Mark Reads ‘Wintersmith’: Chapter 3, Part I

In the first half of the third chapter of Wintersmith, Tiffany learns of the ramifications of her actions. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Discworld. 

While I feel something complicated about how Miss Treason has dealt with this, I do want to say that I’m glad that this is already a story about messing up. Because oh lord, Tiffany has made A Mistake. And look, I can’t claim to understand just how big of a mistake this is, and I say this knowing that Pratchett already gave us a possible future, in which the Wintersmith has been spurned (I think?) and brought a massive winter down on the Chalk that is killing lambs and threatening lives. So, yes, this is bad, but this chapter only gives us a glimpse of just how bad this is. Much of what I understand here is given from context clues, the biggest one being Miss Treason’s disappointment and anger. Seriously, how cutting was this bit?

Miss Treason hadn’t shouted, hadn’t even raised her voice. She’d just sighed and said “foolish child,” which was a whole lot worse, mostly because that’s just what Tiffany knew she’d been. 

YEAH THIS IS A TERRIBLE FEELING. And Pratchett manages to capture that sense of shame, embarrassment, and rage when you’ve messed up for the first time in your life. Really messed up, that is. This is not a small goof or a little accident. And I understand why Tiffany has the reaction she does too, why she’s so certain that she needs to say that she didn’t mean to join the dance. I still feel very weird about Miss Treason knowing this was a big deal, but barely telling Tiffany anything about it! I suppose in the world of the witches, it’s culturally accepted here that Tiffany should have just listened to what Miss Treason said and not disobeyed her. At the same time, I got the sense from the text that Miss Treason believed that someone literally a hundred years younger than her knew everything about how the world worked. This part in particular upset me:

“That doesn’t make sense! The Morris dance is to welcome the coming of the summer, yes, that’s—“

“Are you an infant?” said Miss Treason. “The year is round! The wheel of the world must spin! That is why up here they dance the Dark Morris, to balance it. They welcome the winter because of the new summer deep inside it!”

I am not nearly 13-years-old, and I don’t understand this. This is not obvious at all. How was Tiffany supposed to know this? You didn’t inform her of ANY detail aside from telling her not to talk or move. I know that does not negate what she’s done or exonerate her. She does have to take responsibility for herself and what she’s done, regardless of her intentions. And none of this excuses her for going outside and ACTUALLY CALLING THE WINTERSMITH UPON HER. But what of that magical, psychic pull that the dance had on Tiffany? How does a person as unknowing and young as Tiffany counter something like that, particularly without any warning or information or knowledge whatsoever? It’s not like Miss Treason told her that the empty space might call to her, you know?

Still, there’s a fine line between youthful rebellion and youthful ignorance, and this problem straddles that. Miss Treason behaves as if Tiffany knows the ways of the world; Tiffany behaves as if she does know the ways of the world but doesn’t know them in actuality. And so we’ve got this mess of shame and anger, and lord, this book is so uncomfortable so soon. Miss Treason does not seem like the kind of teacher who will ease students into lessons; she prefers the lash of a sharp tongue and the burning shame of experience. Which is generally an effective teacher; I don’t think Tiffany is going to make very many mistakes like this again. (At least I hope not.) And it’s true that sometimes, it takes shame and embarrassment for a lesson to stick. Seriously, sometimes we have to learn the hard way not to do certain things, and perhaps that’s the lesson that Miss Treason wants to impart on Tiffany: she was told things for a reason, so she should have listened to her. Well, that and DON’T GO MESSING IN THINGS YOU DON’T UNDERSTAND. But even then, Pratchett writes Tiffany with an anger of her own: at Miss Treason for treating her like a child or an infant. At the situation for being so absurd. At herself for messing up so badly and so quickly. Well, and there’s some anger at the Feegles, who admit to reading Tiffany’s diary and her letters to Roland.

So what this amounts to is that Tiffany is in a real shitty place, so to speak. She wants to be seen as older, more mature, more experienced. And in many ways, she is! Look what she’s dealt with over the course of this series. How many other twelve-year-old girls have had to do the same? But that doesn’t mean she’s automatically all-knowing, that she gets to seem as free-from-accountability as Miss Treason is. (Who, I’m guessing, is not all that free from the concept anyway. Tiffany just perceives that she is.) Growing up is monstrously difficult, and it means that sometimes, you have to charge headfirst into bad decisions, and Tiffany? Oh, she’s doing this spectacularly.

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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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