In the fifth chapter of The Shepherd’s Crown, Tiffany begins to adapt to a rapidly changed world. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Discworld.
Trigger Warning: For discussion of death and grief.
You ever read a sentence that tells a story all on its own?
The Queen of the Elves sat in state on a diamond throne in her palace, surrounded by her courtiers, foundlings and lost boys, and creeping creatures with no names—all the detritus of the fairy folk.
Y’all, this is a MASTERFUL sentence. It gives us a setting, a place that is specific and alive and real, and it does so with minimal details. We get a sense of the Queen’s regality, of her power, of her taste. Her court is given a similar treatment: the details are bare, but they are immensely powerful. Pratchett relies on familiarity with genre conventions, since you kinda have to know what “foundlings” and “lost boys” are. Let’s say you don’t know what those are. Oh, he’s got you covered, since the last part of this sentence says EVERYTHING you need to know about the elves and their treatment of others. All of these people are detritus. They are the leftovers, the collateral damage, the things the elves played with and then forgot. They served a purpose, and that’s it. They are left to waste away.
What a fucking SENTENCE, y’all.
And it’s a hell of an opening, as Pratchett also decides to switch point of view to give us some insight into what’s happening in this specific realm. We already knew that the Queen was furious for how she’d been humiliated by Tiffany all those years ago; we also know that Lord Peaseblossom saw two areas of vulnerability. The Queen was no longer as powerful, and the door between his world and Tiffany’s was “gossamer thin,” and this is an opportunity. When will he take it? How will he take it?
However, Pratchett had another surprise waiting for me, and this one is HIGHLY dependent on the events of books like Unseen Academicals and Raising Steam. In hindsight, it’s obvious that the goblins were a subjugated species in the fairy realm, too, and I think it was brilliant of Pratchett to write the Queen’s dialogue to sound exactly like what people said of the goblins in the Discworld realm. This constant in the fairy world is not so constant anymore, though. Why? Because the goblins aren’t treated nearly as terribly anymore. That shifting cultural standard means that the goblins understand their own self-worth and their own power, which leads to an INCREDIBLE confrontation between Of the Lathe the Swarf and the Queen. He threatens her! He refuses to kneel and obey! Hell, he talks back to her the entire time.
Even with that, there’s a complication, one that I’m very interested in. I do not expect the relationship between the goblins and the elves to ever be the same. (And I think that Of the Lathe the Swarf really did bring swarf into the elven realm.) Yet I can’t get this part out of my head:
“Of the Lathe the Swarf still has fancy for the old days. I likes to see humans squirm. Likes to see you fairy folk stirring things up, I does. Some goblins thinks as I does, but not so many now. Some goblins almost not goblins now. Almost human. I don’t likes it but they says the times they is a-changing.”
It’s hard not to think of what Ardent and his followers believed in Raising Steam, though I don’t think Of the Lathe the Swarf is anywhere near as conservative. But couple this with that brief glare at Peaseblossom, and I AM SUSPICIOUS. Does Of the Late the Swarf’s rebellion have a secondary meaning? Was he speaking to Peaseblossom in that moment, appealing to a shared feeling that this whole realm is no longer what it was?
So, I’ll try to keep all that in mind as I read this book. From this point, Pratchett pivots back to Tiffany and continues to scorch my sense of self because… shit. Why do I feel so called out by this chapter? HOW DARE HE. Because look, it’s no secret that I overwork, that I fill my life to the brim and rarely stop to think what I need to do with myself. I mean… shall I vaguely gesture at the archives of Mark Reads? How the fuck did I ever sustain ten reviews a week? Oh, right, by not valuing my sense of deserving free time and a life outside of all this. YIKES.
Granted, the context here with Tiffany is vastly, vastly different, but I still related to this a lot. It’s exhausting. How? How is Tiffany going to manage this? She has two steadings, and the demand of both of them is so vastly different from one another. Look, I get why she goes to Jeannie to confide in her that she isn’t sure she’s up to this. I also recognize that the scene where Tiffany does this comes after one where she demonstrates how good she is at being a witch! I can’t help but think of a line in an episode of Russian Doll (which I just watched for Mark Watches!) where a therapist says that we are often the most unreliable narrators of our own stories. And isn’t that true here? Tiffany cannot see the whole scope of her life and what she’s done for everyone. It is a no-brainer to the people she knows that she should take Granny’s place; it’s a no-brainer to all of us!
So, I love Jeannie’s pep talk. I do. I believe in Tiffany, and I think that by the end of The Shepherd’s Crown, she will figure this out. I also want to be very thankful for the other thing Pratchett does: through Tiffany’s parents, he allows Tiffany to be herself. She is torn between duties and identities here: Tiffany the Chalk witch and Tiffany, the witch of witches (but not really.) Who is she supposed to be? How do you burn the candle at both ends and still remain whole? The world has changed so quickly for Tiffany, and even I was surprised at how quickly she was forced into this scenario. There was no real day off after Granny’s death; she jumped straight into work. In two different locations!!! She is flying back and forth between the Chalk and Lancre ALL THE TIME.
Which is why I love the scene with her parents so very much. First of all, like all of this book, it’s so beautifully written. That whole motif late in the chapter of her getting to be a child again, and a young girl, and a witch… it’s a gorgeous way to write about the overlapping identities of Tiffany Aching. But your family—chosen or biological—has a way of seeing you that you can’t ever do yourself. Make no mistake, y’all: Tiffany’s parents love her SO MUCH. And you can see that in how they tread a very complicated conversation with her! They’re obviously proud of her and what she has accomplished. Plus, look how openly they are talking about her being a witch. We didn’t see that in Tiffany’s first book!!! So there’s an extra layer of meaning to Joe Aching giving her daughter the shepherd’s crown. It’s an acceptance a child dreams of. It’s what we all crave, isn’t it? Your parents loving you so much that they want you to be not just the best at what you love, but they want you to be happy, too.
So how is Tiffany going to balance that? She gives herself the night off—much-needed, of course!!!—but soon, she’ll be right back at it. Will she have to choose the Chalk over Lancre or vice-versa? And what happens when Peaseblossom eventually comes through into her world?
Ugh, y’all, this book is DEVASTATINGLY good.
Mark Links Stuff
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