book-reviews

The Shepherd's Crown

by Terry Pratchett

Rating: ★★★★

The end of the Discworld. This is the posthumous final publication of Terry Pratchett, a man whose cultural impact can be seen in the reaction to his death (announced on Twitter in Death's trademark tone: AT LAST, SIR TERRY, WE MUST WALK TOGETHER). Reactions included not only the usual tributes from friends and colleagues, but street graffiti, artwork and the vast number of websites which have embedded his name into server headers in an everlasting salute.

I can understand the outpouring of feeling. Pratchett was some rare combination of witty and down-to-earth. Ostensibly a fantasy writer, he produced in Discworld a series of sly parodies of reality, poking fun at everything from movies and music to journalism, religion, the rule of law and the gold standard. Yet he did so with the assured, personal tone of a grandfather or drinking partner, never so taken with his ideas that he would avoid a good joke. He wrote not for the highbrow literary critic, but for the general public, and he did so with both wit and power. Discworld books make you feel something, amongst the humour at times you see real and poignant emotion mixed with insight.

Not every book in the series is a knockout. Particularly towards the end, the clarity and quality slipped somewhat. I was fairly disappointed with Snuff and Unseen Academicals, and beforehand I was worried that The Shepherd's Crown might be a poor end to the series. Instead, I found it something of a return to form. Certainly not the best of the series (Perhaps Night Watch, Carpe Jugulum or The Last Continent), but carrying something of a poignant charm. Not least because the central event of the book is one so clearly foreshadowing Pratchett's own death: the departure of Granny Weatherwax, the leader that the witches didn't have.

Weatherwax was a potent force in the Discworld, a powerful witch who could, if pressed, crack stone, possess animals and call down thunder. Her name drove terror into the stoutest hearts. Her blood drove vampires insane. She spent much of her time 'going around the houses', helping the local folk of Lancre by dispensing sensible advice and perhaps an ointment or two. She spent the day before her death fastidiously cleaning her hut and weaving her coffin, for witches always know when their time is due.

Perhaps the most wrenching little snippet in everything that followed Granny's death was the simple, no-nonsense letter that Granny left to Nanny Ogg, her closest friend and accomplice, the one person who we have seen Granny relate to on her own level, in a friendship spanning adventures all the way back to Wyrd Sisters. As you read it there is a potent sense of words being, necessarily, left unspoken. In a generational bridge, though, we see Granny leave her scant possessions and many duties to the care of Tiffany Aching, the shepherd's daughter from the Chalk (thus making it also a geographical bridge, for British readers who can see between the lines).

Necessarily somewhat soppy, and a little unpolished, in The Shepherd's Crown we still see Pratchett nonetheless turning his attention to modern issues. Men who are 'in the way' and need a shed to apply themselves, talented young aristocrats who have the skills to spin peace, and overworked youngsters trying to care for their elders. A worthy and somewhat emotional cap to the Discworld, necessary reading for the many, many fans.