In the eighth chapter of A Hat Full of Sky, Tiffany fights back. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Discworld.
Trigger Warning: For discussion of trauma
I know that this isn’t the same, but it’s still hard for me to read about Miss Level’s experience and not draw parallels to being a twin. This is about the closest you can come to it while not being a twin, and the similarities certainly don’t help me separate the two. So the idea of waking up and just sensing that your other half is gone is just… well, it’s about one of the darkest feelings I can imagine. I know a lot of twins and it’s rather common fear, so I admit that this has affected my reading of the opening of the chapter. Not in a bad way, mind you! It’s just… increased the horror, so to speak? It makes this feel about a billion times more effective than if a character not like this had died.
That being said, I still love this joke:
“Ye’ve had a wee bittie accident, ye ken. You’re a wee bittie dead.”
He is… not wrong? At all???? BLESS THEIR HEARTS. And it’s a funny moment in a scene that’s otherwise immensely upsetting. See Miss Level struggle with her single-body reality is a challenge, but that’s not the only thing at work here:
“Need, need, need,” murmured Miss Level. “Everyone needs a witch. No one cares if a witch needs. Giving and giving always… a fairy godmother never gets a wish, let me tell you…”
I don’t think it’s fair to dismiss this as nothing more than just talk made during a traumatic time. Miss Level isn’t wrong about her perception of witches in society, particularly how their labor is expected so consistently without reciprocation. There’s been lots of talk of that in the comments, too, in terms of how wizard labor is expected versus witch labor and surprise, THAT IS GENDERED, TOO. So, in this moment, Miss Level does have a great need: she has lost part of herself literally. How can she be asked to do more? She just gave up herself. Again: LITERALLY. So, I read this less as a statement made during trauma that she might not mean, and more as her just telling the truth because she just experienced trauma. Sometimes, when we’re upset or in anguish or angry, our filters are gone.
At the same time, I get why the Feegles are so desperate for her help. There is very little time left before the Hiver snuffs out Tiffany forever, so it’s not like they’re asking her for something small or insignificant. After getting her closer to Tiffany’s body, they more or less trick Miss Level into a place where her natural witch inclinations kick in and she’s just ready. It’s so cool seeing that transformation because it’s second nature for Miss Level.
But what was REALLY cool was getting to see the “landscape” of Tiffany Aching’s mind. I love so dearly that the motif of Tiffany being of the land and the land being Tiffany is brought up in a metaphorical and literal sense in this sequence. The Feegles find their way in through the Horse (WHICH I NOW OWN, THANK YOU FRIENDS WHO PURCHASED THIS FOR ME), and once they’re there, Pratchett does a fantastic job of pulling from The Wee Free Men and earlier parts of this book to build a world that is both familiar and utterly terrifying. Like, the sky being black, despite that the sun is out? NO THANKS. Or how about this line?
There was, indeed, no life. Stillness and silence ruled here. In fact Tiffany, who cared a lot about getting words right, would have said it was a hush, which is not the same as silence. A hush is what you get in cathedrals at midnight.
Hi, that sentence exudes a DARK ENERGY. Which is the point! There’s no way Tiffany’s mind would be anything other than a vibrant, colorful world of chaos and beauty and possibility, and the Hiver has changed that landscape.
Well, Tiffany changed the landscape, too, though at the time, I didn’t understand how she’d done so. When we first came upon the Horse, I assumed that the Hiver had misrepresented it, that it had tried to replicate it but didn’t understand where it went. I know now that that was Tiffany. The Horse was sitting round her neck because she was wearing it.
But I’ll get back to that near the end. LET’S TALK ABOUT ROB BEING A GREAT LEADER. There’s such a tender moment in the middle of A GIANT NERVOUS WRECK, and it comes about because Billy is uncertain he can actually help interpret Tiffany’s mind. And I get it! This was just as new to me as it was to Billy, but I loved how Rob gave Billy the confidence to push past it. Yes, Billy was not experienced in this specific thing, but who else was?
“Er… none I’ve ever heard of, Mister Rob,” Billy confessed.
“Aye. So you already know more about it than any o’ them big men,” said Rob. He gave the boy a smile. “Do yer best, laddie. I dinna expect any more of you than that.”
There’s an interesting contrast here between how Rob approaches someone who is inexperienced versus how Miss Earwig or even Annagramma does. Rob accepts that they may not know that much, but he still encourages Billy to try, you know? With that support, Billy manages to… pretty much be right??? He’s certainly correct that this specific area held so much meaning to Tiffany that she likely used it to hide “somewhere close.” SHE LITERALLY DID SO. And it is the “soul and center o’ her” in every way imaginable! (Which is also what I meant by the reference to The Wee Free Men. This development is so much more fulfilling after having read that book.)
It’s from this that the Feegles, as a group, figure out what the plan of attack should be. In short: bring the Hiver to Tiffany. Which might be strange out of context, since it’s already taken over her mind, but I understood Daft Wullie’s and Rob’s point. This was her own turf, and it was the place she would have the most power compared to all other places. AND I LOVE THAT ONCE THEY FIGURE THIS OUT, SHE STARTS TELLING THEM HOW TO LURE THE HIVER. I am so pleased that this scene was read aloud at the UK Discworld convention. Oh my god, trying to figure out what each of the letters were was SO RIDICULOUSLY FUN. As was the joke about Daft Wullie and beetle brains. I LOVE THE FEEGLES SO MUCH.
But that’s the fun of the Discworld books, particularly many of these latter ones. The stories can be heavy, terrifying, and tense, and then Pratchett can transition seamlessly into a joke, and it doesn’t feel wrong. For example: moving from the nightmare that is the Hiver’s grip on Tiffany right into Hamish and Daft Wullie trying to fly a broomstick. I love it, I’m here for it, and I also think it’s in character for the story and the Feegles. They accomplish things in… interesting ways? That’s an understatement, I feel, but they do get shit done. It’s just never in the way that humans often expect it. We see it again later in the chapter when the Feegles have to “imitate” a human, and I use “imitate” very loosely because what’s accomplished here is better described as not imitating a human, but rather frightening humans into compliance because the thing they become is so NOT human. But the Feegles exist in such a fascinating place on the Disc. They spawn legends; they upend notions of the fae; they come and go as they please, and more often than not, they avoid being caught not because they’re necessarily crafty and sneaky, but because the things they do are so outright absurd that humans’ minds mostly press those memories far, far back, out of consciousness, because there was no way grown men were arguing about rat poison underneath the sink, right? And if those memories aren’t repressed, then they’re turned into the kind of tales that Grandma Mildred tells her grandchildren. (I still can’t get over them gifting back the very thing they stole.) Yet while these characters are distinctly not human in many ways, part of what makes them such a delight is when they act undeniably human. Like Awf’ly Wee Billy’s tearful plea to the other Feegles for fighting during such a stressful time, or all of the wonderful teamwork shit we get to see as the various Feegles work towards a common goal.
So, let’s finally discuss Tiffany’s awakening. After the Feegles assemble all the items Tiffany asked for, they “awaken” her through scent memory. (Bit of an aside, but I have my strongest memories associated with sound, particularly music.) The big fight doesn’t happen here, but one thing I picked up on is how the Hiver, working with so much memory that it stole from the bodies of those it destroyed over the eons, believes that it knows everything. The hiver claims:
“We are you. We think like you. We’re better at thinking like you than you are.”
And based on some conversations I had in the comments last week, I wonder if this is also a nod towards the idea that the Hiver is ego unrestrained, that it is “better” at thinking like a person it steals only because it views the unfiltered ego as the “best” version of a person. But that’s not the best version of Tiffany. Tiffany may have dark, petty, or spiteful thoughts, but she is not best when she does not restrain herself.
Rather, Tiffany becomes the land, and the land becomes Tiffany, and it’s both a dream and not a dream, and it’s the most terrific and impressive display of power that Tiffany has ever exhibited, and… well, I was gonna say that the Hiver bit off more than it could chew, but there are still a hundred pages left in this book. This fight is happening way sooner than I expected, so I’m… nervous? Why is this happening now? I’m also guessing that the three knocks is Granny Weatherwax, who has arrived at Miss Level’s cottage, and that just means this is going to get even more chaotic. I’M READY.
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