In the eighth chapter of I Shall Wear Midnight, Tiffany meets a surprising person, who explains to her the legacy of the Cunning Man. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Discworld.
Trigger Warning: For extended discussion of misogyny
Wow, this chapter sure does take a turn halfway through. But I don’t mean that as a criticism, as this book generally feels darker throughout, so it’s more that the Feegles repair of the King’s Head is some much-needed levity. It’s also thematically an appropriate segue to the story of the Cunning Man because—intentional or not—it is about goodness and how people try to repair the things they’ve done wrong. I honestly might be overthinking this, but that’s also my very basic purpose for Mark Reads. LET ME OVERTHINK A WHOLE NOVEL, PIECE BY PIECE. Looking back on what happens to the King’s Head—er, now the King’s Neck, which is probably a lot less crude than the King’s Arse—I see the Feegles as understanding that their actions were wrong and that they got their big wee hag in trouble because of it. And without direction or suggestion, they returned to the site of their mistake, and they rebuilt the structure they destroyed.
I mean, they also built it backwards, but Mr. Wilkin doesn’t seem all that upset about it, given that we see him LITERALLY SHOVING MONEY INTO A BAG. In a city like Ankh-Morpork, it’s a strange sight, but you know what? Why not make some money off of it? Why not accept the bizarre magic of it all? To me, this is the most Ankh-Morporkian response imaginable. At the same time, I can’t get away from the kindness present in what the Feegles did, even if they don’t actually interpret it that way. Vimes sees the whole thing as a criminal act, which I also get from his point of view. But look at Mrs. Proust’s point:
“This is Ankh-Morpork, Mr. Vimes; in the summer the river catches fire, and it has been known to rain fish and bedsteads, so, in the great scheme of things, when you think about it, what’s so wrong about a pub spinning on its axis?”
There is joy in the crowd outside of the King’s Neck, and so it’s not lost on me that this is when the Cunning man shows up and begins to turn random citizens against Tiffany, especially since I now know his modus operandi. The people of Ankh-Morpork were enjoying what the Feegles had done, and the Feegles would not have even been in the city were it not for their witch. And we can’t have joy brought about by a witch, can we?
It’s also because of this that the single greatest shock I have EVER experienced in this series is thrown in my lap, and I’m not even gonna wait to yell about this. The person Mrs. Proust warned Tiffany about was ESKARINA SMITH, the protagonist of Equal Rites, who I have LONG wished would return. I truly can barely believe it’s real, and even typing that fucking sentence just gave me goosebumps all over my body. I HAD TO WAIT OVER THIRTY BOOKS FOR HER TO COME BACK, AND THE FIRST WOMAN WIZARD IS NOW JUST AS WEIRD AND AMAZING AS I HAD HOPED SHE WOULD BE. Oh my god, I truly want to know a MILLION things about her! Where does she live? What’s she been up to all these decades since I first met her? Is she one of the most unique wizards ever because she’s also a witch? (Technically, right? Oh god, I feel like there’s a super fun conversation to be had just based on that alone. How does she identify? Which term is most correct?)
So, Tiffany’s meeting with Eskarina in Unreal Estate, the magical waste nightmare that Eskarina often visits and uses to her advantage, becomes the most pivotal scene in the book. It’s here that Eskarina tells the real story of the Cunning Man, giving Tiffany and the reader the context to understand what this being is and why it is so fixated on Tiffany. The connection to Wintersmith is undeniable, too, as is the very open commentary on misogyny and the ways men fixate on women. And that part is so fascinating to me! Like Tiffany, I kept trying to figure out the story of the witchfinder and his sudden love for a witch. It was a love story, sure, and I thought that maybe he would find a way to give up his duties in order to save the woman he loved. Except the twist at the end of the story is an exercise in perspective. What happens once we switch to the witch’s point of view? How does she perceive the witchfinder’s “love” and his pursuit of her?
“But you see, what he is thinking doesn’t matter, because she knows who he is and what he has done, and the bad things that he has done and is famous for, and as he walks toward her, uncertain, she knows him for what he is, even if he wishes he wasn’t, and she reaches with both hands smoothly through the wicker basked they’ve put around her to keep her upright, and grabs him, and holds him tight as the torch drops down onto the oily wood and the flames spring up. She never takes her eyes off him and never loosens her grip…”
Because why should she have viewed him as an ally? This man pursued witches as a profession. It’s all he did. And he found this woman, and he pursued her, and there is no reason, within the context of that time or his profession, for her to believe he is going to do anything but murder her. When the world is full of this message, it is perfectly reasonable for a woman to assume such a thing for her own safety. And this man never once considers that! No, he believes he is saving the woman, unaware that the only thing she might need to be saved from is himself.
And from that, the Cunning Man is born. It is, as I said on video, bizarre to be reading this in 2019, in which there have been so many violently misogynist men who lash out when they are “scorned,” even though many times they weren’t scorned at all. This has been happening for a long, long time, of course, and is certainly not a new phenomenon, but the cycle of misogyny has manifested again. It’s like our world is full of our own version of the Cunning Man, passing hatred of women from one person to another, building on a paranoia and a hatred that is already there. Which still makes me think this is the reason the entire plot with Mr. Petty is included: in the absence of the Cunning Man, men are still misogynist. It is not that being’s fault. As Tiffany says:
“Poison goes where poison’s welcome.”
This is also why she thinks of the old woman who was murdered by the people of the Chalk before the Cunning Man was woken. That kind of trouble is all too believable in humans, particularly those with vibrant superstitions and prejudices. People who were normally “good” murdered someone… for what? Because “she had no teeth left and smelled of wee”? Because she had a book they didn’t understand? Or because they were just looking for a reason to extinguish the life of a woman they simply did not like?
Anyway, there are a couple clues here that I’m guessing are hinting at future developments. First, Eskarina is convinced that there is a witch—one who isn’t Tiffany’s friend—who may have helped draw the attention of the Cunning Man. Admittedly, I don’t know who that could be, as Tiffany doesn’t really have that many enemies anymore who are witches. She’s pretty well respected! (Did Tiffany see Eskarina earlier in the novel, by the way?) Then, there’s this line as Tiffany escapes the Feegles:
“Don’t be afraid—you will be all right! You just have to help yourself.”
Which I feel like is a clue on how to defeat the Cunning Man. But is it literal? Metaphorical? What exactly does this mean???
Mark Links Stuff
– The paperback edition of my debut, ANGER IS A GIFT, is now OUT! If you’d like to stay up-to-date on all announcements regarding my books, sign up for my newsletter! DO IT.