“Evil begins when you begin to treat people as things.”
-Terry Pratchett, I Shall Wear Midnight
We all want to be different from each other and we express our individuality by the things we do in the daily lives ; such as the clothes we wear, the decorations in our homes, the vocations we chose, etc... In other words, we do things to set ourselves apart from others, because we all want self-identity so we can be unique, and have our voices heard as well as to be treated with dignity, which is a very good thing.
But is setting yourself apart the same as setting yourself above?
In I Shall Wear Midnight, our beloved Discworld heroine, Tiffany Aching, will come to realize the danger, that what started as setting yourself apart can become setting yourself above.
In this novel, which is the 38th installment in Terry Pratchett's Discworld series, Tiffany Aching has finished her apprenticeship in witchcraft and now she is a fully fledged witch at her home town, Chalk. Tiffany does the things that witches on Discworld do – that is, works that don't involve waving the wands and throwing sparkly magic, but the unglamorous works that people seldom hear, like caring for the needy. But there is someone, or, something, out there, who is bearing a black hatred against all witches, and now it is coming to get Tiffany. In the past, The Wee Free Men have always been Tiffany's loyal allies, but this time, Tiffany must face and defeat this threat alone, because this battle is as much for the survival of Chalk as a trial for Tiffany.
The Tiffany Aching books are marketed as Young Adult novels, but I Shall Wear Midnight is perhaps the darkest outing for our young heroine. This book contains scenes of child abuse, teenage pregnancy, and an evil antagonist totally without redeemable qualities. Indeed, an evil antagonist, this is very rare in Discworld books considering in the past Terry Pratchett treated his villains with a "there is a second chance for you" approach. The "absolutely evil" villain in this book, however, does not undercut the depths of its characterizations as one would expect of the thin characterizations in the fantasy books of the 80s.
In this book, the villain was the embodiment, and sustained by, the human nature of hatred and fear. But here Terry Pratchett was not just talking about any type of hatred and fear, no, in this book he emphasized our hatred and fear of the type of people that we don't associate with hate directly but only abstractly. (i.e. When we think to ourselves, it was "just" Bob, or, "it was "only" Mary"). It is an evil that creeps up amongst the mundanes and we are often blind to it. Tiffany's battle against this villain, The Cunning Man, was then a test of her ability to not giving to her own hatred and fear. The protection against this hatred and fear, the story tells us, depends on our willingness and ability to build something that hatred cannot break, such as trust and affections with others. In the book, not only was The Cunning Man an external threat but he also represented Tiffany''s self-discovery about the unpleasant side of herself and how to overcome it. This also means the villain in this book gave Tiffany substance as a heroine – Tiffany discovered the dangers of what started as setting herself apart could turn into setting herself above, which was followed by an evil in her as she began to treat people as things, and that was where powerful witches on Discworld, such as Black Alice, tripped over in the past and went over to the "dark side".
This book also dealt with the theme of "doing things in the right season". Since Tiffany was small, she always wanted to be a witch of the Chalk and she worked very hard at it. Tiffany eventually succeeded at becoming an extra-ordinary witch at a very young age, but the price was her childhood. As a fully fledged witch, Tiffany refused to wear black clothing (wearing black cloth is a symbol of being a fully qualified witch on Discworld), because she wished to join the dance of life. In the book, Tiffany faced a conundrum; she was willing to sacrifice herself and die to protect the needy, but she prefers to live a life and grow old. Eventually, Tiffany came to understand that not only can she be both a witch and a woman, but being a woman in the dance of life makes her a better witch. Therefore, Tiffany concluded, while she shall wear midnight and grow old and die one day, but it is not today, for today she is still young and she will be sitting in the sun. Hence book's title – I Shall Wear Midnight.
I Shall Wear Midnight is a wonderful entry to the Discworld library. There is humor in this book, but the story here is also darker than the previous Tiffany Aching books. This book is a gem because Terry Pratchett weaved these powerful messages into a very well told, moving story. The last page in this book reminded me that I am left with one more Discworld novel to read. Upon this thought, I feel both excited but also apprehensive, it is like how you dread the arrival of the day when you must part with a dear friend, so you want to savor every second of the day when it does come. I don't want Discworld to end, but a conclusion is coming. Next time, I will review Terry Pratchett's final book, The Shepherd's Crown. Meanwhile, I highly recommend I Shall Wear Midnight to my fellow readers.