In the tenth chapter of The Wee Free Men, I 100% did not need to see an illustration of that nightmare, and yet HERE WE ARE. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Discworld.
It’s just now hitting me how much of the Queen’s realm relies on contrasts. As I started writing this review, I was prepared to wax poetically about summer and how much I love the heat (a love that has only been strengthened by this unending, godawful winter here in New York), only to realize… it’s fucking winter in this book. THIS IS ALL HAPPENING IN THE WINTER. This heat is a trick. I mean, yes, EVERYTHING in this world is a trick, but I’m fascinated by the idea of foils, of opposites. Pratchett highlights those disparities, and Stephen Player dropkicks me into the stratosphere, which… I’ll get to that.
So let’s talk about that contrast. Tiffany is pushed through another dream portal, and this time, she’s in a world where it’s hot and searing, where the Queen has twisted an image found in an old book that Tiffany once had, Faerie Tales. (And I love that Roland later reveals that this isn’t from Tiffany’s head, but rather something that other people had dreamed of. I love the notion of shared dream topics!) Everything is wrong, and I was fine just letting my imagination run wild, but this chapter in particular is WAY TOO FULL OF STEPHEN PLAYER’S NIGHTMARISH ILLUSTRATIONS! I almost wish he was bad at his craft because then these drawings wouldn’t burrow inside my brain and HAUNT ME FOREVER. Like… holy shit, everything is just so wrong in the illustration of this Faerie Tales image??? But that’s truly what makes this edition so amazing. Pratchett toys with that idea of wrongness—something being just a few degrees “off” from reality—and then Player gives us a visual representation of that horror.
Thus, we’ve got this sense that Tiffany is truly an outsider, but she is in a world of outsiders. No one fits in here, and they’re never supposed to. How many of these creatures or beings—at least those that aren’t dream manifestations—were stolen from other worlds? Were kidnapped? Got lost along the way and never found their way home? How do they find ways to survive?
I am horrified by the answer to that question, and leave it to Pratchett to find quiet ways to DEEPLY UNSETTLE ME. Tiffany’s conversation with Roland about the Queen’s world was a brilliant means of providing us with necessary exposition, but it also contains perhaps one of the most disturbing things in the whole book:
“[Sneebs’s] been here for years. That’s how I knew about the time being wrong. Sneebs got back to his own world once, and it was all different. He was so miserable, he found another doorway and came straight back.”
This comes in the midst of Roland telling the story of how he got trapped in this world. And while I got the sense that Roland did want to return, there’s still this unspoken fear of his that too much time has passed, and he won’t fit in. It’s that same theme again: who belongs? Who is allowed to belong? Tiffany struggled with this very notion long before she even knew who the Queen was! So there are ripples of that same conflict that manifest differently based on the situation. And that’s how Sneebs exists: he’s somewhere who would rather not belong in a strange world than be in one where he used to belong.
I’M FUCKED UP BY THIS.
And then there’s the Queen, who finally makes her dreaded appearance in the book, and HOLY SHIT, TIFFANY IS SO AMAZING HERE. She had to experience EVERYTHING she went through before she faced her, and I’m LOSING IT. She came prepared, and even though the Queen is terrifying and still in control, I am in awe of how Tiffany is able to make an impression on the Queen, to show her that she is not who the Queen thinks she is. Of everything she does, though, it’s the way Tiffany cuts through the mask and the façade that impressed me the most. The Queen is obsessed with appearances, and you can see it in the way she speaks of Tiffany’s brother. She cares more about how words sound than what they mean. For example: she nitpicks Tiffany and tries to say that no one “owns” Wentworth, when it’s obvious that’s not what Tiffany meant. Then there’s this:
“Such rudeness, and you hardly know me,” she said…
Which is such a devious little play at respectability and control. She tries to make it reasonable to be spoken to with care and politeness, despite that she KIDNAPPED A LITERAL CHILD. Free advice for all of you: NEVER TRUST PEOPLE WHO DO YOU WRONG, WHO COMMIT ACTS OF VIOLENCE AND HATRED, AND THEN DEMAND THAT YOU BE RESPECTFUL ABOUT IT. They just want to control the situation they caused, and they certainly have no actual interest in the concept of respect. The Queen is obsessed with suffering and cruelty, and so I certainly do not feel at all bothered that Tiffany insulted her. Good. For. Her. Beat the Queen at her own game by reminding her that the world she has assembled isn’t real. Her appearance isn’t real. And in the end, her control over everything won’t be real, either.
THIS SHOWDOWN IS GONNA BE GREAT, Y’ALL.
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