In the second half of the fourth chapter of I Shall Wear Midnight, I WAS NOT READY. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Discworld.
Trigger Warning: For discussion of death
HI, WHAT THE HELL IS THIS BOOK!!! I full went into the second half of this chapter expecting that Tiffany would have an uncomfortable and terribly awkward run-in with Roland. I did not expect that this would be a touching and direct conversation about perception, mortality, and identity. Let me start first by saying that this is just beautifully written, y’all, and there are so many stunning lines throughout this sequence. Like this, right at the start of the split:
She had heard one of the villagers call him a creaking door that never slammed; he was getting worse now, and in her opinion it was not going to be very long before his life slammed shut.
It’s a great way to set the tone of this scene, as well as introduce us to what eventually follows: the Baron does not have much life left, but Tiffany has been instrumental in making his last days as painless as she can. But it’s still a challenge for her, not just because the magic of pain transferring is hard, but because of Miss Spruce. Y’all, Miss Spruce reminded me so much of the sort of people and beliefs I was surrounded by while growing up. In particular, this part was TOO REAL:
“We must be sure that we don’t get involved with dark and demonic forces. Better a little pain in this world than an eternity of suffering in the next!”
I’m certain there are some of you who were raised in this mentality as well. For me, it was a means of enforcing a particular worldview, one which also meant that it was easier for my mother to control me and my brother. And I heard so frequently that our actions in this world would affect our eternity, and thus, it was good to suffer. If we resisted joy, if we gave ourselves over to the hope of Heaven, then we would be fine. But that “little pain” that Miss Spruce references is anything but little, and that’s one thing Pratchett does a tremendous job of deconstructing. I appreciate any text that talks about the toll pain can take on the human body, and I’m thinking of that in any number of contexts. Physical pain, chronic pain, the pain of depression and anxiety… all of it is real, and it is exhausting. Look how Pratchett writes the Baron’s transformation as Tiffany does her work on him:
Taking away pain was dangerous, difficult, and very tiring, but there was, well, a wonderful compensation in seeing the gray face of the old man come back to life. There was already some pinkness to his skin, and it was fleshing out as more and more pain flowed out of him and through Tiffany and into the new little invisible ball floating above her right shoulder.
Does this cure him? No, but it gives him energy; it gives him a liveliness that he did not have moments before. And I think that matters! I see that as an explanation for what happens after this, too, but it’s not just that. This whole conversation is so damn revealing, y’all, and I adored it. They’re both so honest with one another, but it’s EARNED. And you know why?
Balance. It was all about balance.
There’s a balance between them, and it’s fascinating to see that. I see some of that based on what the Baron reveals here: that he misses Granny Aching, that Granny played a vital role in checking him with necessary honesty. It manifests in some more uncomfortable ways—like when the Baron says he thought that maybe Tiffany and Roland would have a more “intimate arrangement”—but mostly? I love that he treats her like a contemporary, like a colleague, like someone worthy of respect and honesty, but not cruelty, and I do believe there’s a massive difference between the two. He’s never honest to hurt her, and the same can be said of Tiffany’s treatment of him.
Still: I DID NOT EXPECT HIM TO BRING UP THE EVENTS OF The Wee Free Men. And why not? Knowing the end of the chapter, it’s clear re-reading this that he’s aware of how little time is left. So he asks for the truth from Tiffany, and he gets it. Not just what happened between Tiffany and the Queen of the Fairies, but Tiffany’s resentment—that mostly disappeared over time—over not getting credit for rescuing Roland. I STILL CAN’T BELIEVE THIS IS ACTUALLY BEING ADDRESSED, I’M SO HAPPY!!! Oh my god, HER DAD told the Baron what actually happened??? This is blowing my mind, y’all.
Anyway, now that I’ve recovered (just kidding, I haven’t), let’s talk about WITCHES. The Baron, more so than perhaps the average person in the Chalk, understands the need for someone like Tiffany in the community. I don’t doubt that at all! It’s clear that he gets it because of how he navigates paying Tiffany for her saving Roland. He knows that a witch doesn’t get paid money, but rather in secondhand items. Still, Tiffany was technically not a witch when she saved Roland, so there is no moral objection possible for Tiffany to make. And really, as the Baron notes, he’s trying to “take a burden off” of his soul at the end of his life. That hands over all of this, and yet? I still thought it would come later, that at some point during the latter chapters of I Shall Wear Midnight, the Baron would pass.
Y’all. Look how exquisitely Pratchett wrote this:
“When the time comes…” he began, and hesitated.
“I will keep you company, sir, if you wish,” said Tiffany.
SHE KEEPS HER PROMISE. BECAUSE SHE IS KEEPING HIM COMPANY IN HIS FINAL MOMENTS OF LIFE. And there’s another incredible moment like this after Tiffany’s demonstration of her ability to transfer fire through her body. We get another occurrence of the motif of a hare running through the fire, but this time, it’s attached to a particular memory that the Baron has. I can’t say I fully understand the meaning of this part, both literal and metaphorical. So I’m wondering, then, how much of this book is going to address the sight of a hare flinging itself into the fire. What does that mean? Is it about risk? Courage? Something else? I don’t quite know.
Yet that doesn’t dilute the beautiful ending here. The Baron, overwhelmed with joy at being given this memory again by Tiffany, says:
“No money that I could give you, Miss Tiffany Aching, who is the witch, could ever repay you for bringing back to me that wonderful vision. Which I shall remember until the day I—“
And that’s it. He dies, suddenly, happily, completely. Death arrives and drops one hell of a cryptic line about it:
MUCH AS I WOULD LIKE TO TAKE THE CREDIT, OTHER FORCES ARE AT WORK.
Hi, no??? Seriously, what is coming to the Chalk? Is that what Death is referring to???
Anyway: this chapter was GORGEOUS, and this was honestly an incredible scene to experience this. Bravo, Pratchett.
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