In the thirteenth chapter of The Shepherd’s Crown, absolutely NOT. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Discworld.
Okay, just purely from a craft perspective, this chapter is brilliant. It’s like a short story crammed into the midst of an ongoing story, but it’s not just for the sake of it. Pratchett wanted to deliver a payoff that would hit hard, and in order to do so, he designed this to unfold a very specific way. If the reader was familiar with his elves, then this chapter still felt disturbing and unnerving, especially since it toyed with what we expected. How would the elves interrupt the work of the flumers?
So, we open with the promised “mischief” referenced in the title, returning to the Baron’s Arms to see how the elves mess with John Parsley. It’s annoying and frustrating that Parsley’s beer is soured, but in the grand scheme of things, it really is just mischief. Aside from establishing that, though, there’s this moment here that I think will come up again:
“Oh, come on,” said Joe. “My Tiffany would have dealt with them in a brace of shakes.”
But the beer was still sour….
Tiffany knows something terrible is about to happen, and she’s certainly doing what she can to prepare. But I wonder if her busy nature is going to be used against her. Will the people of the Chalk be upset that the elves have arrived and blame her double steading for that? What about when someone else finds out she HAS an elf in captivity? How much of people’s expectation of Tiffany (and their reliance on her) is going to complicate matters? I DON’T KNOW! But I’m certainly worried about this!
Anyway, lets move on to Martin Snack and Frank Sawyer. I am still impressed by how much information Pratchett packs into this. We get two incredibly well-defined characters in Martin and Frank. We understand their struggle to make it to the flume-herding camp; we get a sense of their bodies, of how they relate to them, of what sort of temperaments and personalities they have. There’s even a bit of a backstory here for Frank, which Mr. Slack interrupts because it is Not Important Here, though it also sounds incredibly common. And why is that important? Because it helps build out this detailed culture amongst the flume-herders. The job is dangerous, something Pratchett planted into The Shepherd’s Crown much earlier with that scene between Tiffany and Jack Abbott. It is expected that young men will come up to the forests of the Ramtops, and they will never come back down. The job will claim them because it is fast-moving, somewhat unpredictable, and also: TONS OF WOOD BARRELING IN YOUR DIRECTION. The danger isn’t the only problem, though. There’s an intense isolation, too. Many men are escaping something or leaving people behind, and working a job like this helps foster that separation from the rest of society. (I’m only now realizing that maybe the reference to lumberjacks wearing lingerie and singing is maybe a Monty Python reference???)
And then there are the Predictive Pines. Pratchett sets that up, too, and I assumed that Frank or Martin would touch one and we’d see how this was connected to the “worse” of the chapter title. Clearly, the elves were on their way, right?
I still wasn’t ready, y’all. I knew how awful the elves were, and I knew that under Peaseblossom, they were particularly bloodthirsty. This was not going to be a series of pranks and inconveniences; they wanted to invade the Disc and make it their own. Thus, Pratchett builds up this anticipation with just the right amount of context, and then Mr. Slack touches one of the Predictive Pines, and this immediately feels like a horror novel. It’s amazing to me to see how quickly Pratchett was able to pivot in the text, too. The images that Frank sees? It’s just enough—especially the image of Mr. Slack, GOOD GODS—to let us know that in a very short span of time, this is going to be a bloody, awful nightmare. And a nightmare it is, y’all. It’s so sad, too, because these men are destroyed in short order. Peaseblossom has something to prove as the new King, and this is how he’s chosen to do it.
This is not a gradual invasion, either, and that’s the other thing Pratchett achieves with this chapter. Intentional or not, I was reminded of the chapter where Pratchett jumped from one point of view to the next to give us a sense of how people learned of Granny Weatherwax’s death. Here, though, he jumps from one terrible image to another. The elves are not entering the Disc in one place, and they’re certainly not confining themselves to one type of mischief. They come to torment a miller, who has a unique (and horrifying) way of dealing with the elves; Old Mother Griggs is tormented in a particularly awful way; a trader is apparently attacked mid-song; a young woman loses her little sister to the glamour; a traveler wanders into a fairy world and probably won’t ever return; and I’m not even going to quote the Herne the Hunted part. It’s all… a lot. A WHOLE LOT.
The elves are here, and this isn’t going to be a gradual thing anymore. It’s terrifying.
Mark Links Stuff
– You can now pre-order my second YA novel, Each of Us a Desert, which will be released on September 15, 2020 from Tor Teen!
– Not only that, but my very first pre-order campaign is now live for North American readers! If you submit proof of pre-order, you can get a limited edition print that comes with the book.
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