In the first part of the fourth chapter of A Hat Full of Sky, the Feegles plan to help Tiffany, and Tiffany learns more about the responsibilities of a witch. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Discworld.
Oh my god, there is no way this isn’t going to be a disaster. Oh, the Feegle will probably succeed in some strange, roundabout way, but I am already picturing how badly the Feegle are going to re-create a scarecrow (or, rather, a tattie-bogle, according to Awf’ly Wee Billy Bigchin Mac Feegle), and… it’s gonna be bad. They’ve never seen one, have they? If they’ve never seen one, how the fuck are they gonna make one that can act as a disguise or a deterrent? Oh god, it’ll look like a MONSTER, won’t it? Well, that’ll get humans out of their way, won’t it? Right? Oh my god, y’all, this is surely going to be one of the most hilarious and unsettling things in the whole book, and I still have no clue how it’ll manifest. I’M READY.
I don’t think this book contradicts anything we’ve seen in the Witches book about what exactly constitutes witchcraft; if anything, it just adds to our collective knowledge of it by showing a more specific version of it. Indeed, the Granny, Nanny, Magrat, and Agnes all have done variations of what Miss Level describes here: filling what’s empty and emptying what’s full. We’ve gotten so many scenes of the witches helping the people of the Ramtops and Lancre, and as far away as Genua. Here, Miss Level’s reach is much smaller, and while there are villages and “isolated farms” nearby, she’s got a routine that allows her to see the same people every day.
But the main takeaway that Tiffany has at first is that being a witch is still not what she thought it was. Once more, we see how a character struggles with the notion of witchcraft and magic, believing the two to be so intertwined in a “traditional” sense that they don’t see witches’ behavior as magical. On top of that, Tiffany also had trouble with how Miss Level worked because she didn’t ever get “paid” for what she did. This is where Miss Level felt most magical to me, though, because the system she has worked out involves what basically amounts to a bartering system with a lite dose of socialism. (Sort of, and I know I’m butchering the concept, but it’s kinda there.) She believes, at heart, that everyone deserves help, that no people should suffer, that basic needs should be met regardless of how mean, “unworthy,” or uncaring a person is. So, often, she is doing thankless work, or at least thankless in the immediacy of the moment. Because the people she helps, often enough, return to fill up her emptiness with gifts, food, services… it’s a mutual system.
And what happens if Miss Level gets too much?
“What do you do with all that food?”
“Store it,” said Miss Level.
“I store it in other people. It’s amazing what you can store in other people.” Miss Level laughed at Tiffany’s expression. “I mean, I take what I don’t need around to those who don’t have a pig, or who’re going through a bad patch, or who don’t have anyone to remember them.”
Look, I get why that’s hard for Tiffany to understand. I feel like most of us would balk at this because we are, usually, the people who need filling up, rather than those who can do the filling. It’s hard to think of how you can help others when you so badly need to help yourself, you know? Which isn’t to say that Tiffany is spoiled or that she can’t comprehend a system of exchange like this; it’s just different. We all know Tiffany is a fast learner, so I suspect she’ll adapt to this quickly. But I just wanted to say that I found this beautiful, and I truly believe that our world would be better if we could approach our lives and the lives of others like this.
It’s also important to note that one of the ways Miss Level helps Tiffany approach this issue is through invoking Granny Aching. Again, I think that each witch has their own special way of being a witch, even if the goal is the same. While Granny Aching may not have been a witch in any traditional sense—and her day-to-day life definitely did not resemble Miss Level’s—she still helped people in a roundabout way. She did things without an expectation of return, but rather because it was the right thing. It’s one of the ways she gained such a reputation, and the donkey beating scene is an example of that. It’s also a deeply uncomfortable moment, one that Granny Aching didn’t shy away from. She knew that the mistreatment of that animal was terrible, she reacted, and look what happened in response.
I can see a similar theme in Mr. Weavall’s story, too. Sometimes, people don’t have anyone, and Pratchett gives us an example that is probably all too common: someone who has outlived all their friends and family. Who takes care of them? Well, Miss Level does, not because he’s a nice person or because it makes her feel good. Everyone deserves someone, and, as she puts it, this is just what happens. Loneliness and isolation is common. Real. And it doesn’t mean that Mr. Weavall or anyone else deserves to waste away because they simply ended up alone.
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