In the fourteenth chapter of The Shepherd’s Crown, Tiffany’s unorthodox decision with Nightshade leads her down an even more unorthodox path. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Discworld.
I love this. I LOVE IT SO MUCH. One of the most fulfilling parts of reading the Discworld books in publication order has been seeing how willing Pratchett was to change. Not just his style, not just the content of his books, not just the scope of his stories. No, he also changed the things he wrote. He did not set his own canon in stone, and as I mentioned before, I love how much he was willing to challenge himself.
The Shepherd’s Crown deals so heavily in exceptions, and Nightshade now firmly fits in that. However, she only does because of Tiffany Aching. If Tiffany had not interevened, the Feegles would have surely destroyed her. Even if they hadn’t, her fate couldn’t possibly have been anything but dire. With no wings and no power, what was she going to do? So in comes Tiffany, who is a witch first, and she sees someone in need of help. That part comes first in practically every decision that she makes in this chapter. Which isn’t to say that Tiffany is naive and is ignoring that Nightshade is an elf. (Not only that, but the very elf who tried to ruin her life and kill her.) No, she’s still taking precautions, and as she later tells Magrat, she definitely does not trust the once Queen of the Elves.
Rather, Tiffany has a fascinating approach. She offers Nightshade what elves do not offer others. No… that’s not quite right. She offers this elf what elves are incapable of offering others. Their culture, their mindset, their whole THING is a most violent and terrific lack of empathy. They do not see any living creature—including one another!!!—as anything other than an object made for the self. They are truly the most horrifically selfish creation in all of Pratchett’s work, and that’s because right down to the bones, they cannot conceive of anything else. That’s the difficulty Tiffany faces throughout this chapter as she tries to talk to Nightshade. First of all: Nightshade, given just the most basic form of kindness, IMMEDIATELY TRIES TO USE HER GLAMOUR ON TIFFANY. She wastes almost no time trying to take advantage of her! And she doesn’t see this as anything but natural. To her, the cruelty of appearing as the china shepherdess is both intentional and obvious. Well, of course she is trying to hurt Tiffany. Why wouldn’t she? Isn’t that what elves do? Nightshade believes so because she has no reason to believe otherwise.
But that’s the question at the center of this? What is an elf? Who decides what one can be—the elves themselves or the people they interact with? Because literally EVERYONE who isn’t an elf HATES them, and Tiffany spells that out for Nightshade. Nightshade also admits that the elves are merciless, but she states it like it’s just nothing more than a fact. The concept of “mercy” doesn’t hold any moral weight for her. It’s just a feature, a trait, a quality of the elves that just is.
Then what is this human doing helping her, when every bit of lore, every bit of truth, EVERYTHING says she should have no reason to ever help an elf?
“I did have a reason,” said Tiffany. “I’m a witch, and I thought it possible.”
This is such an incredible distillation not only of what it means to be a witch, but also how Tiffany pratices witchcraft. Particularly in this book! Tiffany has been dealt so many challenging and complicated problems in all of her books, and she consistently finds a solution to them outside what is expected. She imagines possibilities, and now that she’s in charge of this new steading, she’s changing. It harkens back to what I said about Pratchett, too. Through this character, we get to see Pratchett adapt his world to a new exception. Nothing is certain, nothing is set in stone, and there isn’t anything inherently wrong with changing a tradition. Why? Because you can imagine what is possible.
Here’s what Tiffany is currently imagining: that with continued exposure to a world so utterly unlike her own, Nightshade will begin to see things differently. It is a monumental task, of course. This isn’t merely about changing someone’s mind. Nightshade has to change the very essence of who she thinks she is. Is that possible? Is it possible to teach an elf to have empathy? To reject the notion of supremacy? To stop viewing living creatures as things and objects? To take what’s learned and convince other elves???
I don’t know. It is admittedly hard for me to imagine that because I have a perception of elves influenced by the terrible things they’ve done over the course of these books. In that sense, I’m like Magrat. It just seems impossible. But this is Tiffany Aching I’m talking about. I accept that if anyone can make this possible, it’s definitely her. Tiffany is astoundingly patient in these scenes, too, like when Nightshade is asking her why she even bothers helping anyone. Plus… Tiffany is honest. She doesn’t give Nightshade a false view of humanity. Humanity is messy, and we get a lot of things wrong. That doesn’t mean Tiffany shouldn’t try, though.
And now, I have to wonder if Nightshade isn’t going to try, too. What does that look like, an elf trying to live another way? I think we’re about to find out soon.
The Queen of Lancre
I really missed Magrat, so I was utterly delighted that we got such a long section from her point of view. Pratchett packs a lot of information into this regarding her life as a queen, but the thing I enjoyed the most was getting to see her be a witch again. Magrat has had a life far away from most of the action in recent Discworld books, yet I still managed to get a sense of it here. She’s a wonderful mother who cares about what lessons she’s passing down to her children; she is still deeply in love with Verence; the kingdom of Lancre respects and enjoys the monarchy, in no small part because Verence and Magrat are such good and thoughtful rules. I do think it was intentional that Pratchett put this right after Nightshade spent part of the text discussing how queens worked in the world of the elves. It’s a powerful contrast, you know?There is no cycle of violence and spite here, and that includes what Magrat does when there’s a threat in Lancre. She seeks out Tiffany because of her experience with the elves and because she knows that Tiffany, no matter how talented she is, will need the help.
Which makes me think this is the beginning of a whole NEW twist in the story: What if Tiffany and Magrat are about to assemble EVERY WITCH POSSIBLE to combat the invasion of the elves? I don’t think this theory is all that risky, though; Magrat suggests Petulia and Letitia as possible help, and I bet they’ll be the first of many. (I can see a bunch of interesting ways in which these witches can help, but… what the hell is Mrs. Earwig going to do? Does she even possess any skills to fight off the elves? She notoriously doesn’t like getting her hands dirty, and I can’t imagine a scenario worse than this one for someone like that.) I was also surprised but pleased that Tiffany was upfront about keeping Nightshade at her parents’ farm. That was a good move; at this point, they’ll all need as much information about the situation as possible. And I also understood Magrat’s reluctance; Magrat has a MUCH different experience with the elves.
Still, both of them have dealt with the terror of the elves. It’s so fascinating to me, then, that Tiffany still wants to imagine a possibility that no one else has. It is a terribly risky thing, obviously, but I really want to see it come to fruition.
Mark Links Stuff
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