In the second half of the seventh chapter of I Shall Wear Midnight, the Cunning Man strikes again. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Discworld.
That’s a reaction to a lot of what happens in the second half of this chapter. I thought maybe Mrs. Proust would know what the Cunning Man was, but she’s technically less experienced with it than Tiffany, who had that run-in with him on the way to Ankh-Morpork. But this chapter gave me a new piece of the puzzle! Well, it also gave me understanding of the scene with Mr. Carpetlayer: The Cunning Man’s hatred can spread to other people. We saw that just before Tiffany was arrested, and it’s here again between Tiffany and Mrs. Proust:
“Don’t you aha me,” snapped Tiffany. “At least I don’t go around making witches look ridiculous!”
Mrs. Proust slapped her. It was like being hit with a rubber pencil. “You’re a rude slip of a girl, you young hussy. And I go around keeping witches safe.”
In both of what they say, there’s an element of their own truth. I do think Tiffany feels like Mrs. Proust has helped feed into negative images of witches, even if at the same time she understands why. She’s literally seen it in action in past books! And Mrs. Proust’s reaction is based largely on her experience. She helps witches perform a role that keeps people properly afraid of them. Look what’s happening in the city and the surrounding areas! People suspected of being witches are being murdered!
And yet, both characters also realize real quick that this is abnormal for them, that they were each pushed to the point of hatred in a matter of seconds. And not just general hatred: hatred of witches. They were both so eager to blame the witch! AND THEY ARE BOTH WITCHES. So I love that this turns into a form of solidarity: Tiffany and Mrs. Proust realize they’re being set against one another, and they try to stay as aware of possible of this as they discuss another uncomfortable reality:
It is very, very likely that Tiffany’s dance with the Wintersmith awoke something truly evil.
That was mentioned earlier in I Shall Wear Midnight, and now it feels obvious that what Tiffany awoke is the Cunning Man. And what a terrifying metaphor and literal reality. The Cunning Man—whoever this being is—is both a being a hatred and able to feed into existing paranoias and fears. As Mrs. Proust notes here, it’s been a cycle over the years. People just start hating witches for a while, and often, the victims aren’t witches at all. “I think it was mostly poor old women,” Mrs. Proust explains in the text. And the paranoia feeds, gets worse, and many more people become collateral damage in the nightmare. Why? Because it’s so easy to designate a person as the other.
In a city like Ankh-Morpork, one that has had so many brushes with the Other, The Cunning Man really has found a box of dry tinder. So, I thought maybe that’s the advice that Mrs. Proust was giving Tiffanhy? She’s lived here! She has arguably seen everything from dragons to moving pictures to trolls to vampires to werewolves to… well, you get what I mean. Ankh-Morpork has had so many growing pains, and it has survived them.
Instead, she says this:
“There is a lady who I am sure would be very keen to talk to you. She lives in the city, but you’ll never find her no matter how hard you try. She will find you, though, in the blink of a second, and my advice is that when she does, you listen to everything she might tell you.”
I like that my immediate reaction to this was also Tiffany’s, because all I wanted to know was how she could find her. WHICH MRS. PROUST LITERALLY ADDRESSES. So, who the hell is this she’s talking about? How could this mysterious woman help??? Oh, this is so exciting; I can’t wait to find out who this is!
Anyway, let’s move on to Wee Mad Arthur, because… holy shit. I was reminded of both Captain Carrot and Mr. Nutt in how Pratchett chose to write this character. As far as I understand it, Wee Mad Arthur is actually an orphaned Feegle who was taken in and raised by gnomes, and it’s not until he meets the Feegles that he’s confronted with a very new understanding of himself. But there’s no long mystery like we got with Mr. Nutt, but he also doesn’t have a history of being aware of his “real” species, either. So, he’s in this happy middle ground between these two characterizations. Also, I was just so damn entertained by Wee Mad Arthur trying to figure out what’s actually good about the Feegles. It gave us the gift of a fried stoat taste explosion! Also, I loved this bit:
“Ye think so? You wee scunners punched an entire pub to death.”
I mean… he’s not wrong? That is quite literally what they did. But I wanted to point it out for a less humorous reason. Right after this, Mrs. Proust and Tiffany have a very complicated, uncomfortable conversation about life in the city versus life in the country. I saw this as a parallel to the conversation that Wee Mad Arthur had with the other Feegles. It’s people comparing their lives, their experiences, their outlook on the world. And for what it’s worth, I appreciated that Mrs. Proust, using the example of the men in the D wing, tried to insist that country life wasn’t as harsh as it was in Ankh-Morpork. And what does Tiffany bring up in response?
“My father always says that things will look better in the morning.”
There was a pause. “Upon reflection,” Mrs. Proust said, “I think your father will turn out to be wrong.”
Great. So this book is gonna get even darker, isn’t it?
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