Mark Reads ‘I Shall Wear Midnight’: Chapter 5

In the fifth chapter of I Shall Wear Midnight, Tiffany discovers something about Amber and must deal with the ramifications of a death. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Discworld. 

Trigger Warning: For discussion of death, grief, abuse. 

The Aftermath

You know, I hadn’t anticipated that chapter five would deal with the immediacy of what had just happened, but Pratchett did warn me. Miss Spruce was the dangling thread left behind at the end of the last chapter, so of course she’d return and try to get Tiffany in trouble. Which feels like a bit of an understatement to describe it that way. She wants Tiffany to be ruined by all of this, and she believes with all her heart that Tiffany is evil. But there’s an interesting parallel here, one that might be intentional but could just be me reading too deep into this. But there are two instances in this chapter in which a character initially refuses to empathize with another one. We see that with Miss Spruce and Tiffany, but then Tiffany does something like this with Mrs. Petty. 

More on that in a bit when I talk about Mrs. Petty, but I find that there are so many layers to the story unfolding in I Shall Wear Midnight. Even as Tiffany struggles with the chaotic ramifications of the Baron’s death, this isn’t just about grief. (Though that comprises a huge part of the narrative, no doubt!) Pratchett addresses the complicated role of witchcraft in the Chalk, as well as Sergeant Brian’s personal history with Tiffany. How can he believe the things Miss Spruce is saying about Tiffany when it fundamentally contradicts what he’s known of her? Which isn’t to say it’s impossible for good people to do bad things. But the source of these accusations is also taken into account. Even Brian knows that Miss Spruce is not the nicest person, and the entire time, she keeps prodding him to do something about Tiffany, as if he doesn’t know how to do his job. 

But he comes around—for the most part—when he sees Tiffany release the Baron’s final pain into his helmet. Y’all, WHAT A GREAT CONVERSATION. I love that Brian’s curiosity leads him to almost asking if she can take away sadness or grief, a type of pain that many people are about to feel in the wake of the Baron’s death. I get why he thought it was a fair thing to ask for, but to Tiffany, it’s so offensive that she doesn’t even let him finish what he’s trying to say. And I get it, as someone who is currently dealing with grief. It hurts so very, very much, and there are absolutely days when I wish it could be magically whisked out of my body. But I also know from past experiences with it that it needs to happen, that sadness and loss of this sort has to be processed and lived out or it’s going to keep coming back, again and again. That was the case when my father died and I tried to hide my sadness in work instead of talking about it. It came back with a vengeance, and I’m trying to do the best these days not to do that sort of thing. 

So, the people who are most affected by the Baron’s death are going to feel awful, terrible things. Tiffany does not urge them to avoid feelings at all, but instead, she wants people to stay present:

The people were in shock. She would be too, when she had the time, but right at this moment it was important to bounce people back into the world of the here and now.

Again, that doesn’t mean being in shock is a bad thing, and as we see by the end of the chapter, sadness still needs to be felt. But there’s work to be done, and at the very least, that can help alleviate the way people tend to freeze in the midst of the shock of a loss this big. 

That being said, there’s one person here who does not fit into this. I’m just now realizing this, but at no point does Miss Spruce ever express sadness at the Baron’s death. And perhaps that is her coping mechanism! She focuses on Tiffany because it’s easier to direct her shock and rage and despair at a singular person rather than deal with loss. Regardless, this doesn’t excuse her behavior or her allegations, and OH LORD, does Tiffany ever address it. I hope y’all appreciate just how much I lost it over Tiffany’s expert dragging of Miss Spruce, and I don’t even know which part is my favorite. No, wait, I do. It’s this part:

“I think Roland was very impressed by your wonderful white coat, but I am not, Miss Spruce, because you never do anything that will get it dirty.”

The nurse raised a hand. “I could slap you!”

“No,” said Tiffany firmly. “You couldn’t.”

How Miss Spruce’s soul stayed in her body is BEYOND me, but I love the isual metaphor that Pratchett provides here. Earlier in the book, Tiffany spoke openly to her father about how witches do things that are messy. Thus, Miss Spruce is the perfect contrast to that. She cares about purity and perfection, and it’s clear in her behavior that she wants to stay “clean,” so to speak. Tiffany represents a moral filth, one that is demonic and evil, and it’s so much easier for Miss Spruce to focus on that than her own terrible behavior. 

One last thing: the special rite that Tiffany performs! She took the heat out of the slab (and the Baron, too, I’m guessing?) and put it into a bucket of water. That wasn’t pain, so was this some sort of last rite? A preservation technique? I re-read this a few times and can’t quite figure out what was going on there.

The Mother of Tongues

Okay, so I’m glad that at the start of the video for the previous review, I commented on Amber and the weird chicken thing. It helped to keep Amber’s path in mind, which was perfect when reading the second half in this chapter. Because what the hell is going on with Amber? Not only is it odd for her to return to the Feegles’ mound, but… well, let me allow the Toad to speak for me:

“She can speak Feegle!” said the Toad. “And I don’t mean all that crivens business; that’s just the patois. I mean the serious old-fashioned stuff that the kelda speaks, the language they spoke from wherever it was they came from before they came from there.”

And now that I’m reading this again, I feel like I can argue this is yet a third example of a character who operates with a misconception of a character. Tiffany thought of Amber as “simple,” but that’s not the case! Something happened to her, and now she has the ability to understand meaning very quickly, which has manifested in her learning languages just by listening. Though I gotta say I appreciate that Pratchett, through Jeannie, makes it clear that this development is not a justification for how horribly Amber was treated: 

“Believe me, my girl, I wouldna want ye to believe that beating a girl nigh unto death is a good thing, but who kens how our paths are chosen? And so she ended up here, with me.”

She’s here, she has some sort of untrained craft, and it has to be dealt with. So is that what this book is about? Tiffany training someone as a witch, but much, much later than one usually does? I don’t know! Something important is happening with Amber, but I can’t quite grasp what it all means.

Mrs. Petty

I can see why Tiffany’s visit with Mrs. Petty goes as it does. It is generally easy for someone not in an abusive relationship to see the red flags as they are, to point them out, and then to encourage a person to just leave. As someone who has unfortunately been on the other side of it, I know how various factors—fear, mental illness, circumstance, unrequited love, infatuation—can make the experience so deeply, deeply confusing that you really can’t see what is the obvious truth to outsiders. Thus, Tiffany sees Mrs. Petty’s home, she sees her fear, and she sets about cleaning up the place without a thought to how this experience will affect Mrs. Petty. In Tiffany’s mind, there is no real reason for Mrs. Petty to be doing anything she is doing, but in particular, she doesn’t get why Mrs. Petty can’t do the simple things:

The misery of the place was getting on Tiffany’s nerves too, and she tried to stop herself from being cruel; but how hard was it to slosh a bucket of cold water over a stone floor and swoosh it out of the door with a broom? How hard was it to make some soap? 

But that’s because Tiffany isn’t in this. She has no real conception of the weight of grief, of sadness, and of fear in this specific context. And so, when she sets the Feegles to cleaning the Petty home, she sees it as a necessary act, one that a witch just has to do, but it’s only later that she begins to re-think what she’s done. I love that it’s Rob who points out the hypocrisy, too. Because the truth is that Tiffany didn’t ask Mrs. Petty whether she wanted help; she did not offer that woman kindness amidst a nightmare that she was living that was most definitely not kind. She was abrasive and bossy, and she did it all in a pointy black hat, and, as Tiffany puts it:

…but I am the witch and I blundered in and blundered about and scared the wits out of her.

And that makes me worry about whatever is coming to the Chalk. I am very appreciative of Pratchett giving Tiffany a moment like this to reflect on what she’s done. She is so terribly busy throughout this book thus far, and I think that’s the point. It’s not that she’s in over her head, though recent events do feel more intense than what she usually deals with. But in Tiffany’s quest to be the best witch possible for her steading, is she also being what these people need? Or is she acting out what she thinks they need? 

Mrs. Aching

I said this on video, but I’m so happy that Tiffany is as open as she is about being a witch with her parents. It was surprising to read her conversation with her mother, but I find it to be super, super refreshing. Tiffany and Mrs. Aching being honest with one another adds a fascinating dynamic to the story, especially since so much of this book has, so far, been about addressing the perceptions of witchcraft in the Chalk. I’m thinking of this line in particular:

“But something’s not quite right, Tiff. We’re all very proud of you, you know, what you’re doing and everything, but it’s getting to people somehow. They’re saying some ridiculous things. And we’re having difficulties selling the cheeses.”

It’s concerning, to be sure, but I don’t know what the solution is yet. The Chalk appears to very much need a witch, but so many people are still resistant to the idea of one. Is it fair to say that this is because of how Tiffany acts, or is it far more complicated than that? I don’t know. I don’t know how much the coming thing is going to deal with this either, but I’m getting nervous. Are we approaching a tipping point? Will we reach a place in which the Chalk rejects Tiffany?

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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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