Sarah Aching

From Discworld & Terry Pratchett Wiki
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Sarah "Granny" Aching (née Grizzel)
Name Sarah Grizzel Aching
Race Human
Age old
Occupation shepherd
Physical appearance
Residence The Chalk
Death ca. 1986 UC
Relatives Hannah and Fastidia Aching, and four other sisters (oldest grandaughters)
Tiffany Aching (youngest grandaughter)
Wentworth Aching (youngest grandson)
Children Joe Aching (son)
Marital Status
Books The Wee Free Men

Sarah "Granny" Aching (née Grizzel) would never have called herself a witch. She was a shepherd; not a shepherdess, either, they wore big puffy dresses in pale pink or blue with cute little bonnets and crooks with bows on them. Granny wore plain farm-worker's clothes, with a sack for a slicker if it rained; her crook would pull a big ram out of a mud-hole. No, she would say she was a shepherd. She took care of sheep, and The Chalk, where they grazed, and others who lived there, including the Nac Mac Feegle. She never wore a witch's hat or cloak around her shoulders - the sky was her hat, the wind her cloak.1 The Feegles knew she was a witch; she was their hag for many years. Other witches knew, including famous ones from Lancre, but Granny Aching lived out on The Chalk, with sheep and dogs and Feegles who didn't need the usual skills of a witch, and didn't talk about her, either. She could, of course, bring back lambs from the mostly-dead, and her Special Sheep Liniment was greatly prized by the locals and the Feegles. It may have rivalled Nanny Ogg's Scumble.

Most people thought she was a bit dour and solitary. Much of the time she lived in her little covered cart, which could be pulled wherever the sheep went, and even when others were around she wouldn't say much. She was, however, very fond of a few things: The Chalk, her fabulously efficient sheepdogs, Thunder and Lightning, Jolly Sailor pipe tobacco (Tiffany often remembers Granny Aching whenever she smells "Jolly Sailor" tobacco) and her little granddaughter, Tiffany. She called Tiffany "little jiggit" (twenty in the old sheep-counting language left behind by some wandering Überwaldean shepherds), because Tiffany was her twentieth grandchild. Sarah Aching died when Tiffany was seven, ca. 1986 UC.

Perspicacia Tick, travelling witch and expert, initially didn't believe that a witch could be found on The Chalk, because they came mostly from the mountains: craggy, hard-rock places like Lancre. That was because she had just met Tiffany, and never met Sarah. Granny Weatherwax knew that within the soft chalk there were lumps of flint, the hardest and sharpest of stone, and on its turf, some of the harder and sharper witches.

Granny Aching and Tiffany

The dying Kelda of the Nac Mac Feegle told Tiffany that her granny had been the hag, the witch that guards the edges and gateways, though she wouldn't ever have called herself one. Witches from Lancre like Granny Weatherwax recognized her immediately when they heard about her. Tiffany learned something about witches from the harrying of old Mrs Snapperly, but she took in something absolutely fundamental from her experience of Granny Aching. Granny Weatherwax said to Tiffany, "You are a witch to your boots." And, "...there's little I can teach you that you don't already know. You just don't know you know it, and you'll spend the rest of your life learning what's already in your bones." If Tiffany was a witch, a lot of it was down to Granny Aching.

We only know Granny Aching through the memories of Tiffany as a little girl. But Granny Aching was a little girl once too, the Sarah Grizzel who coloured in the drawings in The Flowers of the Chalk. And she married, and had enough children to provide at least 20 grand-children while she was alive. Perhaps when her husband died she passed the farm on to Tiffany's father, and went up onto the Downs with the flocks, into a world with fewer words, unless you count the occasional swearing at a sheep for its own good. She probably never was a very talkative person, but up there she seldom said more than a sentence, and most sentences were about sheep. As far as appearances went, she was virtually a bag-lady, wearing a sack against the weather if need be.

But she did not withdraw from the world. People knew Granny Aching was around, and it often made them think twice about doing some things. At the sheepdog trials, the competitors knew they would be no competition if she raised a finger. In fact, the judges watched her as much as the competitors, and if her judgement on a shepherd was, "That'll do", it was enough to make a man, and meant more to them than any prize that mere judges could award. She helped people in her own way. One day she helped the Baron, who humbled himself to ask her to save his favourite hound which had been caught killing a sheep, and was by law a dead dog. She put the dog in a situation which cured it of ever wanting to be near a sheep again. On another day, when the Baron was sitting in judgement on a case where village people wanted a confused girl heavily punished and it would have been easy to go with the public mood, the presence of her two sheepdogs in the hall helped him think of a better way, which involved people making a bit more time for the girl. When Tiffany was asked about Granny Aching, she said that she made people help each other, she made them help themselves.

While she was alive, shepherds would seek out Granny Aching to get help for sick sheep. After her death, they sometimes used to leave packets of Jolly Sailor tobacco where her hut used to be, with a wish. The Feegles dealt with the tobacco end of the business (after allowing a decent period for her to take it if she wished).

Tiffany got on better with her granny than her elder sisters did, who chattered a lot. Tiffany didn't make noise when she was up at the hut. She would watch the buzzards, and listen to the silence. It wasn't that there was no noise on the Downs. Sounds drifted up from the farmyards, there was the wind, and the sheep, but they made the silence more intense. It was always busy on the farm; no time to listen. Here Granny Aching listened all the time.

At times in her adventures when Tiffany was pushed to the limit, in real danger, she found she was helped by Granny Aching and her dogs. In the dream world of the Queen of the Fairies, the image of Granny Aching, strangely blended with the china shepherdess Tiffany had once given her, helped wake Tiffany up. When Tiffany was besieged by the Hiver in her own mind, the combined smell of turpentine, sheep's wool, and Jolly Sailor tobacco helped her find a self the Hiver could not touch or resist. When Tiffany could not run from the Wintersmith any more, and chose to act to save the sheep and her brother from the snow, she went out saying, "Thunder on my right hand, Lightning in my left hand," the names of Granny Aching's unmatchable dogs. Whether it was Granny Aching as such, or the memory of Granny Aching in her, it was something that touched her to the core.

1 This is not to suggest that she went skyclad. Not a chance.


The sheep-counting language is still used on Roundworld and may be heard to this day on the English-Scottish border. It is thought to be a relic of the old Celtic language spoken before the advent and linguistic dominance of English (even today, Welsh and the Gaelic languages have a "default setting" where the favoured number-base is multiples of twenty, although both languages have also "decimalised" to suit the needs of modern Europe).

Other interesting stations on the way to "jiggit" (20) are bumfit (15) and dock (10). The nursery rhyme "hickory dickory dock" also preserves the old numbers - in this case, eight, nine and ten.