In the twelfth and penultimate chapter of Wintersmith, OH NO. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Discworld.
Trigger Warning: For brief mention of abuse, manipulation
The question I’m still obsessed with: is the first chapter of this book exactly what’s going to happen in the last chapter? I don’t recall Roland being a part of it, so how will his role affect what happens to Tiffany? Did I just miss all the hints about Roland and the Underworld??? I GENUINELY DON’T KNOW. Actually, let’s just jump into this:
There is a lot of story left to happen here, and there’s just over fifty pages in which it needs to unfold. Roland isn’t even in the Underworld by the end of this chapter; hell, he’s only training to survive there in chapter twelve! TRAINING. Over the course of this chapter, that’s all that happens: the Feegles do their best to prepare Roland to fight, after learning that this is his experience with fighting:
“And ye know how tae fight?”
“I’ve read the Manual of Swordmanship all the way through!”
It’s an endearing answer, but it also speaks to the fact that Roland, due to his circumstances, has had to experience much of the world through books. Well, ever since his father became sick, that is. (He definitely had an “experience” when he and Tiffany first met.) His time in the Tower has prepared him in a unique way, and I wouldn’t be surprised if his cunning abilities that he used to avoid and annoy his aunts were re-purposed here. What if that made him perfect to “rescue” the Lady? But all I’ve got is speculation. I figure the Feegles can get Roland into the Underworld—that kind of travel is easy for them—but we there’s little information in the text about what exactly he’ll face.
So the Feegles have to make the best of a situation that’s one giant unknown, and that means training Roland as rapidly as they can. A lot of these scenes are incredibly funny, and they’re just as tense. Why? Because what if this isn’t enough? Is it enough to want to help Tiffany? Or will Roland need more than that? I don’t know! As far as the story goes, it just needs a Hero. There’s no one way to be a Hero, right? And I believe Granny’s take on all this, that these people just have to play their part in a story that has a veritable life of its own. But even Roland believes in it to some extent! It’s why he’s able to relate his rescue to the story of Orpheo, to the metaphors for “the annual return of summer.” He knows stories and metaphors have power.
Still, it’s cool to see Roland train, and it was even cooler to see him both get better—like when he chopped the Feegle soldier in two—and stand up to his Aunt Danuta. For the entirety of this book, he’s listened to his aunts threaten and begrudge him through a door, one he refuses to open. So I found it intensely meaningful that here, in the midst of his training, he yanks the door open and threatens Aunt Danuta right back. Not only that, but he doesn’t allow Danuta to get in a manipulative word:
“How dare you! Your dear mother—“
“Is dead!” shouted Roland, and slammed the door.
This was so satisfying to me, y’all. And I don’t know how he’s going to fare in the Underworld, but I love that Roland gets his own arc in this story. That matters a whole lot to me, especially as someone who was on the receiving end of abuse from multiple adults while I was a child.
So, while all this is happening, Tiffany keeps living. It such a great choice for the story because Pratchett has created a story that fits in so well with previous ones about the witches. The world may descend into chaos, but there’s still work to be done. If Roland’s confrontation with Danuta is my favorite of his scenes in this chapter, then Tiffany’s own exchange with her mother is my favorite of hers. They’re both scenes in which kids are honest with adults, no matter how the adults might potentially feel about it. Here, Tiffany tells her mother that she can’t just do some magic to clean the floor. You still have to do the hard work. And this bit is THE BEST:
“I thought you just had to wave your hands about,” she mumbled nervously.
“That works,” said Tiffany, “but only if you wave them about on the floor with a scrubbing brush.
But I feel like there’s another angle to this. Busy work is also a GREAT distraction. Tiffany talks about how this kind of busy work can help you give “your thoughts time to line up and settle down.” Look, SAME. That’s how I feel about chores and errands, and it’s one thing I do to deal with anxiety or with writers block. Tiffany spends most of this chapter entirely in her head, trying to think about the Wintersmith while NOT thinking about him. Because what else can she do? It’s mostly just waiting around until something important happens. Had she actually hidden from the Wintersmith? Or had she just delayed the inevitable?
I can’t believe I saw the discarding of Tiffany’s necklace as something else. I mean, I get why I thought what I did about it; I was trying to predict where this was going, and I believed that Tiffany’s complicated feelings over the Wintersmith could have affected her when she tossed the silver horse. But holy shit, it’s reappearance here is just CHILLING. (I don’t care if that’s a pun FIGHT ME.) I’d forgotten about the necklace, but because Pratchett had assigned so much importance to it, I knew the second she touched it, that the Wintersmith would arrive.
Oh god, we’re right up to the first chapter, aren’t we? HELP
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