Sir Terry Pratchett’s death in March 2015 left a huge hole in the hearts of fantasy readers. Pratchett had been entertaining us with his wonderful Discworld series since he wrote The Color of Magic in 1983. Pratchett’s Discworld was populated by delightful characters such as recovering alcoholic Sam Vimes, Granny Weatherwax, Nanny Ogg, Nobby Nobbs, Patrician Vetinari, and an assortment of wizards, witches, dwarfs, werewolves, vampires, goblins, and elves. Diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2007, Pratchett worked tirelessly to produce his last novels. His final book was The Shepherd’s Crown, the fifth in the series that featured young witch Tiffany Aching.
A few years ago Pratchett asked fans who followed his Facebook page what characters they wanted to see again. I was one of many fans who asked for another book about the Lancre Witches, my favorite characters in the Discworld series. In The Shepherd’s Crown we have a chance to visit characters we haven’t seen for a while, and several we probably didn’t expect to have a chance to see again. Ankh-Morpork’s Patrician Havelock Vetinari makes an appearance, and so does the head of the Unseen University, Archchancellor Mustrum Ridcully. But this is Pratchett’s book to say farewell to some of his favorite characters; Granny Weatherwax, Nanny Ogg, Tiffany Aching, and the Nac Mac Feegle. The focus of the storyline is on them.
Like all witches and wizards, Granny Weatherwax is aware of when she is going to die. Her death heralds a weakening of the wall between the land of the elves and the inhabitants of Lancre and the Chalk. However, Granny has named Tiffany Aching as her successor. With the Nac Mac Feegle at her side, Tiffany struggles against the squabbling between the factions of witches as well as those who threaten the land and people she is supposed to help and protect.
Although The Shepherd’s Crown is a sweet goodbye to characters we have met and gotten to know in several books, Pratchett does introduce a new character, Geoffrey, a young man who wants to be a witch. Pratchett had done a reverse of this before when he wrote Equal Rites, where Granny Weatherwax champions a girl who is destined to be a wizard despite the prejudice of the wizards at the Unseen University against female wizards. Granny’s successor Tiffany has been given the reverse situation of introducing a male witch into the staunchly female group of witches. The witches are far quicker to accept Geoffrey among them than the wizards were to accept Eskarina Smith, and he proves to be a valuable asset. Equal Rites was the book that introduced Granny Weatherwax. It is touching that Pratchett dedicated his last book to her.
Some readers had longed for another book featuring Sam Vimes and the Ankh-Morpork Watch. Pratchett wrote a last book about Vimes called Snuff, published in 2011. Snuff was not one of his stronger books, and took Vimes away from the city, thus not wrapping up some of the story lines that were still left floating in the air, such as the long-term relationship of Carrot and Angua. With the last two books Sam Vimes’ storyline had completed its arc. We met him when he was an alcoholic in Guards Guards! In both Thud and Snuff we left him as a wealthy, happily married man that we knew would continue to make a difference in his world by encouraging people to do the right thing, to accept others who were different, and to work for justice.
Terry Pratchett always had a message in his books of being open-minded and looking beyond our pre-conceived notions of others. Snuff hit this rather hard, which made it a less entertaining book than many of his previous novels. It’s hard to sell the idea that stinky creatures who save their bodily secretions and eat their young when there isn’t enough food around are actually loveable, as he attempted to do with goblins. Although there are a couple goblins in The Shepherd’s Crown, they were minor characters, almost thrown in as if to reinforce the “we have to be nice to the goblins” message that prevailed in Snuff.
Pratchett described himself as living on The Chalk. Tiffany’s home is on The Chalk. The Shepherd’s Crown, with its descriptions of her love for the land she came from, is a glowing tribute to his own home in Somerset, England. He affirms his beliefs of acceptance for those who are unusual, reaching out to try to teach love and compassion to those who may not have it in their hearts, never underestimating the abilities and contributions that others may provide regardless of age and social rank, and cherishing those people who are important to us. When viewed as the final statement of a man who repeatedly wrote about these themes, The Shepherd’s Crown is meant to affirm all that he believed would make an ideal world.
Neil Gaiman revealed in an interview that Terry Pratchett had actually planned a different ending for The Shepherd’s Crown, but he ran out of time and could not add that section. Pratchett’s assistant had also stated that the writer intended on making the book longer, but was unable to write the rest of the scenes he had visualized. Still, the book leaves one with a bittersweet feeling, knowing that it is the last time we will journey into the Discworld on new adventures.
Terry Pratchett’s books have always had a special meaning to me. When I was depressed, or my life was in a rough patch, I would venture into the Discworld again. His humor would make me feel contented and hopeful. I’ve gotten through a miscarriage, a divorce, and various heartbreaks by reading his books, many of whom I have read more times than I can keep track of. I am pleased that the last book was about the witches since the first book of his that I read was Wyrd Sisters. The Shepherd’s Crown feels like an inheritance, a gift that your grandmother would give you if she knew her time was short, and she wanted you to remember much she loved you. Terry Pratchett appreciated his fans and their concern and support. I hope he knew how much we would miss him when he took Death’s hand and left this world behind.
Artwork of Death greeting Sir Terry Pratchett is by Nata Luna Sans
Photo of Terry Pratchett mural in London is by David Skinner.