In the second chapter of I Shall Wear Midnight , Tiffany must deal with a nightmarish situation as the witch of the Chalk. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Discworld.
Trigger Warning: For extended discussion of abuse, misogyny, death of a child, violence.
I’m going into the rest of this book believing that this tonal change in the Tiffany series is intentional, that Pratchett is showing us that as Tiffany grows as a witch, she increasingly must deal with messier and messier situations. Which isn’t to suggest that there were not dark moments of human interaction in past books with her; I think she’s always dealt with things that were complicated, messy, and terrible.
But I also don’t think it’s a stretch to suggest that “Rough Music” is one of the more difficult chapters to read in the Discworld series. Pratchett is mostly unflinching in his portrayal of the tragedy of the Petty family, and even that feels intentional. I keep thinking of how open and truthful Tiffany is with her father about what it means to be a witch, and I think you can see that same openness between Pratchett and the reader, too. I wouldn’t say he’s gratuitous, and despite that I recognize how triggering this all could have been, I was not triggered myself. As an abuse survivor, I recognized a lot of familiar patterns in Mr. Petty, in his wife’s attempt to hide the signs, and in the rage that he directed towards his daughter. Of course, my experience and take isn’t the same reaction others will have, but this worked for me because while Pratchett told this story truthfully, he painted the perpetrator as the real villain here. Through Tiffany, he does not mince words:
His hands had closed automatically into fists because he had always been a man who thought with them. Soon he would try to use them; she knew it, because it was easier to punch than think. Mr. Petty had punched his way through life.
Now, I’m going to large avoid repeating the details of what Mr. Petty did because I don’t want to re-traumatize anyone else, but I did want to quote this one particular line (which mentions the abuse and blood) because it digs in to both the misogynist double standard at work and Mr. Petty’s disgusting penchant for violence:
“Are you trying to tell me that she was too young for a bit of romance, but old enough to be beaten so hard that she bled from places where no one should bleed?”
Mr. Petty alternatively viewed his daughter as both a child and an adult, each time to serve his own needs and his own flawed ideas about her and her body. This reminded me of those fathers who see their daughter’s body as being their property, and thus, they feel obligated to doing what they want with them. This whole situation is enraging and saddening, and Tiffany meets it with the proper coldness and rage. (And I say that knowing that she is definitely holding back.) There is no sympathy for Mr. Petty in this text at all. There is a little bit later where Mr. Aching gives Tiffany some context for how he may have become the way he did—which is a factor in how abuse becomes a cyclical thing—but the blame is all placed properly on Mr. Petty. Seriously, this part alone was scathing:
“Run away to where they’ve never heard of you, and then run a bit farther, just to be on the safe side, because I will not be able to stop them, do you understand? Personally, I could not care less what happens to your miserable frame, but I do not wish to see good people get turned into bad people by doing a murder, so you just leg it across the fields and I won’t remember which way you went.”
Gods, look at how she frames this! She makes it crystal clear that she truly does not give one fuck about Mr. Petty’s fate; she’s more concerned about what the incoming mob might due and how that will affect them. I also loved this part.
Tiffany could feel only coldness in her heart.
“Not good enough, Mr. Petty, not good enough at all. Go away and become a better person and then, maybe, when you come back as a changed man, people here might find it in their hearts to say hello to you, or at least to nod.”
Another author might have written this to make it seem like the path to forgiveness or acceptance was much shorter or easier to accomplish. But not here, and certainly not from a character like Tiffany. Saying you’re sorry is just not good enough. And even becoming a “good” person? That might not be good enough either!
By the time Mr. Petty makes the foolish decision to try and strike Tiffany, though, it was obvious that none of what Tiffany was saying was sticking. The man was still seeing himself as the victim, first of drink and then of witches. He could not accept for a moment that he was just terrible and had done a terrible thing. Which was in a long line of terrible, terrible things! So there’s something poetically beautiful in the fact that Tiffany gave Mr. Petty all of the pain that his daughter felt, that she took from her after the assault, and that this is what convinces him to leave in “animal fear.” (I just wanna state this here for possible fun next year: There is a completely coincidental similarity between this passage and the one that follows it AND my next book. Just for a moment, they both overlap, and that’s all I will say for now because SPOILERS.)
From this point, Pratchett moves to a sequence that I really, really enjoyed, even if the subject matter was upsetting at times. I remarked on video that I was pleasantly surprised that Tiffany was so open with her father, and I still feel that way. In prior books, most characters sort of danced around the fact that Tiffany was a witch, occasionally addressing it directly. But the long conversation that these two have is so OPEN. Sure, there are awkward moments where Mr. Aching dances around a truth, and there’s another line where Tiffany debates telling her father about the truth of magic, but otherwise? This is all a genuine attempt on the part of Mr. Aching to understand why it is that Tiffany is doing any of this. He didn’t assume that taking care of the Petty family fell under the purview of being a witch. But Tiffany’s justification is a brilliant summary of what witches have meant across the Discworld series:
“People around here are okay when it comes to food and the occasional bunch of flowers, but they are not around when things get a little on the messy side. Witches notice these things. Oh, there’s a certain amount of whizzing about, that’s true enough, but mostly it’s only to get quickly to somewhere there is a mess.”
Look, human existence is inherently messy, and we’ve seen, time and time again, how the witches have made it their mission to address those messes. This reminds me of Tiffany’s training earlier in the series, first with Miss Tick, then Miss Level and Miss Treason, and how often she fought against the reality of having to deal with life’s messiness. But now look at her. She does it because… well, that’s what she’s supposed to do. She is the Chalk’s witch. That doesn’t mean there’s no friction there; the end of the previous chapter addressed this. And I think you can see it here, too, when Rob refers to Tiffany as the Feegles’ “hag.” Tiffany has complicated thoughts on her role, but it doesn’t mean she shirks her responsibilities.
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