In the eighteenth chapter of The Shepherd’s Crown, the battle has begun. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Discworld.
Trigger Warning: For brief discussion of abuse and bullying
If I look at Tiffany’s journey over these five books she’s been in, I see a young woman who has come entirely into her sense of self. And this battle in particular—this sweeping, epic-in-scope, violent, frightening battle—feels like the culmination of that journey. Tiffany is Land under Wave. Tiffany is the witch of the Chalk. Tiffany is herself, the queen of shepherds. And look at what she has accomplished: Defeated the Queen of the Elves. The Hiver. The Wintersmith. The Cunning Man. And now?
She helped assemble an unofficial army to defeat the elves.
I like that she didn’t do this alone. I love so much that she delegated tasks, that she let other people do what they do best without interfering in that. She just trusted everyone in Lancre. And from a craft perspective, it was so smart of Pratchett to open with the Lancre arm of the attack first. Tiffany gives the Feegles permission to march into battle (and one does with her boot because… well, they’re Feegles), and then we’re anchored in her epiphany: Tiffany is not Granny Weatherwax, and she can do this on her own.
From that, we’re whisked away to Lancre to watch as all these characters we’ve come to know prepare for one of the biggest moments of their lives. Some have done this before; others will face the elves for the first time. It all works to set up the big confrontation between Peaseblossom, Nightshade, and Tiffany, too. We get a sense of how utterly unprepared the elves are for any significant pushback. That’s important! I say that because I wonder if that is why Peaseblossom does that petty, nasty thing. Did he know he was losing? Did he have a fear that he was up against an adversary who might actually defeat him?
I don’t want to ignore that this isn’t a clean success, though; the text makes it clear that while the people in Lancre had an incredible defense plan, the elves weren’t immediately dissuaded from invading the Disc. Still, let’s talk about this first victory. It’s odd reading a book and knowing it was the last: the last in the series and the last that Pratchett would write. I have thus far remained ignorant of pretty much everything that was going on during Pratchett’s life while he wrote these books, aside from knowing very vague and general things about the embuggerance. (In part because I thought I might get to meet him when I was invited to present at the International Discworld Convention in Manchester in 2014, less than six months after I started this long-ass project.) But given that, his death in 2015, and the text itself, this chapter felt like… the start of the end.
I should explain. I don’t know if Pratchett knew this would be his final book, but it’s hard for me not to see that in these words, in this beautiful, violent procession of so very many characters I have come to know and love over forty-one books. That feels like an ending. But not just because they are here; Pratchett doesn’t jam these characters into the chapter for the sake of it. Each of them brings something useful and meaningful to the battle. They’re here for a reason. Magrat is the queen and a witch, and she acts as a leader for those in Lancre who are ready to fight off the elves. Geoffrey’s arc builds from the abuse and neglect that he experienced home to this. He gathers up all the men in Lancre, who had become aimless (and felt purposeless), and he turned them into a tiny army! Mr. Sideways’s catapult proved to be DEEPLY effective (that was a catapult, right?)
But really, it’s Geoffrey’s confrontation with Lord Lankin that’s the most meaningful. Pratchett draws a direct parallel between Geoffrey’s father and Lord Lankin, yet not before Goeffrey still gives Lankin a chance. I think that speaks volumes to Geoffrey’s character. He knows who Lankin is and what Lankin is capable of. Still, Geoffrey wants Lankin to have the opportunity to change his mind. He still sees Lankin as a person who is capable of change. There’s a parallel here between Geoffrey and Tiffany, too, since both of them met elves and believed, even in the tiniest way, that an elf could do something different.
Yet when Lord Lankin doesn’t budge, Pratchett gives Geoffrey one of the best lines in the book:
“I know you, mister. I know what kind of thing you are. You are a bully. I know about bullies, oh yes I do! I have known them all my life. And believe me, you aren’t the worst.”
Because how can Lord Lankin possibly measure up to Geoffrey’s father? Years and years and years of that kind of abuse from someone who is not a stranger! Lord Lankin is a complete fucking stranger to him! As someone who has been abused by strangers and loved ones, it’s the loved ones who seem to be able to hurt you most. So yeah, this felt incredibly powerful to read, especially as someone who was abused by a parent. Pratchett reverses Geoffrey’s fortune, and he makes this admittedly terrible experience Geoffrey’s power. He can resist Lankin because of it!
Indeed, much of what we see in Lancre is the world being upended on to the heads of the elves. Literally, in the case of swarf, but also because these people are underdogs. They’re at an extreme disadvantage, but they still manage to kick the elves out of Lancre. I love Magrat’s demand of them:
“We have had enough of this. You could have had it all. Now, go away to your forlorn spaces. Come back as good neighbors—or not at all.”
Maybe Magrat thinks there’s potential with them, but I also think she’s leveling a threat, knowing that they will always fight against the elves because of what they stand for.
From here, the chapter transitions back to Tiffany. Like we experienced in Lancre, there are tons of familiar faces who make what might be their last appearance: Maggie, Jeannie’s daughter. Miss Tick. Horace the Cheese!!! Letitia fully steps into being a witch, which was a beautiful thing to see. But all of this leads to the fight we were all waiting for: What was going to happen when Tiffany and Peaseblossom met? Y’all, I’m still devastated by this. The sheer potential that is snuffed out by Peaseblossom’s monstrous act still hurts. Literally just after announcing that she had mad a friend in Tiffany, Nightshade is cut down. And the meaning is clear: that very idea posed a threat to Peaseblossom. I do think it was an act based in fear, not just spite, not just done in the violence of war. The act also sends Tiffany into a rage, a rage that is almost crushed by Peaseblossom’s glamour…
Because now I have to cycle back to what I opened this review with. Tiffany’s victory of Peaseblossom—which includes INVOKING THE KING OF THE ELVES WITHOUT EVEN CONSULTING HIM—is about her acceptance of her identity. It’s deeply tied to this journey of the understanding of her past, her land, her country, and her role as a witch. I don’t think you can divorce that journey from this story. That whole bit about the shepherd’s crown… that’s Tiffany. Not royal. Someone who knows where she came from. There to herd away predators. The queen of shepherds. And this act cleanses the Land, summons the King of the Elves, earns his respect, and ends with one of the most comically perfect character endings I have ever read. The more I think about it, the funnier it is, even if within the context of the text, it’s not obviously funny. But come on, y’all. Peaseblossom has been so arrogant and sure of himself this entire time, and he gets fucking DECKED by the King of the Elves and dies instantly. There’s no fanfare. There’s no sadness. He’s just gone by SLAP, and I find that darkly comic? But there’s also something deeper here: He died very much unlike Nightshade. Why? Because he had no friends. No one will mourn him.
That is not the case for Nightshade. And Tiffany’s last words in this chapter are properly haunting:
“Rob, let us bury the Lady Nightshade here, where she fell,” she said quietly. “I will mark the spot with a cairn of stones. We will remember this day. We will remember her.” Then she added softly, almost to herself, “We need to remember.”
Because Nightshade offered a glimpse of what could be. Nightshade did something no other elf had ever done: she considered living another way. In her final moments, she stood up to the elf who had thrown her out of her realm, and she did so without hesitation. Isn’t that something to remember? To commemorate? To think of as you move into a new world?
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