Mark Reads ‘Wintersmith’: Chapter 7, Part II

In the second half of the seventh chapter of Wintersmith, Tiffany decides to help someone she does not want to help. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Discworld.

Trigger Warning: For talk of sex

I knew that Annagramma would be a disaster, and yet, the events of this chapter were such a delightful (if at times frustrating) treat. And I say frustrating because Pratchett had set up this very thing ages ago, back when we first met Annagramma. She would inevitably have to discover that the things Mrs. Earwig taught her were impractical, mean, biased, and simply untrue in some cases, and it’s only now obvious to her. Well, somewhat. I’m not so sure she’s entirely realized what a sham Mrs. Earwig’s “magic” is, as she seems to still want to cling to some of it. But with this chapter, Pratchett manages to be both honest and sympathetic towards Annagramma, even if sometimes it may be hard to want to give her any sympathy.

She’s a child, though. A teenager, yes, but she’s still young, she was taken in by someone who doesn’t have her best interests in mind, and this chapter details how Mrs. Earwig’s preparation utterly failed Annagramma. Thus, I found myself willing to extend that sympathy towards her even if she is so loudly and aggressively wrong… well, pretty much every time she opens her mouth. (Which made that scene where Tiffany told her not to open her mouth so very funny to me.) She arrives at Nanny Ogg’s house in a panic because, as I had suspected, her steading is expecting exactly what they got from Miss Treason. And the detail about whitewashing the black cottage is just a tiny detail that makes this clear to us. There’s a visual change in the cottage they’re used to, but the greater issue is that Annagramma is completely unprepared for any sort of real witchcraft. This part was so revealing:

“And they keep on asking me to sort out stupid little problems, and I don’t have a clue what they’re about. And this morning there was this old man who’s dead and I’ve got to lay him out and sit up with him tonight. Well, I mean, that’s so… yuk….”

For those of us who have been reading the entire Discworld series up to this point (or who are at least familiar with the Tiffany Aching books), we know what an offensive and ignorant bit this is. Those “little problems” are the duty of a witch; they’re expected to assist their steading with a whole assortment of problems! And sitting with the dead… that’s just a custom in this part of the world. Customs are part of the stories that people tell themselves about the world, that allow us to live in a complicated and scary and unpredictable place, and that’s why they’re so vital. But what I like about this is that even within the construction of Wintersmith, we’ve spent a significant amount of time with Tiffany as she learns more about witchcraft with Miss Treason and Nanny Ogg. So even if this is your very first Discworld book, this line still carries a ton of meaning. That’s brilliant! 

So, why does Tiffany agree to help someone who is aggressively wrong all the time and who hasn’t really been good to her all these years? There’s some interesting insight into this within the text itself, and I have a theory I spoke of on video. First, I wanted to talk about Tiffany’s thoughts on who Annagramma really was:

Inside there was this worried, frantic little face watching the world like a bunny watching a fox, and screaming at it in the hope that it would go away and not hurt her. And a meeting of witches, who were supposed to be clever, had handed her this steading that would be a hard job for anyone.

It’s amazing how this one part made me re-think Annagramma. She is rude and cruel and mean, and I don’t think this excuses who she is or what she’s done. And look at Tiffany’s behavior after this, as she accompanies Annagramma on her various duties and trains her, I didn’t get the sense that Tiffany thought all was well. It’s just that she understands that Annagramma is most likely lashing out due to fear. She’s afraid of a world that she doesn’t know, and you can see that in how she reacts to a situation where she doesn’t feel she has “knowledge.” Granted, that knowledge is often fault or flat-out untrue, but it is still something she believes she possesses. Tiffany recognizes that there’s a dearth of real-world wisdom here, and she knows that these people need help. They’re going to need help regardless of Annagramma’s ability to provide it. So I’m guessing that Tiffany felt compelled to step in because she knows that’s what a witch’s duty is. 

Which is sort of related to her theory as to why Granny Weatherwax put forth Tiffany’s name as a possible successor to Miss Treason. I’m sure that on one level, Granny did want to make Mrs. Earwig look bad. But Granny had to know that the people of Miss Treason’s steading did not deserve to be punished, so to speak, for the bad teaching of someone else. I bet Granny knew that Tiffany would step up to the challenge. That’s the extra layer here! Granny teaches by example, but she also teaches by not saying or doing anything at all. She can provide the means for someone to step up to the task at hand. 

Anyway! Just some thoughts. I loved getting to see Annagramma learning about what witches actually do. Well… actually, now that I’ve typed that, I’m remembering that Annagramma mostly slept while Tiffany was the one who watched over Mr. Tissot. So, guess she’s learning some of the time? And it remains to be seen how much of what happens here will stick in her mind. Will she start defying Mrs. Earwig’s teaching? Will she incorporate what she’s learned? Or is she going to extensively rely on Tiffany because she can? Hell, is that even possible? Because I’d also be worried that at some point, Tiffany would just refuse to do it. Would Annagramma then do what she needs to do? I don’t know! There’s a lot of “programming,” so to speak, that needs to be undone in Annagramma’s beliefs, and it’s not going to happen in one sitting. 

On top of that, there’s another wonderful moment in which Nanny Ogg does a little reprogramming of her own. It’s also clear that Pratchett is not going to make this easy for Tiffany at all. Because while I love Nanny’s advice and understand why she’s given it, it’s followed by a scene where someone else gives Tiffany completely different advice. Before we get to Anoia, though, let’s talk about how Nanny advises Tiffany to deal with the Wintersmith. Unsurprisingly, Nanny is much more open and direct when it comes to desire and sex, so her advice naturally nudges Tiffany in that direction. There’s nothing wrong with being desired, and there’s nothing wrong with feeling nice from the attention. Nanny’s advice feels practical: men are going to be interested in Tiffany because she’s a woman, and Nanny wants her to be prepared to be on the receiving end of that attention. She wants her to feel like she has agency, that she has power, and that she’s allowed to pursue men if she wants to. (I say that based on the line about the man with a “good-looking bum” on him.)

But I was also thinking of Nanny’s advice through the lens of Tiffany having to go through with this Dance. She has to play a part, right? She has to see this through to the end! So Nanny’s advice, which suggests that Tiffany give the Wintersmith a little bit of hope, to be “kind but firm,” means that the Wintersmith will at least stay nice during this. Hopefully? I don’t know how much that will work since the Wintersmith isn’t exactly human and probably won’t react as a human man will.

Which makes me think that Anoia also has a point. Anoia’s appearance comes after Tiffany finally reads Roland’s most recent letters, which were not written from the place that Tiffany assumed they were. But it is understandable why she experiences jealousy and frustration! So Anoia’s advice is to just outright reject the Wintersmith. And why not? Just say no, make it clear, entertain none of it, and they can have “summer all year round like the hot countries do.” Is that realistic? Probably not. Tiffany hasn’t even figured out what she’s supposed to do as the Summer Lady, so how could she keep a perpetual summer around? But Anoia’s advice is appealing. Just be done with it all, and wipe your hands clean! A cold turkey approach might work, but my gut feeling is that isn’t going to help here. However, both these pieces of advice are really valuable things for Tiffany to hear to help her deal with human men who pursue her. I like that she gets to know that flirting is okay, that pursuit is okay, that sexual desire is okay, and so is just saying no and doing none of the above. I am still frightened of what either option will bring about for Tiffany, though, and I am 0% ready to see the Wintersmith’s “man” form. NO THANKS.

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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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