In the thirteenth chapter of I Shall Wear Midnight, Tiffany and the rest of the castle have a moment of lightness before she wears midnight. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Discworld.
Trigger Warning: For talk of death, grief.
One thing I’ve loved about Mark Does Stuff and the way these reviews work out is that I get to get a slow-motion look at structure. I say that because this chapter feels so intentionally placed before the big finale, as if Pratchett wanted to remind us that while there is darkness in the world, there is so much light. I’ve mentioned multiple times in various ways that this book feels decidedly darker than much of the other Discworld books, and certainly in the Tiffany sub-series. There’s death (and Death!) in pretty much every Discworld book, but the back-to-back tragedies of the Petty family and the Baron’s death really make this feel a lot more intense than I expected.
Yet look at all the love and joy and excitement. This is the same book that has introduced us to Preston, that’s given us the return of Eskarina Smith, that’s shown us an older witch discovering the truth of her powers. And here, in “The Shaking of the Sheets,” we are reminded that life goes on, that there is a joy in drink and food and dance and song. That’s not what I expected of this chapter when I started it, though. I figured that if the Cunning Man was going to attack Tiffany, it would happen here, at the old Baron’s funeral. It was an emotionally volatile situation, and wouldn’t it be oh so easy to turn everyone against a witch at a funeral, particularly one where many people had suspected that Tiffany had murdered the Baron?
Except this quickly turns into something else. First of all, as a longtime Discworld reader, it’s a huge reunion, since this is the first time that Nanny, Granny, and Magrat are all in the same scene in a long while. Later, we see Mrs. Proust and some Ankh-Morpork witches, too. But there’s a point to this beyond the nostalgia and the excitement. As Eskarina had warned, the witches were all aware of the presence of the Cunning Man and his fixation on Tiffany. So yes, they may have superficial reasons to be at the funeral/wedding, but it’s clear that they all knew they’d have to be there in case Tiffany lost. (Despite that Granny tells Tiffany that they aren’t “here on business.” Oh, they totally are.)
And yet, Tiffany is up for the challenge. She was before the funeral, I’d argue, but I see this chapter as a test of sorts, a chance for Tiffany to observe the way Nanny Ogg imbues life into the gathered crowd as a reminder for what it is that Tiffany is fighting for. This is witchcraft, too, even if it’s more Nanny Ogg’s thing than Tiffany’s. So is teaching a young bride-to-be about sex, which is something that Tiffany did! (Though she does tag-team in Nanny to add some additional flair, and by gods, I love it so much. Again, the imagination filling in the gaps of what she possibly told Letitia is so much better than a word-for-word transcription, you know?) But y’all, I was just so overjoyed reading the long scene in which Nanny single-handedly changes the entire feel of the funeral. How? With a single song, one that was the Baron’s favorite. Y’all, that whole section is written with such love of human beings, and I know that’s the point. We’re supposed to see many of these characters in a new light, but Pratchett also managed to get me to reflect on my own experiences.
It made me remember the dinner I was at post-wake, which we had on the mainland before my dad’s funeral in Hawaii, since many people couldn’t make the flight out to Oahu for that. It wasn’t long after we ordered food that we started reminiscing about my father, and not long after that, the stories got funnier and funnier. We were all laughing so hard at some of the ridiculous things he did and said that our poor waitress couldn’t quite tell what our tears were for. She knew we’d come from a wake, and yet we kept finding everything so goddamn funny. It was grief mixed in with the joy, and we remembered him fondly. What more could we ask for?
And in Tiffany’s case, as she watches the crowd transform over Nanny Ogg’s singing, Nanny reminds her what’s important:
“Human being first, witch second; hard to remember, easy to do.”
A damn fine line, y’all. You could tie this back to so many moments in the book, too! The constant reminders that Tiffany needs to eat and sleep; the way the concept of mercy and justice and revenge is applied to Amber and the rest of the Petty family; how Tiffany feels about Preston. This whole book truly feels like Tiffany discovering her own humanity through the process of being a witch!
But if we’re gonna talk about humanity, I have to segue to the Duchess, because HOLY SHIT. Y’all??? I was not ready for Mrs. Proust to not only reveal what Macintosh did—kill his canary—or to admit that she knew the Duchess before. OR THIS. THIS PART!!!!
“Have you ever heard of the music hall, my dear? Oh, no. You wouldn’t have, not out here. It’s all about comedians and singers and talking-dog acts—and, of course, dancing girls. I think you are getting the picture here, are you not? Not such a bad job for a girl who could shake a handsome leg, especially since after the show all the posh gentlemen would be waiting outside the stage door to take them out for a lovely dinner and so on.”
HI. HELLO. This is what the Duchess used to do??? With this, Pratchett complicates a character that is, admittedly, hard to enjoy. Practically everything we’ve seen of her in this book has been overwhelmingly negative. And while in another author’s hands, this detail might have been used to poke fun at the Duchess or to titillate the reader with a racy past, Pratchett instead just adds a new layer. He makes the Duchess seem more human, even if she’s largely been an antagonist. He does this with the absolutely shocking scene in which she apologizes to Tiffany. Is it the best apology of all time? No, but I don’t think it ever could have been. Instead, it’s a realistic one. She apologies for her behavior not just to Tiffany, but to the whole staff, and hopes that Tiffany knows that it “stemmed from a mother’s determination to do the very best for her child.” Some of what she did was misguided in its attempt to do this, and I don’t think it excuses any of her cruelty. Plus, there is the unspoken element of this: she’s also trying to tell Tiffany not to reveal to anyone who she used to be. Still, I admit that this makes me look at the Duchess a bit differently, and I think it would be fascinating to re-read this book, knowing that the Duchess was not always associated with the specific class she now belongs to. How much was she overcompensating all these years?
What is most important to me, though, is that immediately after this, Tiffany tells Letitia to go talk to her mother. It’s such a tender moment because Tiffany knows that the Duchess will now be much more amenable to a conversation where Letitia can be honest with her. She’s now in a vulnerable place, you know?
Whew. So… will the wedding happen next OR the Cunning Man OR both???
Mark Links Stuff
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