Mark Reads ‘I Shall Wear Midnight’: Chapter 4, Part I

In the first half of the fourth chapter of I Shall Wear Midnight,Tiffany does a difficult job, and someone or something starts following her. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Discworld. 

Trigger Warning: For discussion of suicide, death of a child, abuse.

Okay, can I put forth the theory that whatever is coming to the Chalk is clearly real, real bad? Because this book honestly feels so much darker than I anticipated, and again, I wonder if that’s just an inkling of what’s to come. This is a tumultuous time in Tiffany’s life, for sure, and she’s just at the age when a whole lot of us experience upheaval. I wonder, then, if that’s what Pratchett was trying to communicate through this by having both an external and internal plot dealing with a kind of chaos. I don’t know, it’s not a theory I’m ready to commit to, as I still know so little about the shape of this story, but I do like working through these thoughts out in my reviews. 

Anyway, there are basically two threads unfolding in this chapter: the WEIRD THINGS and the ramifications of the Petty tragedy. Tiffany is deal with the latter when the former happens: an old woman in all black is watching Tiffany outside the mound, and then, after disappearing, a hare BURSTS INTO FLAMES and runs off into the brush. Hi, what? I had this weird theory that maybe it was Tiffany, too, since Tiffany later notes that she felt like she was the only one around, but I have literally no other evidence to support this theory. So… Granny Weatherwax? But why wouldn’t she just identify herself to Tiffany? Is she just keeping an out on her? Like… it would make sense from a thematic standpoint if Granny was concerned about Tiffany’s dedication to the job, especially after the scenes we’ve gotten with Jeannie. But why hide? 

UGH I DON’T KNOW. But now I have to talk about the immensely disturbing sequence at the Petty home. First of all: A YARD OF STINGING NETTLES. Oh my god, the metaphor could not be more direct, y’all. But then, Pratchett takes it to a real fucked up place, and again: I want to avoid re-traumatizing people, so I won’t be super detailed here. But… uh, the placement of the nettles around the body? Who did that? I feel like the answer is pretty obvious, assuming that Tiffany’s interpretation of events is correct and not her father’s. I think Mr. Petty did this himself, out of some horrible sense of guilt. He set up that candle, too, fully aware that it would probably catch the barn on fire, and then he nearly died on that beam. It wasn’t until later—that line that reads “for the sake of a handful of nettles”—that I was able to piece this together. He felt something about what he’d done, and he tried to die.

But he didn’t, and despite that Tiffany’s darker thoughts encouraged her to let him just die, she saves him. (With Rob Anybody’s help, that is.) It’s an example of yet another messy thing that she takes upon herself to do. And lord, it’s real disturbing, too, one of the more horrifying things I’ve read in all of the Discworld books. As much as I hated this character, I wanted to hear what he had to say for himself. Why did he come back? Was Tiffany correct in recognizing that there was “something inside the wretched hulk” that “had still managed to be good”? However, he said nothing, and Tiffany couldn’t waste any more time. She had to take care of Amber’s child, and so she gives the child a respectable burial in the same clearing where she once buried Mrs. Snapperly. 

I feel pretty confident that this wasn’t mentioned in past books and that Pratchett didn’t get around to the story until now. Her tale is, without a doubt, one of the saddest things in any Discworld book, both because of the loneliness she experienced after the Chalk turned on her (for a terribly misguided reason!!!) and because this mirrors how often old women were targeted during witch hunts. It’s so very real and immensely sad, and that’s why this line is so crucial:

…but she had vowed that every summer the brilliance in the wood would remind people that there had been an old lady they had hounded to death, and she had been buried there. Tiffany did not quite know why she thought that was important, but she was certain to the center of her soul that it was. 

I mean, just in terms of the specific context in the Chalk, this is important. Mrs. Snapperly wasn’t even a witch, and yet, the Chalk’s utter rejection of witches led to her death. Tiffany exists in an important role within her society’s changing values, and she’s done so much to change their minds about who witches are and what they’re supposed to do. But that doesn’t exonerate what people did, and this clearing acts as a haunting reminder. I love that it’s the sight of something beautiful that will hopefully force people to think of one of the ugliest parts of their past. It is absolutely an important thing. 

The text then loops back on another subplot that’s been bubbling along throughout I Shall Wear Midnight, though, and it’s one that I joked about on video as being too relatable. I have been largely quiet about what’s been going on in my personal life because I don’t have much privacy and I haven’t felt like processing things publicly. I will say that I was surprised at how much Tiffany’s struggle with loneliness and sanity resonated with me. I want to liken it to the same sort of experience I had with Moving Pictures, since I know it surprised others how much I related to that book. Y’all know how much I love finding unintended reasons to connect to a story, and I know Pratchett isn’t really writing from a space of heartbreak and a breakup. But hi, hello, why is this yelling so loud at me:

If you kept yourself busy, you wouldn’t have time to go nuts.

If… if only that were true? Because from the other side of this: DEFINITELY NOT THE CASE. And so I see something in Tiffany’s story that feels deeply recognizable to me. She’s someone who is aware that she feels negatively about her job at times, and she’s also lonely. And yet, she mistakes busy-ness as a means of coping with these feelings, and that is not sustainable! It’s just not! But it also doesn’t help that recent events keep making it so hard for her to deal with them. Also, who does she even have in her life to talk about these sort of things? 

I say that being fully aware that she is communicating with her dad far more than usual, but even that doesn’t come close to what she needs. Her conversation with him towards the end of this split is fraught because they’re both approaching the Petty family tragedy from such different directions. He has his own thoughts on what happened and even believes that Mr. Petty did not try to kill himself, but was strung up by the mob. And there’s two parts of this that feel significant. One, it establishes how differently Tiffany sees the world as a witch, and it means that for the most part, we’ll probably continue to see this friction. (Though I do want to note that he makes a brilliant point when he tells her that she can’t fix everything by herself, and I suspect that’s going to come up again.) 

Secondly—and this is in conjunction with the scene featuring Jeannie, too—it also speaks to the immensely messy realities of abuse. Jeannie, for example, can’t understand why Amber’s mother didn’t do more to stop Mr. Petty, and really, as simple as Tiffany’s reply is, it speaks volumes. Humans are complicated, and humans who are abused? Look, from experience, I know that we can do things that seem utterly incomprehensible to outsiders. So it’s interesting to me that Tiffany is defensive of one victim of abuse with Jeannie, but then when her father talks about Mrs. Petty taking her husband back, Tiffany can’t seem to understand that, even though the two issues are certainly related. I hope that this continues to be discussed with nuance within the book, as I appreciated this as a survivor; the text seems willing to be empathetic as much as possible instead of roundly condemning those who are victims, even when behaviors are strange or confusing. 

Anyway: Tiffany’s about to see the Baron, and I bet Roland will make an appearance. It’s gonna be AWKWARD.

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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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