Amy-Leigh Shaw, Contributor
Like many of his fans around the globe I faced a dilemma this summer – should I or should I not read the final novel penned by Sir Terry Pratchett, written just before he succumbed to his embuggerance early this year. My reasoning was that if I read The Shepherd’s Crown, my journey with Tiffany Aching would be over and my childhood with it. On that basis, I decided that I would absolutely never read it. Ever.
Obviously my decisions don’t hold much weight, or this review would be quite short. Just a few days after the book’s release I bought it ‘for my Dad’, who has been a Pratchett fan much longer than I have, not to mention read far more of his works. My Dad read it hungrily over the next few days, and described it as a very emotional experience. I held my stance and said I wouldn’t, couldn’t read it. But it started appearing in unusual places – under the cat*, behind the hoover, on my arm of the sofa- and rustling at me in the indignant way that unread books do. I have to admit, I gave in.
The story itself had a less complicated narrative than its predecessors, and became almost linear in places, but was very intense and packed with emotion. As a final novel, it has to be said that its themes of grief were apt. It was difficult not to draw parallels between the loss of the guardian of Discworld and its creator. In fact, these mirrors between the Discworld and our own were everywhere, in characters’ goodbyes and the protagonist’s own feeling of solitude and loss.
Tiffany Aching’s character remained the relatable female protagonist that I connected to as a young girl, and throughout the narrative stayed true to the strong-willed and honest nature that has always characterised her. In fact, like Equal Rites before it, the novel focused on issues around gender roles and made interesting commentary on not only the acceptance of women in war, a Feegle storyline that I was desperate to hear more of, but the acceptance of men into traditionally female roles. While Pratchett often purposefully writes his female characters as equals to their male counterparts, it could not be missed that the male character who wanted to be a witch was not granted his wish. Nor was it ever in question. Instead, he ended his storyline by defeating the patriarch he had been trying to escape from the beginning. The descriptive narrative also made a wonderful nothingness of the social expectations surrounding beauty and goodness. Each character, good, bad or somewhere in-between, had their own aesthetic and body type** that had nothing to do with their behaviour or social standing.
This novel deals with the commonplace in a way that even novels set in reality do not, which lets us, just for a second, truly lose ourselves in the fantasy and believe that we could be a part of it. In all of his writing, Pratchett fulfilled the role of both his witches and his wizards in that respect, dealing not only with the big things, but with the everyday, too. The book deals with questions of self, our nature and our role in the grand scheme of things, concluding that everybody, young or old, has something good to contribute and that as long as we leave the world better than we found it, nothing more can be asked of us.
If I had to say that this book had a message, it would be that sometimes life is difficult and, like Tiffany, sometimes we must learn to ask for help. Because, crivens, nobody can do it all alone! Such a message has even more poignancy when we consider the number of people involved in bringing this final novel into reality.
It is completely and utterly fair to say that Sir Terry was not the kind of author who affected just a generation. The ripples of his talent and humour and beautiful imagination are destined to stretch out through years to come, marking him as one of the most quotable and enjoyable storytellers that the world has ever seen.
My memories of his work stretch back far before I could even read, as a young child who would marvel at the mystical orange elephants that raged across the covers of battered paperbacks*** and into my imagination. For a long time, I childishly imagined that they must be serious, grown up books that talked about religion and politics. It wasn’t until much later that I realised how strangely right I was.
I am not ashamed to admit that as I closed the back cover and looked into the eyes of Mephistopheles the goat, I cried. But in the words of Nanny Ogg, “Cryin’ helps sometimes,”. After all, as long as the words remain on the pages, the stories of the Discworld can never truly be finished.
* I have to admit, the cat himself was probably also in an unusual place. I wouldn’t be surprised if he had been moving the book, to give me the creeps. He’s a bit like that. ** Or in the case of Long Tall Short Fat Sally, body types. *** It isn’t uncommon for my Dad’s favourite books to be dog-eared and left in odd places – it’s how you know he loves them.