I Shall Wear Midnight
By Terry Pratchett
Doubleday, 344 pp.
“A witch has to deal with what is in front of her…”
Terry Pratchett’s I Shall Wear Midnight is another instalment in his immensely popular Discworld series, and the fourth book centred around Miss Tiffany Aching, the fifteen-year-old Witch of the Chalk. Tiffany has been the heroine in the three previous books- tackling invisible monsters, faerie queens, and even Winter itself- with the company of the rowdy Nac Mac Feegle and other complicated and delightfully unique characters. While the story is full of brilliant comedic value and written in light-hearted, casual language, the undertones of this book are deliciously dark, toying with concepts that are commonly ignored in traditional fantasy tales. This acknowledgement of reality in an unrealistic setting is Pratchett’s signature, and it is masterfully rendered in I Shall Wear Midnight.
Based heavily on real-world myths and legends, much of the detail added to the Discworld series- and particularly those pertaining to the witches- is half common sense, and half folk magic. Young Tiffany moves through the world with the poise and maturity of an adult, understanding the people she interacts with in her home town better than they usually understand themselves. The witches are observed with immense respect and more than a hint of fear, but safe from what Pratchett refers to as the ‘Rough Music’, the mindless rage of a frightened mob. I Shall Wear Midnight takes this concept and turns it on its head, as the people of the Discworld begin to lose their grasp on the fine line between fact and fiction, unable to determine the difference between the witches who nurse them to health and the witches who eat children, and this begins to have a disastrous impact on Tiffany’s life- especially when she is caught in more than one compromising situation.
“The soil and the salt were an ancient tradition to keep the ghosts away. Tiffany had never seen a ghost, so they probably worked, but in any case they worked on the minds of people, who felt better knowing that they were there, and once you understood that, you understood quite a lot about magic.”
Pratchett approaches concepts like mob mentality, death, folk magic, the power of belief, the effects of ignorance, and the subtle complexities of human beings with the same blithe approach as people do in everyday life, but also with an almost distressing clarity that brings to light the consequences and uncomfortable realities of the human herd. I Shall Wear Midnight demonstrates with childlike innocence how something as simple as a fairy tale can destroy the lives of those perceived to be, if only for a moment, different.
Five stars, darlings. Five goddamn stars.