Reflecting on the final Discworld novel

Longtime Terry Pratchett fan Dani Solomon writes about the bittersweet experience of reading the final Discworld novel. (Please note, there are some spoilers in here.)

A few weeks ago I held an unread Discworld novel in my hands for what would be the last time. I didn’t want to read it. I didn’t want to open it. I didn’t want to never have a new Discworld book to look forward to. Terry Pratchett’s family and friends had a wake and funeral to celebrate his life and properly say goodbye, and us readers have this final book. And as I stood in the middle of our receiving warehouse at work, already hurting with this knowledge, I peeked inside the book to read the dedication. It felt like a small punch in the gut.

For Esmerelda Weatherwax – mind how you go.

With these words (and their inherent implication) heavy in my mind, I could barely focus through the first page of the novel. But thankfully by the second page the real world had faded away enough for me to feel a spark of excitement settling in. Every Discworld novel I’ve read has me marvelling anew at how Terry is able to bring to life the most insignificant thing in the most magical way possible. I started to feel my grief lift. And then I started reading the second chapter.

As soon as I’d read the book’s dedication, I knew Granny Weatherwax would meet with Death in its pages and not as a colleague. I’d briefly wondering how it would happen. Would it be in the middle of big battle or would she have the Perfect Death – the one Terry talked about so much in his final years – surrounded by friends? However she went, I was already expecting it and so when the second chapter opened with Granny, my tears came immediately. I’m glad she couldn’t see me following her around, crying, as she methodically cleaned and scrubbed her cottage in preparation (the witches in the Discworld novels know when they are to die). If she had seen me I’m certain she would have looked at me with impatience and scorn as she went about her business. For myself, I nearly couldn’t carry on. But I did. I watched Granny have her own version of a Perfect Death and could not help but draw parallels to Terry. I hope he had his too.

From this point on Terry and Granny became one for me in the book. Granny’s wisdom was Terry’s wisdom and Granny’s death is felt all over the Discworld universe, just as Terry’s was felt all over our world. Grief flows through every word in The Shepherd’s Crown but this is a Terry Pratchett novel and as grief flows, so too does humour. It’s a strange thing to find yourself at 2am, laughing out loud with tears still wet on your face. So, even though the twin shadows of Granny and Terry stretch across this book, there is much more to The Shepherd’s Crown than their deaths.

Tiffany has been named Granny’s successor and with this news, the hilarious The Nac Mac Feegle are back and in top form. There’s also plenty of, what I like to call, ‘Terry Pratchett Wisdom Bombs’. In one instance Tiffany is mocked by the Feegles for seeking goodness in an elf and the Gonnagle (bard) speaks up for her: “I say leave a space for tae goodness tae get in”.

Terry must have known when he was writing The Shepherd’s Crown that it was to be his last book. And what a gift to us readers this book is then, Terry’s way of ensuring he would be here for us after he died, and ready to support us through our grief. And it seems appropriate that if Terry was going to choose a character to take with him, it would be Granny. Not Vimes, who he loved so well, but tough, stern and powerful Granny Weatherwax. She was a woman in a league of her own and being in a league of your own is lonely. Maybe it’s sentimental and romantic but I like to think of these two together as the ripples they made in their respective worlds echo on through the future.

Dani Solomon works in the Children’s & YA section at Carlton.