In the first half of the seventh chapter of I Shall Wear Midnight, I can barely believe that this is happening, but guess what? It’s happening. If you’re intrigued, then it’s time for Mark to read Discworld.
Trigger Warning: For discussion of death/grief, misogyny
I truly don’t think there was a way for me to anticipate where this chapter goes. Oh, the Feegles finding Roland and whipping themselves into a violent frenzy? Yeah, that’s 100% believable, make no mistake. That’s absolutely predictable, so that’s not what I’m referring to. The events that unfold outside the King’s Head are certainly in line with everything we’ve ever learned about the Feegles. They consumed a ton of alcohol, and then they got into a fight, and it doesn’t matter who the fight was with, so much as the fight existed. Seriously, they’ll fight anyone, and, as the text says, that even includes themselves.
So, my guess is that we saw… Corporal Swires? Or is he the aforementioned Wee Mad Arthur, who we also haven’t seen in a few books? It could be both, but since we don’t see the character in the air first, I’m thinking it’s not Buggy Swires. So! Wee Mad Arthur, then? Which would make him officially part of the Watch now, and clearly for good reason. But is he also a gnome? I can’t remember his species from his last appearance. Anyway: Arthur absolutely DESTROYS the Feegles, and to date, he remains the only character to do so. Impressive!
But that’s not really the main problem here. Well, yes, the Feegles’ destruction is a huge problem, but it’s who was collateral damage of this attack that has bigger ramifications for Tiffany. See, the Feegles did as they were told and found Roland. And they drank because… well, that’s what they do. It’s not like Tiffany could have stopped that. But in attacking the King’s Head, the Feegles caused the FLOOR to collapse, and it becomes very, very easy for the Duchess, Letitia’s mother, to blame everything on Roland’s “witch girl.” And from an outside perspective, this certainly looks bad, and there’s a part of me that gets why these people assume the worst of Tiffany. There is a complicated and messy history here, and everyone knows that Tiffany and Roland once had feelings for one another. But now he’s with Letitia, and somehow, Tiffany has showed up with her Feegles and found the exact place they were staying?
Of course, the reader knows the actual truth, and thus there’s a terrible revelation that nearly bursts from Tiffany until it actually does. And yet, even before that happens, THE CUNNING MAN COMES BACK. What little I knew of him from his brief appearance last chapter made it clear that the being was obsessed with hatred. He made Tiffany feel such terrible things, and here, his whole anti-witch bigotry flows out of his body in waves, so much so that there are very, very visceral reactions to his misogynist emotions. Where the hell did the Cunning Man come from? Why is he like this? Above all, though, I want to know why witches. Why is that the focus of his disgust? It doesn’t seem to be women in general yet, though misogyny is part of his hatred. Why target Tiffany? Both times he shows up, he tries to make things worse for her!!!
Yet even without his presence, this was going to go an unexpected place. Roland barely has time to deal with the news of his father’s death, and what little we get on the page is… lord, it’s real sad. This part in particular crushed me:
“But you were looking after him,” said Roland, as if trying to work out a puzzle. “Why did you stop keeping him alive?”
“All I could do was take the pain away. I’m so very sorry, but that’s all I could do. I’m sorry.”
“But you’re a witch! I thought you were good at it. You’re a witch! Why did he die?”
He’s lashing out at her in confusion and grief. The idea is impossible to him, though it’s important to note that he doesn’t really understand what it was that Tiffany was doing. She wasn’t necessarily keeping him alive, though pain reduction certainly kept him around longer than he would otherwise would have been. I’m interested to see what Roland will do and say in the future, because Carrot interrupts any chance for Roland to continue talking to Tiffany. Which is also precisely where this story takes a turn. Look, I respect that Tiffany told the truth here. She had no reason to lie to Carrot about the Feegles, but it also unfortunately gets her arrested. ARRESTED. TIFFANY ACHING IS ARRESTED. Does typing that sentence make this feel any less surreal? No! It doesn’t!
But before we get to more of that, there’s a passage here there took me OUT. Pratchett captures how nostalgia and memory can often combine to give us a skewed view of something. When Tiffany sees the tiara that Roland got Letitia, this happens:
And Tiffany… went back in time, just for a second. But in that second she was a little girl again, reading the well-thumbed book of fairy stories that all her sisters had read before her.
There are two things happening here. First, we get the very emotional reaction that Tiffany has to seeing the tiara, knowing that there once was a path in which she and Roland were going to be together. As someone currently in the aftermath of a break-up, THIS IS THE REALEST THING IN THE WORLD. And I’m learning that you can never really know what single thing will send on a journey like this.
But Pratchett digs in more specifically than just having Tiffany think about what could have been. She goes back to when she was a “little girl again,” and the book is important. Because this whole passage truly speaks to how representations in media can inform the way we see the world. Tiffany focuses on the fact that in all the stories of princes and princesses, the desired young girl always had blonde hair and blue eyes. And when you see the same image being desired over and over again, it can eat away at you, so much so that you can very much believe the worst about yourself in the process. And here, Tiffany believes that she probably couldn’t have been the princess anyway; for those with “a rather mousy shade of brown hair,” you could always be the witch.
And that’s the role she plays.
Unfortunately, that also means she’s been ARRESTED. Arrested! I still can’t wrap my mind around it!!! I get why Carrot did it, but it’s just so weird??? This is not how I expected her to spend her time in Ankh-Morpork. But the conversation that Tiffany has with Captain Angua as she’s being walked to the Watch House… that was even less expected. It’s hard not to see a connection between the Cunning Man and the MURDERS of women who are killed for seeming to be witches. He has to be stoking this bigotry, but why? Why do all this? This adds a lot more context to Tiffany’s journey in the last chapter. People are on edge when it comes to witches. WHAT’S GOING ON???
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