Sun. Feb 5th, 2023

De Britse cover van <em>The Shepherd’s Crown</em>illustrated by Paul Kidby.” src=”×461.jpg” width=”300″ height =”461″ srcset=”×984.jpg 2x”/><figcaption class=
Enlarge / The British cover of The Shepherd’s Crownillustrated by Paul Kidby.

[Spoiler: this post contains spoilers. Stop reading now if you don’t like spoilers.]

Death is a mystery, thanks in no small part to the popular media. It is often portrayed as an anomaly, a cheap shock, something that provides or takes away motivation. Rarely do we see what precedes that termination of life, the thoughts that arise on the abyss of dying, or how people pick themselves back up after the loss of a loved one. Appropriately, if somewhat heartbreakingly, Terry Pratchett’s latest book, The Shepherd’s Crowntouches those things quietly.

It opens with a death. In chapter two, Mistress Esmerelda Weatherwax, the de facto leader of the Discworld witches, continues without fuss. She tidies up her abode, lays aside funeral equipment for the convenience of those who will outlive her, gives her cat You a good-bye pat, and then lays down for the last time. Death finally comes as an old friend: unwanted, inconvenient, but not begrudged.


To this Weatherwax replied, “I never wanted the world — just a part of it, a small part that I could keep safe, that I could keep away from the storms. Not those of the sky, you see: there are other kinds.”

Something broke inside me when I read that fragment. Terry Pratchett is ostensibly a voice of humorous fantasy. He made atheistic golems, literary orangutans, a cowardly wizard who handled his hero role by running away very, very fast. But as Neil Gaiman pointed out in his introduction to A Slip of the Keyboard: Collected Nonfictionthe venerable creator of Discworld was also often furious.

His books growled. They raged against today’s storms, the innumerable injustices. Monstrous regiment denounced the futility of war. Similar rituals shouted against sexism, Little Gods in the problem of blind faith, Carpe Jugulum the tendency of the privileged to humiliate those below them. In comparison, The Shepherd’s Crown feels quieter and tighter, though no less fierce. It feels like recognition. Regardless of Pratchett’s influence, there’s only so much he could do, has done, can continue to do, even as the effects of his writing ripple out. And he seems to be at peace with that. As Death muses to Grandma Weatherwax, no one can do better than to leave the world better than they found it.

De albumhoes voor de Britse versie van de vierde Discworld-roman, <em>Mort</em>by Josh Kirby.” src=”×493.jpg” width=” 640″ height=”493″ srcset=”×986.jpg 2x “/><figcaption class=
Enlarge / The cover art for the UK version of the fourth Discworld novel, Mortby Josh Kirby.

Pratchett reminds us of this over and over as the book progresses: that life is meant to be lived. When young Tiffany Aching, Weatherwax’s successor, becomes concerned about the logistics of the funeral, Nanny Ogg declares that witches don’t grieve for long, that they are content with happy memories because “they are there to be cherished.”

That’s what we’re told all life matters, regardless of the owner’s apparent interest. Weatherwax might be a name all Discworld recognized, but Tiffany’s grandmother, a shepherdess with no eldritch power, was no less important:

No shepherd ever passed without a look at the sky and a thought of Grandma Aching, who had walked night after night over those hills, her light zigzagging in the darkness. Her nod of approval had put the world on the line.

Other themes are also explored in the latest Discworld book: the effects of toxic masculinity on one and the need for kindness on the other. Nothing can change without the willingness to do so allow change. It’s a final lesson that’s especially true these days as opposing ideologies clash over everything from gaming to basic human rights. If we are not willing to listen, how can we expect mutual treatment?

The Shepherd’s Crown is a short book. Trimmed, in some ways, and relatively devoid of Pratchett’s usual weaponry of jokes. It rushes too quickly to its climactic showdown between our heroes and the invading elves because, as Pratchett’s assistant Rob Wilkins explains, the book “still wasn’t quite as finished as he would have liked when [Pratchett] died.”

However, that doesn’t make it any less beautiful, or less powerful than self-praise. For years, Terry Pratchett told people how he felt about the world through his books. Now he speaks to us again for the last time. About death. About dignity. About persevering. About not trying to be someone else, but using their example to be the best us we can reach. About being nice to your enemies, but not thoughtless. About acceptance.

About life.

Those looking for the razor-sharp humor that defined Pratchett’s earlier works may be disappointed, but The Shepherd’s Crownfull of heart and hope, is a fitting farewell to one of the genre’s most influential – and shoplifting – writers.

By akfire1

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