In the twelfth chapter of The Shepherd’s Crown, Tiffany is summoned to deal with a surprising guest. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Discworld.
One thing I’ve come to adore about this last stretch of Discworld books—perhaps the last 10-15 or so—is that Pratchett spent so much time building this world, and then he started asking questions of it. What counts as equality in this world? Who is forgotten? Trodden on? Ignored? What counts as a witch? Who counts as a witch? What does justice mean when people are forced into difficult choices? So much of this book in particular centers around the notion that tradition can be important and meaningful, but it is not a reason in and of itself to continue doing something. Another witch might have turned Geoffrey away, but not Tiffany Aching. Another witch might have accepted pressure from Mrs. Earwig, but not Tiffany Aching. And another witch might have immediately ordered the Feegles to kill Nightshade, the very Queen of the Elves who once tried to destroy her….
But not Tiffany Aching.
This chapter throws this story in a completely new and unexpected direction, and I truly cannot anticipate what is going to happen from here. My thought was that we’d seen the last of the Queen in any significant way. Peaseblossom had disposed of her, and that was what elves do. When they are done with a living thing, they discard it. There was no reason to assume that it would be different with the Queen either. And yet, the Queen is basically dumped directly on top of the Feegles’ home, and it is cause for a great emergency. Because that’s what Pratchett has been telling us for multiple books, and not just the Tiffany ones: the elves move in great numbers. An invasion never involves a single elf. But it’s not just that; Pratchett also told us of the time when the Feegles lived in Fairyland. Their rallying cry throughout this chapter is one steeped in history: they will never bow to someone like the Queen again. So, the text combines this rich history with an expected twist: The Queen is definitely alone. She’s been horribly maimed and abused. There appear to be no other elves coming, and, most shocking of all: It seems she wants help.
Thus, the Feegles’ reaction never seems irrational. No, it makes a whole lot of sense! Elves = danger. THE END. They always have! There has never been an exception to this. So even though Tiffany is summoned to deal with the Queen, it’s obvious the Feegles are expecting a certain outcome. Tiffany might interrogate the Queen, but violence is the answer! The best elf is a dead one, eh?
But this is a special moment, and I think that’s why Jeannie couldn’t use her abilities to see beyond the day. This is going to have an enormous influence on the fate of these characters’ lives, isn’t it? There’s an obvious path before Tiffany, and that’s not just due to what the Feegles want. Nightshade was HORRIBLE to Tiffany, so I don’t anyone would bat an eye if Tiffany had retaliated. But she comes to sense that this is a huge pivot point, too, and I LOVE what she does with it:
A witch is always on the edge, between the light and the dark, good and bad, making choices every day, judging all the time. It was what made her human. But what was it that made an elf? she wondered.
Tiffany is faced with a problem, and she asks a question.
So what IS an elf if they don’t have their wings? Their power? Their glamour? Their entire realm? Tiffany sees this mess of an elf, and she still sees a person. Not human, but a person. She offers Nightshade what the elves refuse to offer their victims. Is it the practical choice? Probably not. But standing on that precipice, Tiffany makes her choice. She is going to treat this elf with kindness.
“And goblins were treated as nobodies until somebody gave a thought to them.”
Oh, Tiffany. THIS IS HUGE. I don’t know if Nightshade is going to behave. I definitely don’t expect that this is a trick; she really is at the lowest point of her life. Does she deserve to be treated this way, after all she’s done to others? At the very least, Tiffany makes it clear that she deserves to be treated this way just by virtue of existing. She’s not foolish; she definitely threatens to hand Nightshade over to the elves if she does anything to harm anyone. And I genuinely don’t know if that’s what Nightshade will do? She’s in a desperate place, but once she’s mended, will she just become the same person she was before? Is this a foolish act? I suspect it’s not, but like Jeannie, I cannot see beyond this. It’s an absolutely thrilling choice for Pratchett to make, and I, for one, cannot wait to see what he’s going to do with it.
Mark Links Stuff
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