In the first chapter of I Shall Wear Midnight, Tiffany is a witch alone. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Discworld.
Welcome to Discworld book #38, friends! And I’m so happy to return back to the world of the Chalk and Tiffany Aching!!! I still have no idea what these remaining Discworld books are about, so it’s a joy to realize what’s happening once I start the first chapter/split of another book. Y’all know I love this character, and I’ve loved her books, so HERE WE GO.
This opening chapter feels a bit more like an introduction to Tiffany, the Chalk, and the life of a witch than I expected. Generally, the prior Tiffany books didn’t do as much summarization as this one seems to do, but it could be that I just don’t remember it. At the same time, Pratchett pulls off a very subtle thing here. Let’s say this was your first introduction to this character! I think you could jump into I Shall Wear Midnight with very little to no context for this sub-series of Discworld, and all the info you’d need to be caught up to speed is here. We learn about the Chalk through the scouring, since this is a rather brilliant way to introduce the greater culture of the place and to talk about Tiffany’s place within it. Here’s a great example of that:
The only people not making any noise were the thieves and pickpockets, who went about their business with commendable silence, and they didn’t come near Tiffany; who would pick a witch’s pocket? You would be lucky to get all your fingers back. At least, that was what they feared, and a sensible witch would encourage them in this fear.
In just a few sentences, so much is conveyed to the reader! I love worldbuilding through absence, too, where you show what doesn’t happen or what isn’t there to give information to a reader. Pratchett does a lot of this where the reader is asked to read between the lines. Like with Tiffany feeling silly about her broom being on a string! So much of this is about image, something many of us are very familiar with as longtime Discworld fans, but a newcomer? They’re gonna get so much information out of all of this! All the social etiquette is necessary. It helps the reader to understand the Chalk and Tiffany’s detachment within in. She’s absolutely part of this community, but like most witches on the Disc, there’s a clear delineation between witches and… well, everyone else.
With two exceptions, both named here! Nanny Ogg is just… well, she’s her own thing, y’all, and I never got the sense that she didn’t want to be in among the people, and it’s one of the main contrasts she has with Granny Weatherwax. I was delighted by the mention of Magrat, who I miss a great deal. I wonder, then, if you could argue that Petulia exists in this same state. I say that because this first chapter introduces a theme I’m expecting to be important for I Shall Wear Midnight: Does Tiffany want to be “normal” like everyone else? I have no sense how much time has passed since Wintersmith, but since she was thirteen there, I’m guessing it’s been at least a year or two. (Also, wow, I’m rethinking the Dark Morris dance now that I’ve seen Midsommar a couple times, WOW, I HAVE THOUGHTS.) I say that because the way she talks in this chapter feels so different. She’s settled into her job as the witch of the Chalk, and there’s a certainty to her that we didn’t see in the earlier books, when she was still struggling with becoming a witch.
Take the interaction that she has with Becky and Nancy, for example, which is what causes the reaction we see at the end of the chapter. Look how quickly Tiffany falls into her role here; there is no hesitation on her part that she is a witch and that she must perform that for others. Even though it’s uncomfortable! And if you’ll allow me to back up again, I think it’s important that Tiffany thinks of Petulia and her life before this happens. The text says:
No, Tiffany did not envy Petulia her romance, which surely must have taken place in big boots, unflattering rubber aprons, and the rain, not to mention an awful lot of oink.
It’s only now, knowing the end of this chapter, that I am able to see the sarcasm in that. Tiffany has to diminish Petulia’s “romance” by attaching all those things to it, which surely don’t comprise the actual romance itself. It continues:
She did, however, envy her for being so sensible. Petulia had it all worked out. She knew what she wanted her future to be, and had rolled up her sleeves and made it happen, up to her knees in oink if necessary.
Yeah, makes me think Tiffany is envious for more than one reason, right? But lord, this is so RELATABLE. I mean, it’s so easy for all of us to construct narratives about other people from the outside. And that’s what Tiffany has done! From her point of view, Petulia has everything figured out. She has a defined future. But is that true? I bet if we saw things from Petulia’s perspective, this would not be the case, particularly since Petulia is so young. Who has their life figured out in the midst of being a teenager??? (I say this mostly hoping y’all were as big of a mess as I was. VALIDATE ME, FRIENDS.)
So, let’s return to Becky and Nancy. With the Petulia bit in mind, it’s hard not to see why this scene was so… upsetting? (I’m operating under the assumption that this is what Pratchett is referring to at the end of the chapter.) Becky’s question, of course, would be rude to ask of ANYONE EVER!
Becky Pardon looked down at her boots. “Do you have any passionate parts, miss?”
And Nancy, while at least practical in her request, doesn’t really help:
“Only, if that is so, miss, we would quite like to have the flowers back, now that we’ve shown them to you, because perhaps it might be a bit of a waste, meaning no offense.”
Gods, THAT STINGS. But Tiffany’s response is such a class act. She compliments the girls for being brave enough to ask questions in the first place, and then assures them that witches often are so busy that they don’t have time to think of such things. Look, Becky and Nancy aren’t trying to be cruel! This wasn’t something they asked to be mean to her, you know? I also speak from experience in one specific way:
Just before they left, full of relief and self-importance, Becky patted Tiffany on her hand. “Beaus can be very difficult, miss,” she said with the assurance of, to Tiffany’s certain knowledge, eight years in the world.
Okay, so, while I have done lectures and school visits as Mark Does Stuff, the past year of my life has maneuvered me into schools in a way that I never really expected. Part of that comes from my impression of assigned reading from when I was in grade school and high school. We always read books that were at least 20-30 years old, so I figured it would be a long, long time before I was in schools, too. NOT TRUE AT ALL. Educators and librarians are much more willing to change their curriculum these days, and while that’s immensely exciting, it’s not quite the point I want to make. Because I’ve been in a ton of middle schools and high schools in the past year, I’ve learned something very important:
Kids will rip your soul out of your body and not even know they’re doing it.
I guess I knew that on some level, but when you have a twelve-year-old girl asking you if you wrote your book because you were a lonely teacher, you kinda get a new appreciation for how brutally honest and certain kids can. (She really asked that, and it left me speechless for like five seconds because… well, YES, THAT IS WHY, but also??? Hi, are you my therapist???) So I loved this moment because these two girls knew on some level that this was a difficult question, but Becky also knew to give Tiffany a little comfort, too. Tiffany respects that, too!
And then, after Horace’s disastrous entry into the cheese rolling contest, we get to see Rob Anybody in a brief scene, and then… oh lord. Roland. The same boy that Tiffany had complicated feelings for in Wintersmith is back, and y’all, I was shocked, too. First, Roland referred to Tiffany as “young lady,” which felt unnecessarily formal, you know? They know one another! Why would he do that?
It was her: Angelica or Letitia or something else out of the garden; in fact Tiffany knew full well it was Letitia, but surely she could be excused just a tiny touch of nasty in the privacy of her own head? Letitia! What a name. Halfway between a salad and a sneeze.
Okay, that made me laugh, but look: I excuse her. I get it. And it’s like salt in the wound of the day. From Petulia to Becky to Letitia: Tiffany is reminded that she can’t (or does not, at least) have what the others have. There is no beau, no prospective romance, nothing. And I think she wants it more than she’s letting herself believe.
But Tiffany flew home alone, up high where only bats and owls could see her face.
Oh, Tiffany, you should just cry openly over heartbreak! It’s what I do! It’s very therapeutic, and random strangers will stare at you for uncomfortable lengths of time. Okay, so maybe don’t do that, but still: ouch. Ouch. This ending stung, and it’s one hell of an introduction to this novel. Which I still don’t know anything about! What’s the main conflict? What’s about to happen?
Mark Links Stuff
– The paperback edition of my debut, ANGER IS A GIFT, is now OUT! If you’d like to stay up-to-date on all announcements regarding my books, sign up for my newsletter! DO IT.