a Housing Scheme) built as replacement for slums, but rapidly becoming slums themselves.
The battle cries of a charging Feegle army can be rather intimidating. They're so highly individualistic, they all scream out different things.
Possible Influences[edit | edit source]
- The Feegles' swords, which glow in the presence of lawyers, are a parody of the elf-made swords in J. R. R. Tolkien's Middle-earth legendarium that glow in the presence of Orcs and Goblins.
- "There can only be whin t'oosand!" ("There can only be one thousand!") is a parody of Highlander's "There can be only one!", and a common joke that its original motto was made meaningless by the fact that there were sequels, and later a television series.
- "Nae King! Nae quin! Nae Laird! Nae master! We willna' be fooled agin!" includes a reference to Won't Get Fooled Again by The Who, which features the line, "Meet the new boss, Same as the old boss". There is also the flavour of James I and "No Bishop, No King".
- "Nac Mac Feegle wha hae!" is a parody of Robert Burns's line "Scots wha hae!" , which was supposedly the opening line of Robert the Bruce's address to his men at Bannockburn in 1314 (although this is highly unlikely). The original stanza is "Scots, wha hae wi' Wallace bled, Scots, wham Bruce has aften led, Welcome tae your gory bed, Or tae Victorie!" However the short phrase is also a generic Scottish battle-cry, probably eliding to "Scots Wha-hey" - more-or-less "Scots, get on with it"
- "They can tak' oour lives but they cannae tak' oour troousers!" is a parody of Mel Gibson's famous cry in Braveheart: "They can take our lives, but they'll never take our freedom!", mixed with the Scottish traditional song "Donald where's your trousers" (featuring the line "You cannae tak’ the breeks aff a Hielan’ man" - that's because Highland men don't wear "breeks", or britches). Pratchett has a certain disregard for Gibson's phrase - calling it in Night Watch the most ill-conceived battle cry ever said.
- "Ye'll tak' the high road an' I'll tak' yer wallet!" references the old Scottish folksong "You'll take the high road and I'll take the low road/and I'll get to Scotland afore ye/ for me and my true love will never meet again/on the bonnie bonnie banks of Loch Lomond." The song itself refers to a Jacobite soldier who is killed in battle: the 'Low Road' was the path taken by the dead.
- The most obscure Feegle battlecry "Bang went saxpence!" is the punchline of a cartoon in a 19th century edition Punch, about the alleged meanness of Scots.
- The power of the gonnagle is a reference to that attributed to poets in Gaelic culture, the most recent being Blind Rafferty who allegedly cursed an infestation of rats to death with a poem after they ate his dinner.
- William the Gonnagle is a reference to the poet William McGonagall. The poem recited by Not-As-Big-As-Medium-Sized-Jock-But-Bigger-than-Wee-Jock-Jock to repel the flying fairies in The Wee Free Men is closely based on McGonagall's style.
Movie[edit | edit source]
In January 2006, it was revealed that director Sam Raimi has signed up to make a movie based on the novel The Wee Free Men. No other details have been released about the movie adaptation except perhaps that Bruce Campbell is planned as Rob Anybody Feegle and possibly others as well.
[edit | edit source]
And the Shepherd's crown the last diskworld novel by Terry Pratchett