When we first saw Tiffany Aching, she was an eight year old girl with a matter of fact personality, who takes on the Queen of the Faeries armed only with a cast-iron frying pan… and the fiercest most Scottish bunch of smurfs (called the Nac Mac Feegle) that you’d ever wish to see. This was the book that introduced me to the concept of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld — a fictional universe set on a flat world, sitting atop four elephants riding the back of a turtle through space.
Wee Free Men was funny and scary at the same time. Pratchett ably meshed the terrifying powers of the evil Queen of the Faeries with Tiffany’s strictly sensible approach, with the Nac Mac Feegle acting as action heroes and comic relief at the same time. IT was a wonderful book, and it made me a fan of the Discworld forever.
And at the end of Wee Free Men, we saw young Tiffany Aching come into her own as a witch. That fact alone is enough to impress the elder witch Granny Weatherwax (a veteran of many Pratchett novels), who decides that Tiffany needs to be trained, good and proper.
You see, the place where Tiffany comes from — a plain of pastoral sheep grazing land known as the Chalk — is not traditionally a place which fosters witches, so Tiffany’s startling abilities are something of a mystery. Then again, she is preceded by the respected Granny Aching, a woman who so knew the ins and outs of caring for the Chalk’s sheep that she may have been a witch in her own right. Tiffany, knowing in her heart what she wants to be, readily goes into the mountains for training.
In the two books that followed, we see Tiffany learn more about how to become a witch, and to face threats which seem to grow greater as she grows older. In A Hat Full of Sky, Tiffany’s power both attracts the attention of an ancient force known as a Hiver, and gives her the ability to finally put ti to rest. In Wintersmith, she finds herself the focus of the affections of the lord of the winter. She is also given the task of managing one of the older, bossier teenage witches in the area.
By the end of the third book, Tiffany is thirteen, confident in her abilities, and following her own path as a witch. Her relationship with Granny Weatherwax is strong, based on mutual respect, and the natural antagonism of two very powerful people at the opposite ends of life. Tiffany ends Wintersmith by stating that she would be her own witch. “When I am old, I shall wear midnight,” she says. But until then, she will keep on wearing the green dresses that make her Tiffany, a girl of the Chalk.
The Tiffany Aching series of Discworld novels by Terry Pratchett remain my favourite of his canon. They were the means I used to enter into his universe in the first place, and Tiffany Aching remains one of the strongest characters of the Discworld series. It’s through Tiffany that we see a witch grow up, and it’s no accident that, as Tiffany grows up, the threats that she deals with grow more subtle and more personal. You had hints in Wintersmith that one of the things Tiffany was fighting against was her own teenage self. As dangerous as the Wintersmith was, he was still intent on wooing Tiffany, and Tiffany could not help but be charmed by his attention.
Tiffany’s story draws to a conclusion in the fourth (and possibly final) Tiffany Aching novel, I Shall Wear Midnight. With Tiffany now at sixteen, she has to commit herself. She is about to come of age as a witch, and she has to prove herself not only to her friends and family, not only to her fellow witches, but to herself. Of course, the Universe, isn’t going to make it easy. After being so long away from home, and coming back so obviously smarter than the people around her, Tiffany is now seen as a bit of a detached stranger by her old friends and family on the Chalk. Just as was the case with the Baron’s son, Roland, being a witch means being apart from everyone else. It means being lonely.
Worse, Tiffany’s own powers may have attracted the attention of an ancient force, bourne from an old Omnian priest who did not suffer witches to live. Now known as the Cunning Man, this presence is adept at getting into people’s minds and ramping up their hatred at anything even the slightest bit different. The burnings are starting again, and it isn’t long before it looks as though the Chalk itself is going to turn against its own witch.
I Shall Wear Midnight lives up to the promise of the previous three novels in the Tiffany Aching series. Even at sixteen, Tiffany is still distinctly Tiffany: smart, no-nonsense, unwilling to suffer fools, but also compassionate and kind, and still very human. The 62-year-old Pratchett ably gets us in the head of 16-year-old Tiffany and shows us her frustrations over the people around her — many of whom simply too busy or working too hard to think. There’s her simmering anger at the new Baron Roland, who turned away from the prospect of a relationship between the two of them. There is her jealousy over and bewilderment at the fact that, after successfully fighting off the oppressive influence of his controlling aunts, Roland would marry young woman with so little sense and, worse still, a equally controlling mother.
The enemy of the story, the Cunning Man, works by amplifying the anger and the hatred that is far too easy to find in average human beings, and it’s from this that we see that the greater threat comes from Tiffany herself. On more than one occasion she has to stop herself from just letting go and hurting people whose only crime has been to be just a bit stupid. Indeed, when she doesn’t stop herself from letting go and tells the Roland’s mother-in-law-to-be just what she thinks of her, that gets Tiffany into a big load of trouble. The danger of these scenes is humorously conveyed by Pratchett by the sheer terror of the castle guards who find themselves caught between an unstoppable force and an immovable object.
As is often the case for Pratchett’s characters, the people inhabiting I Shall Wear Midnight are all human. Some are better than others, but all are flawed, and all but the very worst have redeeming features. Into this mix Pratchett throws in a 17-year-old boy named Preston, who has been signed up as the most junior of the Baron’s guards. Loyal, innocent and far smarter than he lets anybody know, he proves a good match for Tiffany — far more so than Roland was in the previous books.
Then, of course, there are the Nac Mac Feegle, who continue to charge into situations where angels fear to tread. This story gives them a darker edge, however, as they have to deal with the same hostility that rises up within the people of the Chalk. The anger that they show as their home is threatened gives you the distinct sense that things could get out of hand very quickly. This becomes one more thing that Tiffany has to contend with just as the poor little witch finds herself very overworked.
The book isn’t perfect. The weakest element is the Cunning Man itself, who feels too direct in its hatred towards witches in general and Tiffany in particular. This is at odds with the more subtle ways the people around Tiffany sometimes slip into hate. Part of the problem is that, by the way the Cunning Man is designed, he is very one-dimensional, especially compared to people like the Duchess, who are far more well-rounded and thus interesting antagonists to contend with. I also felt that the Cunning Man may have been beaten too easily, though I can’t think of any other way this part of the story could be handled.
I Shall Wear Midnight is the story about Tiffany’s coming of age. She leaves the book a full equal to such longstanding characters as Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg, and it is a delight to speculate about the sort of witch Tiffany will become. And yet, it feels as though the story ends here. Indications are that this will be the last story in the Tiffany Aching sequence, and the story feels as though we’ve reached the right time to let this character go and be her own person.
As a farewell, I Shall Wear Midnight closes out a truly remarkable character in a remarkable sub-series in a remarkable universe. If you are a fan of the Discworld series, you won’t be disappointed. If you haven’t read the Discworld series before, do so, though start with Wee Free Men and work your way up to here.