In the fifteenth chapter of The Shepherd’s Crown, Tiffany makes a split-second decision that has her questioning her path. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Discworld.
Trigger Warning: For violence against a child
Pratchett does an interesting thing here to demonstrate Tiffany’s moral character. Earlier in The Shepherd’s Crown, Tiffany helped bring Tiffany Robinson into the world. (Which is also part of the motif of the number three and a parallel with Geoffrey.) Because the young girl’s entire family fawned over the boys who were born before her, Tiffany took it upon herself to care for this ignored child. Not only was this the means by which Tiffany discovered that the elves kidnapped young Tiffany, but I think it also contributes to Tiffany’s instantaneous reaction to the elves who were hurting her:
The elves were laughing, but as Tiffany swooped down, she sent fire blazing from her fingertips and into them and watched them burn. She was shuddering with her fury, a fury so intense it was threatening to overcome her. If she met any more elves that night, they too would be dead.
Tiffany is a thoughtful and careful witch, and while she’s certainly not been opposed to using violence in the past—I mean, the first of her books opened with her smashing Jenny Greenteeth over the head with a frying pan—it’s not her first instinct. At the same time, Pratchett put Tiffany in a situation where pretty much any of us would have responded with violence. Tiffany isn’t even a mother herself—she’s the maiden, remember?—but she behaves in a motherly way when it comes to Tiffany Robinson.
Despite that, Tiffany still questions herself immediately. Immediately!
And she had to stop herself there, suddenly appalled at what she had done. Only a witch gone to the dark would kill, she screamed at herself inside her head.
This speaks so deeply to who Tiffany is: she is willing to turn an intensely critical gaze within. She is aware of what traps a witch might fall into, and despite this being a clear-cut moral issue to me, I respect that she questions herself. Is she thinking of the attacking elves as “just” elves, all while trying to convince Nightshade she’s more than “just” an elf? Does that make her a hypocrite or on the path to being a hypocrite?
It’s a complicated question, but I think the answer comes out over the course of this chapter. Tiffany’s consultation with Nanny is part of that, of course, since she is so no-nonsense about it. And Nanny’s question cuts right to the heart of it:
“You didn’t… enjoy it?”
And clearly, she did not. She was horrified in the VERY NEXT PARAGRAPH. I don’t disagree with Nanny here, either. Tiffany has this power, and while witches thrive on what magic they don’t use, there has to come a time when using it is right. Protecting an infant from pain and torture? Yeah, I feel like Tiffany was purely in the right here. I also know that she’s going to have to make more decisions like this in the future; the elves aren’t stopping their invasion for the time being, and the brief Peaseblossom POV has made that clear. This is only going to escalate, it’s only going to get worse, and the witches might have to do drastic things to save their world.
I also just want to take a quick moment to say that I have no idea why Nanny didn’t notice that she knocked over a present. But yeah, that worries me? WHAT IS THIS FORESHADOWING.
Y’all, I was SO SURPRISED that we actually got to see the King of the Elves again. (It’s been since Lords and Ladies, right?) I wouldn’t mind seeing Casanunda one last time, too, but holy shit, the whole scene under the Long Man? IT’S SO SO SO SO GOOD. I love how this all feels so Tiffany-esque. Of all the witches, she is absolutely the one who would visit the King of the Elves to try and get him to stop the elf invasion. This is what she does! While anyone else might be quick to fight or would ignore him entirely, she tries to reason with him. Tiffany can do “persuading,” you know? (And look only to her scenes with Nightshade for examples of that in this book. More on that in a bit.)
Unsurprisingly, it doesn’t go how she wants, but I admit to not expecting him to just give permission to Tiffany to kill any elves she wanted to. But it makes sense! This dude is just vibing in his dimensional realm naked and with a bunch of other dudes which is… so ridiculously homoerotic? Anyway, it’s clear that the King of the Elves hasn’t changed. At all. He’s still smelly, naked, and has large… essentials? He still loves his world, he has no interest in reuniting with his Queen, and the world of humans is just… well, it’s just there. He doesn’t hate it; he doesn’t want to conquer it. It’s just one of many worlds that his people can play in.
And even though Tiffany is a little afraid, and even though the glamour threatens to overwhelm her, she still tries to convince the King to keep the elves out of her world. Gods, I love her so much! I wouldn’t call her fearless in her attempt with the King. Rather, it’s that she follows through. She doesn’t give up, and she does her absolute best to let him know that the world has changed. It’s no longer what it was: it’s now “the days of iron.”
Does it work? We’ll have to see. The King has historically taken interest in the humans before (thinking of Lords and Ladies), so maybe Tiffany’s words and her bravery will get through to him. Here’s the thing: I think it was worth the try. I say that because it’s such a recurring theme in this book. You could say the same thing about Geoffrey. Nancy. Becky. Nightshade. Change can only be made if we’re courageous enough to accept that it’s even possible, and that’s where Tiffany comes from. That place of potential.
That’s also what I see in her continued attempts to change Nightshade’s outlook. I LOVED THAT SEQUENCE, TOO! It’s so satisfying, especially since it does wonders to actually help the reader to understand what it’s like to look at the world through the eyes of an elf. Because yeah, an act of charity is nonsensical to an elf. Elves possess no empathy at all, so they literally cannot imagine another being as living a full and complete life separate from their own. It’s narcissism taken to a horrible extreme. For an elf, the world literally revolves around them at the center, and every day is a struggle to manifest that reality. Including with other elves! We know elves don’t even respect and care for other elves!!!
It’s why it’s such a huge moment when Nightshade asks if Tiffany is her friend. Holy shit, the elves don’t have friends at ALL. Why would they? That would require them to do something—literally anything!!!—that isn’t self-serving. And when Nightshade does do something like this—helping an old woman by carrying her belongings home—she has to admit that she feels unlike an elf. But what if that isn’t true? What if elves are capable of more than they think they are, but no one has ever just tried something different?
The last line of this chapter is so damn good, y’all, since that’s what Tiffany is trying to achieve here in more ways than one:
“If you learn things,” she finished softly, “you might find yourself building a different kind of kingdom.”
Tiffany is already trying to change the world of witches, both in how she works and in training Geoffrey. She’s done so many things that witches aren’t “supposed” to do, so who’s to say that an elf can’t change either?
Mark Links Stuff
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