Mark Reads ‘Wintersmith’: Chapter 7, Part I

In the first half of the seventh chapter of Wintersmith, Tiffany learns what she may have “become,” and then spends a day with Nanny Ogg. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Discworld. 

Trigger Warning: For brief talk of sex

So, let’s start with craft, because one of the joys of doing Mark Reads is getting to talk about the ways in which writers compose their stories. Wintersmith opens with an ending, one we’re told is possible but which seems more and more likely. Tiffany is going to have a real scary final confrontation with the Wintersmith, and it’s going to be because she does not want to be the Summer Lady, because she does not want what he wants. Sheep are going to die. Tiffany’s friends and family will have their lives threatened. But this is a Story, something Pratchett is well aware is both set in stone and completely malleable. And yet how can something be both things? How can a story have its own weight and still be ever shifting? The nature of stories and the meaning they have to humans is something Pratchett has explored time and time again, and here, there’s a slight variation: what if you become part of a story you don’t want to be a part of?

So I’m fascinated that Pratchett also decided to play with the narrative here, drawing us towards an end that feels both uncertain and inevitable. (There are lots of contrasts in this book, y’all. Which makes sense! It’s a story about contrasting weather elementals. Contrasting emotions. OH GOD THIS IS GREAT, I’M NOW REALIZING HOW IMPORTANT THAT IS FOR THIS BOOK.) Can Tiffany change this story, or, as the three witches urge, is she stuck playing this out as it is supposed to play out? The opening of chapter seven explains this in great detail, and the first sentences alone are a perfect summary of it all:

The Wintersmith and the Summer Lady… danced. The dance never ended.

Winter never dies. Not as people die. It hangs on in late frost and the smell of autumn in a summer evening, and in the heat it flees to the mountains.

Summer never dies. It sinks into the ground; in the depths, winter buds form in sheltered places and white shoots creep under dead leaves. Some of it flees into the deepest, hottest deserts, where there is a summer that never ends. To animals they were just the weather, just part of everything.

And that’s where Pratchett brings us into the story, since we ascribed a narrative to all of this, and this narrative has such a strong meaning that gods—elementals, specifically—were created because of that. Powerful gods! Who doesn’t believe in the change of seasons? In the beauty and horror of how weather presents in our world? So, the dance of the Wintersmith and the Summer Lady continues across the Disc, over and over again, and then a young girl, “walking around as bold as brass in the wintertime,” bursts into the Dance. Can you imagine how surprising that was for beings for who this never changes? Which isn’t a justification for what the Wintersmith does, but it’s an explanation. It’s one Nanny goes into more detail about later, using the weather house as the example. The Dance is the only time that these two gods/elementals interact, but Tiffany has changed the narrative: the Wintersmith believes it saw the Summer Lady in full. Or some part of the Summer Lady.

So, as Tiffany asks, is this about sex? It’s still not lost on me that Tiffany’s age and her journey into and through puberty is a subtextual (and at times textual) in Wintersmith. It’s one of the reasons Tiffany has complicated feelings towards the Wintersmith, and why she wants nothing to do with this elemental while still being flattered by the attention and the idea of pursued. I feel like this is directly connected to the sequence later in the chapter where she reads a romance novel. There’s a humor in it because Tiffany tears apart the setting and the factual inaccuracies, but she doesn’t hate the experience, does she? She finds something appealing in it all, and it was easy to think about my own experience as a pre-teen and a teenager reading a lot of romance. Obviously, I came at it from a different angle: I loved the experience of being able to put myself in the shoes of a character who was desired by men. If only I’d know there was queer romance back then! But regardless, those books allowed me to fantasize and explore a part of myself that I couldn’t speak about publicly. And isn’t that the beauty of a book? 

Besides this, there are FOUR other significant plots unfolding in this book. (I love how complicated the Discworld books feel lately, by the way.) First: the Feegles dressing as a human to get a romance book for Tiffany. Granted, this subplot is probably not going to appear again, but lord, it’s a DELIGHT. I loved how mystical the librarians are and how they’re written, like dedication soldiers in the fight to preserve books. And even if it was to get something, it was pretty damn cool that the Feegles returned the librarians’ oxen! Secondly, there’s another DEEPLY intriguing POV section from Roland. Y’all, I want so many more of these because his story is HURTS me. Despite that his aunts are trying everything to whittle him down, he still keeps finding ways to survive. Y’all, that last bit is SEARING, and I have to quote it because I love it so, so much:

They could bully his father, they could shout all they pleased, but they would never own him. 

You could learn a lot from books. 

I WOULD READ A WHOLE BOOK ABOUT ROLAND, OKAY. 

I mentioned this on video, but I’m also enjoying how many witches there are here and what they bring to the story. Miss Tick is the teacher, eager to pass on knowledge and information. Miss Treason taught Tiffany about the power of Boffo. Granny Weatherwax is… well, it’s Granny Weatherwax. I’m just so thrilled that Nanny is getting a chance to help Tiffany become a better witch! Nanny’s honesty about sex, the body, and desire is something that Tiffany needs, even if she’s embarrassed whenever Nanny is forward with her. Tiffany wants to know more about all this, but isn’t always certain how to ask. But there’s a great little scene here with an old man, Mr. Hogparsley, that reveals so much about Nanny, Granny Weatherwax, and witchcraft. The “magic” that Granny used to help Mr. Hogparsley in his final days suggests a heart-rending level of sympathy and empathy on Granny’s part. She gave that man the power to face death defiantly and painlessly, rather than let him suffer in quiet indignity as he passed away. I wouldn’t be surprised if we didn’t see Hogparsley for the rest of the book; the scene alone is powerful enough to have made a mark on me. It’s something Tiffany needed to see, too, to understand the potential for witchcraft. No matter how strange it may have seemed to an outsider, this act was lovely. And it was the power of witchcraft, of narrativium, of suggestion, that gave Hogparsley his own agency. 

The split for this chapter ends after a particularly disturbing scene, though. Y’all, I am already convinced that the “body” the Wintersmith is going to assemble is going to be a NIGHTMARE. It’s all logical and exact, without meaning and context, and so it might be a literal interpretation of a man, but it’s not gonna be the real thing. I AM AFRAID.

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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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