In the third part of the twelfth chapter of I Shall Wear Midnight, Tiffany gets inspiration, bonds with a friend, and Mrs. Proust is taken to see something horrifying. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Discworld.
HELP ME, THAT ENDING.
I’m just so happy that Eskarina is back, and the way in which Pratchett has utilized her in this story feels so meaningful to me. It’s not lost on me that Eskarina has the power to toy with time, and we all had to wait so very, very long to see her again. In the time that passed since Equal Rites, she has grown into one of the most unique witches in the history of Discworld. So, hearing an extremely unusual witch tell another witch that she is extremely unusual felt like a compliment. But Eskarina also brings up the notion of birth and witchcraft, and that also came off as very personal to me. I think back to the events of Equal Rites, where a very young Eskarina was denied to ability to learn wizardry despite when she was born. In many ways, Eskarina defied roles and expectations, and that’s the message I see her passing on here. We are often defined in restricting ways when we are born. Be it careers, genders, cultural and social expectations, sexuality… we are all told in one way or another or many that we are supposed to do something or be something.
But we can be defiant, and that defiance can be a beautiful, beautiful thing. Do I understand how Tiffany is supposed to “help” herself in order to defeat the Cunning Man? I don’t. But once Tiffany realizes how serious this threat is, her perspective shifts. If the Cunning Man defeats her, the other witches will have to kill her. They cannot allow the Cunning Man into the body of a witch, to user her knowledge and wisdom to defeat other witches. It’s too big of a risk. Tiffany comes to understand, then, what a singular fight this is going to be. As she says:
“I’d rather die trying to be a witch than be the girl they were all kind to.”
And her reference to the “kindness” of other witches speaks to the importance of a witch’s reputation. Tiffany never wants to be known as the witch who couldn’t handle her shit. So how is she going to “help” herself?
Yo, it is so satisfying seeing Preston come into his own in this story. I really don’t feel like I’m imagining that Pratchett is setting him up to be a possible romantic partner for Tiffany. Look, she’s an unusual witch, and it’s not like there’s no precedence for witches and romance in this series. (HI, MAGRAT, I MISS YOU, PLEASE MAKE A CAMEO BEFORE THE END.) What’s so striking to me about Preston is how naturally he seems to provide Tiffany with what she needs and desires. Whether that’s a sense of levity, or it’s support, or, like we see here, it’s nudges towards self-care. Preston doesn’t know it, but his actions mirror what we’ve seen earlier in the book. Tiffany has to take care of herself with meals and “proper rest in a proper bed.” And this whole bit? MY HEART GREW A MILLION SIZES IN ONE PARAGRAPH.
“What kind of witch can look after everybody if she’s not sensible enough to look after herself? Quis custodiet ipsos custodes. That means, Who guards the guards, that does,” Preston went on. “So who watches the witches? Who cares for the people who care for the people? Right now, it looks like it needs to be me.”
This shows such an immense level of care for Tiffany, y’all, and Preston does it so effortlessly. He sees Tiffany as a whole person, one who is definitely a witch, but not only a witch. And that is, to me, one of the best ways to truly love someone, platonic or romantic or otherwise. Accept them as a whole person, and then treat them that way.
You know, let this whole sequence be a fine example of using the reader’s imagination against them. Pratchett is deliberately vague here in two important lines. First, as Mrs. Proust heads into the Tanty, summoned because of a breakout of a prisoner, she comments about how notorious Macintosh, said prisoner, was:
“Oh, yes, I recall,” said the witch. “They had to stop the trial because the jury kept throwing up. Very nasty indeed.”
In this, Pratchett establishes that whatever Macintosh did was so evil and terrible that in inspired a very physical reaction. But we don’t actually learn what it is he did. The same goes for the cell. We know the bars were bent so that Macintosh could escape, but then this is how the cell itself is described.
But Mrs. Proust was staring down at the floor.
“Terrible thing for a lady to have to see,” the warder went on.
Whatever is there gave the staff “the heebie-jeebies.” That’s all we know, aside from what Frank says:
“It makes you wonder what got into him, aye?”
SHE KNOWS BECAUSE HOLY SHIT, THE CUNNING MAN FOUND SOMEONE HATEFUL ENOUGH THAT HE ALLOWED THE CUNNING MAN INTO HIS BODY. And that whole bit about how “the body that was Macintosh” was in pain, but the Cunning Man didn’t feel it? GOOD LORD. My imagination can come up with about a hundred horrific things here, and it’s brilliant of Pratchett to rely on this.
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