I Shall Wear Midnight by Terry Pratchett
When Tiffany thinks about her age, she thinks that she’s “nearly sixteen.” On the Chalk, “nearly sixteen” means, for many girls, thinking about marriage. Tiffany might lack her peers’ enthusiasm for boys, but she has delivered babies and tended to the terminally ill. Tiffany has dealt with domestic abuse. As a witch, Tiffany’s job is to take care of everyone, the young and the old alike, and to face the things, every day, that people just do not like to face. Tiffany is wise beyond her years, and she’s certainly not thinking about boys and marriage.
But Tiffany does know that Roland is getting married to a bimbo. But children do ask her whether witches even have “passionate parts.” But she did kiss the Wintersmith.
(More of a peck, really. “No tongue!” Tiffany reminds one witch.)
Kissing the Wintersmith is a problem, or it’s about to become one, because it attracts the attention of the Cunning Man. Tiffany’s latest adversary is a sort of poltergeist witch-finder. The Cunning Man is pretty creepy: he’s undead, he has no eyes, and he inspires a burning hatred for witches in the minds of everyone wherever he goes. Even if one witch does defeat the Cunning Man, no other witch will defeat him in the same way when he returns to the Disc.
Terry Pratchett’s I Shall Wear Midnight takes Tiffany from the Chalk to Ankh-Morpork, where she meets Mrs. Proust, a witch who runs a Boffo shop. Mrs. Proust offers sound witching advice to Tiffany. Tiffany also meets Eskarina Smith (dedicated DISCWORLD readers will remember Eskarina from Equal Rites), the only woman to ever become a wizard.
Tiffany’s trip to the city might be enlightening, but she ends up in prison. Captain Carrot explains that they’re mostly protecting Tiffany from the ignorant city folk. The next morning, Tiffany is free to go — so long as she takes the Nac Mac Feegle with her.
However, even when Tiffany returns to the Chalk, she has to deal with the Cunning Man — and all the hate and suspicion against witches his presence inspires.
The Cunning Man is a conceptually interesting villain, but I unfortunately did not find him a very impressive antagonist, perhaps in part because he strongly recalls the Hiver from A Hat Full of Sky. The Cunning Man has the power to take over people’s minds, much like the Hiver. Tiffany has to defeat the Cunning Man by herself, much as she did with the Hiver. In fact, when Mrs. Proust describes the threat that the Cunning Man poses, Tiffany is reminded of the Hiver. I never doubted — or even worried over — whether Tiffany would defeat the Cunning Man.
The strength of I Shall Wear Midnight is almost certainly the Nac Mac Feegle, who are, as always, hilarious and charming. While in Ankh-Morpork, they meet Wee Mad Arthur, and they somehow manage to rotate the King’s Head tavern until people want to call it the King’s … well, you can guess.
Tiffany’s novels, at their best, may be Pratchett’s best work. They manage to combine DISCWORLD’s comic irreverence with the warm sincerity of a novel written to advise young adults about life. They eschew the Disney’s fairy tale atmosphere to discuss sexuality, violence, and responsibility. At their worst, however, the Tiffany Aching novels can become long lectures for young adults. I Shall Wear Midnight contains the phrase “the thing about,” a phrase that means Pratchett is about to muse philosophical, at length, far too often for my taste.
I Shall Wear Midnight is the 38th DISCWORLD novel and the fourth to feature Tiffany Aching as its protagonist. While the best parts of I Shall Wear Midnight manage to combine the hilarity of the Nac Mac Feegle with the thematic depth of Tiffany’s responsibilities, too much of the novel turns “the thing about…” into lectures about responsibility that undermine the plot’s urgency. I Shall Wear Midnight is a good Tiffany Aching novel, but not a great one.
I listened to HarperAudio’s production of I Shall Wear Midnight, which is narrated by Stephen Briggs. Pratchett brings in many witches here, which seems to strain the versatility of Briggs’s delivery. However, his performance of the Nac Mac Feegle is, as always, brilliant and hilarious.
Discworld — (1983-2015) Discworld is a satirical fantasy world created by Terry Pratchett to poke fun at 1980s fantasy novels. Since then, they’ve evolved so that they now make fun of everything. Mr. Pratchett explains Discworld: “The world rides through space on the back of a turtle. This is one of the great ancient world myths, found wherever men and turtles are gathered together; the four elephants were an indo-European sophistication. The idea has been lying in the lumber room of legend for centuries. All I had to do was grab it and run away before the alarms went off… There are no maps. You can’t map a sense of humor. Anyway, what is a fantasy map but a space beyond which There Be Dragons? On the Discworld we know There Be Dragons Everywhere. They might not all have scales and forked tongues, but they Be Here all right, grinning and jostling and trying to sell you souvenirs.” The Discworld novels are presented here in publication order. To read more about the Discworld “arcs” and reading order, see this Wikipedia article.
Discworld for Kids:
I’m behind on the Tiffany Aching books, but I will probably read it, because… Pratchett.
The first one, Wee Free Men, and the third one, Wintersmith, are my favorites.
I’m behind on these as well. Time to try to start catching back up, as I love these and the other Terry Pratchett works. A so-so Pratchett is still better than most anyone else currently writing, at least IMHO.