And so it ends. The Shepherd’s Crown: The 41st and final Discworld novel, from the soaring imagination of Terry Pratchett, is the last book in a series that has won millions of fans since it began in 1983 with The Colour of Magic.
It is five months since Sir Terry died, aged 66, from what he called his “embuggerance” - the Alzheimer’s he raged against since he was diagnosed in 2007.
It’s impossible to open the book without a sense of melancholia, and it feels like the author embarked upon the writing of it weighted with the same. He knew when he sat down to write it that it would be his last Discworld, his final book.
As such, it’s difficult to see The Shepherd’s Crown as anything other than Sir Terry’s farewell letter to his legion of fans - though of course, this being a Pratchett, it’s pretty fine novel in its own right.
Terry Pratchett: A career in quotes
Terry Pratchett: A career in quotes
1/13 “Inside every sane person there’s a madman struggling to get out” –The Light Fantastic
Pratchett photographed in 1990
2/13 "We Pratchetts are a feisty bunch"
Pratchett with his daughter Rhianna at home in 2009. Rhianna is now a writer in her own right and has written the storylines to video games such as Tomb Raider and Overlord
3/13 "It occurred to me that at one point it was like I had two diseases - one was Alzheimer's, and the other was knowing I had Alzheimer's"
Terry Pratchett delivers a petition on behalf of the Alzheimer's Research Trust calling for an increase in government funding for dementia research in 2008
4/13 "Imagination, not intelligence, made us human"
Terry Pratchett with his double-row of six computer screens in 2009
5/13 “If you don’t turn your life into a story, you just become a part of someone else’s story”
Pratchett was awarded an OBE in 1998
6/13 “Sometimes glass glitters more than diamonds because it has more to prove” - The Truth
Terry Pratchett launches his 25th novel of the 'Discworld' series, 'The Truth' in 2000
7/13 “Time is a drug. Too much of it kills you”
In 2007, the year he announced he had Alzeihmer's
8/13 "You can't ask a fantasy writer not to want a knighthood"
Receiving his knighthood in 2009
AFP PHOTO/Ian Nicholson/POOL
9/13 "Life doesn't happen in chapters - at least, not regular ones"
Pratchett at home in 2009
10/13 “The trouble with having an open mind, of course, is that people will insist on coming along and trying to put things in it”
Pratchett at the world congress of the World Federation of the Right-to-Die Societies in Zurich, 2012
11/13 “Inside every sane person there’s a madman struggling to get out”
Attends the South Bank Sky Arts Awards in 2012
12/13 "Insanity is Catching"
Pratchett won the Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize at the Telegraph Hay Festival, pictured with Snuff the pig in 2013
13/13 “People don't alter history any more than birds alter the sky, they just make brief patterns in it” - Mort
Campaigning for Dementia Friends in 2014
It has a plot, of course - several of them, all twining around young Tiffany Aching, the witch introduced in The Wee Free Men who has grown through a variety of Discworld novels. Much of the excitement revolves around the return of elves from Fairyland to visit all kinds of mischief and trouble on Discworld.
This is essentially Tiffany’s coming of age novel, of a young woman on the cusp of adulthood who has greatness thrust upon her. It’s about endings - the first part of the novel deals with the death of a much-loved character from the early books in the series, and there won’t be a dry eye in the house.
But it’s also about beginnings, and change, and progressiveness, and duty. There’s a boy who wants to be a witch, against all tradition. There’s a fairy queen cast out from her realm, amazed at how the world’s changed while she’s been cloistered away. There’s a tug-and-pull between family and work as Tiffany wrestles with whether the modern senior witch can really have it all.
The Discworld series has outgrown its comic fantasy roots - despite the central conceit of a flat world balanced on four elephants on the back of a giant turtle swimming through space - to become astute observations on the human condition.
According to the afterword by Sir Terry’s assistant, Rob Wilkins, “The Shepherd’s Crown has a beginning, a middle and an end, and all the bits in between. Terry wrote all of those. But even so, it was, still, not quite as finished as he would have liked when he died.”
That acknowledged, The Shepherd’s Crown is a sometimes sad, often funny and eminently suitable testament to the life and career of Terry Pratchett.
Perhaps the very final words should go to Pratchett’s Death, his version of the Grim Reaper who speaks in capitals, and opines most suitably in The Shepherd’s Crown: WE ARE ALL FLOATING IN THE WINDS OF TIME … AND YOU HAVE LEFT THE WORLD MUCH BETTER THAN YOU FOUND IT, AND IF YOU ASK ME, NOBODY COULD DO ANY BETTER THAN THAT.Reuse content