I haven’t made a whole lot of progress on the book since the last post. Other things have been taking up all my time. There was the Lunar New Year, which is big here in the East, though not as much for my wife’s family. Still we had to go out to meet people and eat too much food. Not that I can complain about the latter part.
I also worked on the drafts for two new Storm Hamilton stories, which I plan to send out at the end of the month. The stories actually came to mind when I stumbled on a couple new publishers.
But I did make some progress on I Shall Wear Midnight. Pratchett’s skill at description, both of characters and situations, stood out to me this time. Sir Terry always had the uncanny ability to write something completely ridiculous and yet perfectly clear and appropriate. At times his crazy way of approaching descriptions works even better that a straight-forward method would.
For example, there is this passage where he is describing Letitia, the mean duchess’s wishy-washy daughter (and Tiffany’s rival for the attention of the young baron Roland):
Her hobby, and quite possibly one activity in life, was painting in watercolours, and although Tiffany was trying, against the worst of her instincts, to be generous to the girl, there was no denying that she looked like a watercolour – and not just a watercolour, but a watercolour painted by someone who had not much colour but large supplies of water, giving her the impression of not only being colourless but also rather damp. You could add, too, that there was so little of her that in a storm it might be quite possible that she would snap. Unseen as she was, Tiffany felt just the tiniest pang of guilt and stopped inventing other nasty things to think. Besides, compassion was setting in, blast it!
This description is so dense; there is so much here. When we first meet Letitia, she is portrayed as bland and emotionless–in other words, colorless. She is also see as weak, being pushed around by her mother and others (“there was so little of her”). But this passage marks a turning point in how Tiffany, and the reader, views the girl. Letitia begins to deepen and even shine as a character. Over the stretch of the entire story, her development is masterfully done.
Another thing that Pratchett does well is dialogue and character interaction. He has great pacing and the humorous descriptive bits in between what is said serve to amplify the tone of the dialogue.
This is my favorite exchange (in part because the duchess had it coming for a while):
‘You there! Yes! You there in the shadows! Are you lollygagging?’ [the Duchess said].
This time she [Tiffany] paid attention. All that thinking had meant that she hadn’t paid enough attention to her little don’t-see-me trick. She stepped out of the shadows, which meant that the pointy black hat was not just a shadow. The Duchess glared at it.
It was time for Tiffany to break the ice, even though it was so thick as to require an axe. She said politely, ‘I don’t know how to lollygag, madam, but I will do my best.’
‘What? What! What did you call me?’
The people in the hall were learning fast and they were scuttling as quickly as they could to get out of the place, because the Duchess’s tone of voice was a storm warning, and nobody likes to be out in a storm.
The sudden rage overtook Tiffany. It wasn’t as if she had done anything to deserve being shouted at like that. She said, ‘I’m sorry, madam; I did not call you anything, to the best of my belief.’
This did not do anything to help; the Duchess’s eyes narrowed. ‘Oh, I know you. The witch – the witch girl who followed us to the city on who knows what dark errand? Oh, we know about witches where I’m from! Meddlers, sowers of doubt, breeders of discontent, lacking all morality, and charlatans into the bargain!’
The Duchess pulled herself right up and glowered at Tiffany as if she had just won a decisive victory. She tapped her cane on the ground.
Tiffany said nothing, but nothing was hard to say. She could sense the watching servants behind curtains and pillars, or peering around doors. The woman was smirking, and really needed that smirk removed, because Tiffany owed it to all witches to show the world that a witch could not be treated like this. On the other hand, if Tiffany spoke her mind it would certainly be taken out on the servants. This needed some delicate wording. It did not get it, because the old bat gave a nasty little snigger and said, ‘Well, child? Aren’t you going to try to turn me into some kind of unspeakable creature?’
Tiffany tried. She really tried. But there are times when things are just too much. She took a deep breath.
‘I don’t think I shall bother, madam, seeing as you are making such a good job of it yourself!’
I don’t know what else can be said about this passage. It’s like a perfect joke. There’s the setup, and then, with perfect timing, the punchline. I was enjoying the work in audiobook format.
It’s rather funny that this bit of conflict begins with a miscommunication and a differing understanding of the meaning of words. More humorous is the choice to use a word like “lollygagging” which is almost out of place in this setting. As a mid-19th century word, it is a bit recent, even for the industrialized Discworld. I don’t know if Pratchett is trying to suggest that the duchess is a person who tries to be on the top of fashion and culture trends. It does exemplify the cultural distance between her and Tiffany very well–not only in class and rank (at least in the duchess’s mind), but also in culture, urban versus rural.
But mostly, this is a great example of Pratchett giving us his usual morally-strong characters. Unlike the colorless
I hope you enjoyed these two quotes. As I mentioned in the last post, if you haven’t read a Discworld novel before, I strongly urge you to give one a try. The best place to start, in my mind, would be with Small Gods or Monstrous Regiment, which are two of my favorites and are both stand-alone stories.
Thanks for reading!