The Witch’s Vacuum Cleaner is the second volume of short stories for children written by the young Terry Pratchett, following the release of Dragons At Crumbling Castle in 2015. The stories were edited and prepared by Pratchett shortly before his death, and the book includes an introduction from him that must be one of the last things he wrote.
Like the first volume, this book is illustrated throughout by Mark Beech, whose style is clearly influenced by Quentin Blake’s work, especially his work on Roald Dahl’s books – it work very well here, immediately signalling the tone and style of the stories to the reader. His portrait of a waving Pratchett for the Introduction is particularly nice, and his interpretation of a small man in a big black hat is also, touchingly, distinctly Terry-like.
The text is enhanced in places by having certain words printed in larger or smaller type, or a different font, to emphasise their meaning; for example “bang!” is written in large, bold letters and takes up a whole line, while “shriek” starts small and the letters get bigger throughout the word. This is a fun touch that brightens up the text and makes the book look appealing, though it might cause some who have trouble with reading to struggle a little.
Juvenilia by famous authors can vary a bit in quality, but one of the nice things about these stories is that they were written by a young man, for even younger people (and edited by the older Sir Terry as well). Most of the stories are relatively timeless or are clearly set in the past, so young readers will be able to enjoy them easily – one story, for example, makes a brief reference to this being ‘the twenty-first century’, despite the distinct absence of mobile phones or laptops, wile adult readers might notice. One story, due to the nature of the plot, is firmly set in the 1970s and also includes a couple of historical (rather than joke-based) footnotes and may confuse younger readers slightly, but no more so than reading Philippa Pearce’s classic Tom’s Midnight Garden, which has a similar issue.
Regardless of the age of the author or intended audience, these stories are as funny, magical and whimsical as any of Pratchett’s work. There are a few stories set in the mysterious town of Blackbury, and several in the Wild Welsh town of Llandanffwnfafegettupagogo, home of the fastest truncheon in the West and a delightful addition to the little-known “amusing takes on Wales” subgenre (also including the works of Jasper Fforde and Malcolm Pryce). There are truly enchanting tales of dancing statues and visits to magical places in another realm of existence and several delicate touches of romance, not enough to put off young readers but enough to warm the hearts of older ones.
The book is certainly a must-have for dedicated Pratchett fans. The collection is wrapped up with ‘Rincemangle, The Gnome of Even Moor’ the short story that later became the basis of Pratchett’s novel Truckers, and there are other hints of stories to come scattered throughout (in the name ‘Rincemangle’, for a start). Many of his trademarks are here, including a few pop culture references that might go over young readers’ heads but which older readers will appreciate. This book is not just for Pratchett fans, nor just for children though. These short, light, bright stories will appeal to anyone with a sense of humour and an appreciation for whimsy, and would probably be a good introduction to Pratchett and his work for adults who are unfamiliar, as well as children. Thoroughly recommended.
The Witch’s Vacuum Cleaner And Other Stories was published on Thursday the 25th of August.