In the seventeenth chapter of The Shepherd’s Crown, Tiffany addresses the gathered witches about what is coming. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Discworld.
THIS IS ALL HAPPENING SO FAST. I mean… it’s not. The pacing for this book has been wonderful, but I’m starting to truly feel like I’m about to come upon an ending, and it’s a LOT to handle. I do not have much time left with these characters or this world, so reading this was a bit bittersweet. Is everyone going to make it? Will Death loom over the end of this book, just like he loomed over the first few chapters? I don’t know. I don’t know what Peaseblossom and Lord Lankin are about to do, but I agree with Nanny and Magrat: this is a good time to be afraid. Because accepting that means that these witches will prepare for the worst.
There are a lot of fun details here, too, and Pratchett calls back to so many past books and characters, like the lovely mention of Hodgesaargh, or the reappearance of all the young witches from Tiffany’s first couple of books. Yet even with so many witches in one place, there’s still the problem of just the sheer numbers:
“How many witches have we here?” She looked around the room. “Ten, twelve mebbe—more if you includes Geoffrey and Letitia, and the young girls still training—but only half of us bein’ senior witches what has much real experience.”
So how does a small group of witches stop an invasion of countless elves, who are going to pour into their world in two different locations? Well, before they even get to that, I loved that the few witches who have sparred with the elves were like, “HEY, I DON’T THINK YOU KNOW HOW SERIOUS THIS IS.” And it’s not like the witches wouldn’t take this seriously! It’s just that until you actually experience glamour, it’s kinda hard to describe? I say that despite that Nanny, Magrat, and Tiffany are all very accurate in what they say. This all leads to a very surreal scene where an ACTUAL ELF is not just in a room of witches, but she uses her glamour on them WITH THEIR CONSENT. As bizarre as it is, I was so happy to find out that Tiffany wasn’t keeping Nightshade a secret anymore. Hell, she couldn’t. Do you know how much more upsetting it would have been if she revealed her presence AFTER all of this? This was the right time to fold her in.
And holy shit. Y’ALL. Look, I anticipated the waves of revulsion and self-hatred. I figured that Tiffany would be able to resist more than the others. (And I am so, so in love with how the shepherd’s crown has come to represent Tiffany’s connection to the land and herself.) But then Mrs. Earwig, of all characters, surprised me the most.
“Mrs. Earwig, did you not feel as though you were small, nasty, and a waste of space? Totally without redemption?”
Letice Earwig’s face held nothing but puzzlement.
Nightshade looked at her, and back to Tiffany. “It was like hitting a rock,” she said. “This one has something interesting… something missing.” She turned to stare again at Mrs. Earwig. “Are you sure you are not an elf?” she queried.
I just… can’t deal with this. I don’t even think that Nightshade is aware of what she did. Mrs. Earwig is unaffected by glamour because SHE IS TOO MUCH LIKE THE ELVES. On video, my mind instantly went to empathy. That’s what Tiffany has been struggling with repeatedly as she’s tried to get Nightshade to understand a different way of living. I get why I went there—I think it makes a ton of sense given Mrs. Earwig’s history. She has a problem seeing the full lives of other people, and her arrogance manifests from that place. But in thinking this through for the review, I wonder if it’s less about empathy and more that Mrs. Earwig thinks so highly of herself that she couldn’t even imagine feeling self-hatred. And you know, that’s… not really a bad thing, is it? It’s actually kind of powerful, knowing that that kind of thing would never work on Mrs. Earwig.
I am also going to guess that this is why, for the first time, we see Mrs. Earwig tell a JOKE? Actually, it’s not just that! As I re-read this chapter for this review, I noticed that Mrs. Earwig is not as characteristically cruel or as mean as we usually see her. She asks good questions; she seems genuinely concerned that Tiffany might not have enough support in the Chalk, and then she says one of the funniest lines in the whole book:
“And if ye dinnae get that right, your last resort is to nut ‘em.”
Tiffany took in Mrs. Earwig’s face and said cheerfully, “Could you do that, Mrs. Earwig?”
She was given a Look, and Mrs. Earwig said, “I will nut as I see fit.”
Maybe I’m just reading a lot into this. (It is what I do, after all.) Maybe I won’t see much of Mrs. Earwig in these final pages. (HATE THAT I TYPED THAT.) But even if that’s true, I like the image Pratchett gives us here: Mrs. Earwig, finally surrounded by witches smiling at her. Everyone has the capacity to change. Isn’t that a huge theme of the book?
There are other beautiful and wondrous images that close out this chapter as well. Reading back over this is making me teary-eyed, and I think y’all are gonna see some eye moisture in the coming videos. I really love Tiffany Aching, and her dream is a reminder of an incredible journey. I think some of Pratchett’s best, most evocative writing has been in these Tiffany Aching books, and you can see it here, too: the way he writers of her land. The way he took experiences that were difficult and scary and turned them into something positive and informational, like when Dr. Bustle reappears in Tiffany’s mind. Then there’s the way he writes of the land, and you cannot divorce that love from the Tiffany books. You just can’t. Pratchett loved where he was from, and he elevates nature in a way to pay reverence. You can see that in how the shepherd’s crown is used in the final scene of chapter seventeen. The shepherd’s crown is looking for the very best shepherd, and it takes Tiffany a moment to realize… it’s her. That crown made its way to her down the line of Achings for a reason.
I also wonder if the dream means we’ll see Thunder and Lightning again…
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.
– If you’d like to stay up-to-date on all announcements regarding my books, sign up for my newsletter! DO IT.