Mark Reads ‘The Shepherd’s Crown’: Chapter 3

In the third chapter of The Shepherd’s Crown, Tiffany and Nanny Ogg do what must be done. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Discworld.

Trigger Warning: For extensive and detailed discussion of death, grief, and dead bodies.

Granny Weatherwax is really dead, and this world feels upside-down. So much so, for the record, that when the final POV reveals what Peaseblossom is planning, I realized that I had forgotten that there was like… another plot in this book. SERIOUSLY. Which is the point! This death is so monumental, so Disc-shattering, that no one outside of Jeannie and Tiffany are even thinking of anything else, though I wouldn’t be surprised if Tiffany is a tiny bit distracted by what’s going on. The world has ground to a halt. It doesn’t make sense. It feels wrong.

Pratchett nails this experience to a T, so like the previous chapter (though certainly not as intensely), this was very hard to read. There are numerous moments throughout “An Upside-down World” that are quintessentially Pratchett: hilarious and heart-breaking and so intimately raw that it seems as if he crawled into my heart and tore out something that I thought I had experienced by myself. But as specific as The Shepherd’s Crown is, it’s helping me accept the notion of universality. As I said in the last review, grief is one of the loneliest experiences imaginable. But the truth is that it’s a universal thing. At some point in time, those of us who live long enough experience it. The human mind is a fascinating thing, too, because across timelines, across borders, across different lives, commonalities pop up. Sudden deaths—which is what I’ve experienced more than ones I knew where coming—bring with them a sense of shock and disbelief that I didn’t experience when my father passed. It makes sense, too. I had time to prepare myself for the inevitable because the inevitable announced itself so early. My father was told he had a certain amount of time to live, and he didn’t make it to that point. That meant that I was more or less waiting around for the phone call. Did the call still wipe me out? Of course. There’s a difference between trying to accept a tragedy, knowing it is coming, and it actually coming to pass. 

That acceptance part is hard. It has always been the most difficult part of it to me, and my cycle of grief often loops right back denial rather than progressing forward. How can a person just be here in the world and then… not? How can there be a Discworld series without Granny Weatherwax? She’s at the core of this, as much as Vimes is, or Rincewind or Moist or Tiffany or… well, you get the idea. Though Granny feels like the character who was the leader of the there-are-no-leaders-of-Discworld-characters club, so her death feels particularly confusing and confounding. 

This is all a huge lead-in to the opening scene of this chapter because Pratchett reminds us of Granny before he ever mentions her name here. Tiffany’s journey as a witch was absolutely influenced massively by Granny, and we can easily see that in how Tiffany deals with Miss Milly Standish’s triplets. Witches do what must be done when others can’t or won’t do said things. That’s what Granny (and plenty other witches, but MAINLY Granny) instilled in Tiffany. This feels like Tiffany in adulthood, by the way, not as a teenager anymore, and her growth in her previous books is necessary to tell this story. Because this is Tiffany’s every day. She’s serving her steading as best as she can, and that means being a midwife. It means not snapping at the other women in the cottage who think they know more than Tiffany but most decidedly do not. It means giving the third child, the practically ignored triplet, the attention she is going to need because she now has to compete with two brothers who are already everyone’s favorite. (As someone who experienced blatant favoritism in my childhood, I feel like it’s my duty to tell parents that you really have to try not to favor one child over any others; it will fuck up that ignored or neglected child REALLY BADLY.) 

And like it’s been for me so very many times, Tiffany was in the midst of a relatively normal, right-side-up life when the news reaches her, and then, in an instant, the world flips. Nothing makes sense. Even when she makes it to Granny’s home (with You on her broomstick, THIS BROKE ME), Pratchett does a heartbreaking but incredibly realistic thing. He reminds us multiple times that Tiffany has experienced so much death. This is not something that is new to her. She knows what kind of work must be done to a body and with a person’s belongings and what sort of reactions family members and loved ones will have. Despite all of that, Tiffany is still in shock. She still having a hard time believing that this is real. Last year, I wrote a very personal post for Patreon, and if you some of you read it, you probably know how many things I dealt with in the weeks after Baize’s death that also appear here.

Again, I wasn’t alone. I didn’t know it at the time, but I forgive myself for not knowing that during the first month. Trauma can push away rational thought; it can strip your memory in order to protect you. Both of these things happened to me. But you know what else did? Seeing his body and thinking that he just looked like he was asleep. Wondering if his actual self was elsewhere. There was a moment a few days later when I helped some of his friends see his body at the mortuary home where we all laughed because we’d been silently wondering if he had orchestrated a prank and was going to wake up just because he was messy. 

There’s also a lot of this that hurt because it has nothing to do with anything that I have gone through. There’s a part of this chapter’s video where I talk about how there are multiple layers of sadness in this book. I know that many of you emailed and DM’d me warnings because you knew I’d lost Baize four months ago and that there was no way I’d not be deeply affected by this book. I also know that even if that hadn’t happened, the loss of a major character would have been sad regardless. But there’s a third part to this all: it’s been over six years since I started Discworld, and it’s finally coming to an end. That’s why Granny’s note to Nanny Ogg fucked me up and sent me into another bout of crying. I ATE’NT DEAD is… it’s Granny’s calling card. It’s a detail only from this series, and just the idea of Granny crossing out “ATE’NT” and writing “PROBABLY IS” is so deeply sad to me. Pratchett knew his own clock was winding down, and thus, I see this whole bit as an act of bravery. There was no way any of us were going to read this and not think of him. I’d say that even if he were still with us. This series can’t live forever. It would have eventually had to end.

It can live on forever, though. Mind how you go and all. 

So how do you think of what’s next? Because holy shit, I know there’s a lot of shit in this chapter that’s so raw and realistic, but that one part is the realest thing for me. Pratchett addresses it in two ways: there’s the very literal next. Tiffany has to spend the night with Granny’s body, as is custom. (For the record, I had never heard of the custom of opening a window or a door so that a soul can escape until Baize passed. The woman on the phone who advised how to deal with being next of kin for a closed apartment told me that it was one of the first things I should do once I was granted access. I will never forget it now.) And while she’s doing so, we get this part:

What do I do now? she thought in the small hours of the night. What’s going to happen tomorrow? The world is upside down. I can’t replace Granny. Never in a hundred years. And then she thought, What did young Esmerelda say when Nanny Gripes told her that her steading was the whole world? 

Because Pratchett has a knack for this, I think there are two entirely valid readings of this. Obviously, it’s the second way Pratchett talks about the concept of what’s “next.” Tiffany has been chosen as the one to carry on the legacy of Granny Weatherwax, and that is a LOT to deal with right after you found out someone is DEAD. It’s overwhelming! And look, I’m very interested to see how Pratchett writes this because there truthfully is something very specific to this. It’s bad enough to find out someone you cared for died; but what happens when their death brings about a new responsibility, particularly one you are not even sure you want? In my case, it was the whole next of kin designation. I did not know that was going to be. It was a surprise, and I had virtually no time to process it before the responsibilities began to roll in. Tiffany seems to be in a very similar situation, and that’s not even considering Peaseblossom, who is gonna just come and fuck up EVERYTHING.

There’s something else there, though. Death leaves a hole behind, and I think you can read that sentence as how humans deal with loss. Tiffany might be asked to “replace” Granny in her profession, but death tears people away from us, and one of the biggest fears that we have to deal with is the worry that nothing or no one will ever be able to fill that hole again. We will live on with a vacancy in us. But will that vacancy, that emptiness, break us? How do you move on when a whole part of you is missing? 

Truthfully, people can’t be replaced. If I ever fall in love again—and I am at a point in my grief where I am beginning to believe I can—that person will never replace Baize. They can’t. Fundamentally. And with the help of some fantastic friends and a wonderful therapist, I’m rethinking the notion of emptiness. I don’t believe I have it wrong that there is a hole in my heart. And I think there always will be. When Baize died, he took some of me with him. But not all of me. I am still a person outside of him. Every day, even if that piece is as big as a grain of sand, I fill in a little bit of that hole. It just means that some day, far in the future, it’ll still be there. It’ll never seal up. 

But it won’t be so enormous that I feel as if I am going to pitch into it, never to return. 

The world of Discworld has a hole in it. As the news spreads, even if Granny doesn’t have a funeral, people are going to remember her. They’ll find their own ways to remember her, even if that manifests as pettiness and selfishness, as we see from Mrs. Earwig. Granny Weatherwax changed the world. Her death is going to change it again.

But how?

Mark Links Stuff

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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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