In the epilogue of The Shepherd’s Crown, Tiffany finds her magic. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to finish Discworld.
Trigger Warning: For discussion of grief.
Wow, typing that previous sentence made me cry.
What a journey, y’all. I will have more to say about Discworld as a whole in tomorrow’s post, which will partially be devoted to that, partially devoted to a really cool surprise, and partially devoted to an extended Q&A. (We last did one prior to me starting Hogfather, so it’s been about three and a half years or so since then. Hey, I hate the passage of time!) So, I want this last proper review of The Shepherd’s Crown to be about Tiffany Aching.
I wrote in the previous review about how pleased I was with Pratchett rooting the end of this book into Tiffany’s own journey of self-acceptance. While I still stand by that, my whole interpretation of Tiffany’s arc is missing the epilogue, and this makes her journey complete. It wasn’t enough that Tiffany chose the Chalk, though that’s OBVIOUSLY incredibly important. That was part of the emotional tension of the novel: How could Tiffany possibly maintain two steadings for any significant length of time? Sure, it was nice to have Geoffrey’s help, and both Becky and Nancy could have been trained to assist her. But there was no maintaining a double steading in any permanent sense.
Tiffany needed more than that one decision, though, and in “A Whisper on the Chalk,” she decides to truly settle down in this role for the rest of her life. That doesn’t mean that she’s choosing a static life. It’s easy to imagine that Tiffany will never, ever be bored as the witch of the Chalk. No, what I mean by settling down is that she steps into herself. She does that by using the old iron wheels (iron being a constant motif of change in this book and Raising Steam) from Granny Aching’s old hut to build herself a new one. Literally build herself a new one.
Why that? Why couldn’t she let Mr. Block build it? Tiffany’s ownership of the hut is the point. It has to be hers, through and through. So much of what happened in this book was an inheritance: she inherited a steading. A home. A bed. A pair of boots. A whole separate life. I don’t think anyone else really saw it that way, but look how much Tiffany has struggled with literally and metaphorically filling someone else’s boots.
No more. I read this chapter as Tiffany assuring herself that everything, from here on out, would be her own. Not a hand-me-down, not built by someone else, but entirely hers. It’s not an insult to Mr. Block, either. As she states:
“…but all the work on this hut must be done by me. It will be mine, from top to bottom, and I will pull it to where the larks rise. And I’ll still be a witch when anyone should call. But there I will live.”
This isn’t about permanence. She says she will “pull it to where the larks rise,” and there’s a hint here of one of those possible larks: Preston. Shepherd’s huts are meant to move, but for now, this spot, so close to where Granny Aching was buried, is perfect. So Tiffany constructs a place that is comfortable, that has what she needs, that is her own. She gets her blessing, too, or at least that’s how I chose to read the scene where she sees Granny Weatherwax and Granny Aching under the trees near her new home. She did wonderfully, didn’t she? She made Granny Weatherwax proud. She made Granny Aching proud! She is the shepherd’s crown, and over the course of these five books, she grew into an incredible young woman. Hell, I’m proud of her.
I’m also sad. Some of that sadness is the from the text itself. Pratchett reminds us that Granny Weatherwax is everywhere, a sentiment I am learning to accept in my own life. If you follow me on Instagram, you may have seen my little journey I took on Baize’s birthday, and it was something I designed with my therapist, a means of celebrating this person I loved so much who was so suddenly not here anymore. I had bought a plane ticket before all this pandemic business so that I could be in Los Angeles for his birthday; I wanted to see him. Well, “see” him, of course, but you know what I mean. Understandably, I was distraught when I had to cancel the ticket, but my therapist also works in palliative care. This is her speciality. (And I don’t believe in any greater powers in the universe, but even I can’t deny the sheer luck of me being the LITERAL last patient my therapist could take on before closing off new patients, and it turns out dealing with death and grief is her #1 greatest skill.)
I bring this up because of what Pratchett does here. There’s a lot of talk in the end of this book about remembering and how that act is a powerful thing. It’s what Tiffany wants for Nightshade, and it’s also what she does for Granny Weatherwax. The act of recalling memories allows a person to be… well, anywhere you want. My therapist did her best to help shift my thinking: Maybe I wouldn’t be able to visit Baize’s grave, but wasn’t there something I could do safely here in New York to celebrate him? What was the act of being in a cemetery supposed to do for me?
I wanted to feel close again. I wanted him to feel like I still cared.
And you can do that anywhere. It’s not lost on me that I’m talking about all of this in the final review of the final book of Terry Pratchett. It hurts. Was he telling us that he, in fact, always would be everywhere? Knowing the timeline a little better due to the Afterwords, he knew he was on limited time. So maybe this wasn’t just about ending Tiffany’s story. Maybe he was telling us that one day, his story would end, too. But that didn’t mean he was gone.
GNU and all that.
Tiffany’s story is what ends the Discworld books, and what a hell of a note to go out on. His final line speaks to the entire body of work (some of which I’ve still not read), and I must quote it here:
“The magic was already here.”
The concept of magic in a fantasy series was subverted so often in Discworld. There was the magic of belief, and how belief could make things real. Narrativium was it’s own kind of magic. There was Granny’s headology, and then there was the weird academic magic of the wizards. Almost nothing here was a strict application of fantasy magic. (Part of me does wonder how much reading this affected my own decision in crafting magic in my first fantasy novel. It seems pretty cool to think that maybe I subconsciously did whatever the fuck I wanted to because that’s exactly what Pratchett did.) In the Tiffany books, though, magic did not unfold as it did in other books about witches. There’s not headology; there’s not aesthetic witchery like we got with Magrat; Tiffany had her own magic. You can’t divorce her story from the Chalk. It’s linked to Granny Aching and being a shepherd. It is, to put it simply, her own, unique to Tiffany Aching.
I’d argue that Terry Pratchett’s magic was unique, too, but let’s talk about that more tomorrow.
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!
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