Well, I bought The Shepherd’s Crown by Terry Pratchett on the day it was released, and I finally got round to reading it last night. I couldn’t face it before then.
I read it in one, marathon, tear stained, snotty session.
This is not going to be a review as such. I cannot, simply cannot be objective about this book. It means too much to me to even try.
I know that it was not properly finished by the time of Pratchett’s death. I know that it is not as literary or polished as the books he wrote at the height of his powers.
I don’t care.
I grew up with Pratchett. I discovered him at the age of fourteen in the town’s one and only bookshop, run by people who both hated books and people who loved them. I think, by then he had only written The Colour of Magic and The Light Fantastic, which they grudgingly sold to me as if I were going to inject them into my veins.
In a way, I did. They became and remain a part of my life’s blood. I have peopled my life with his characters and sayings and jokes, and they have become as much a part of me as any story passed down by my family.
He gave me a window into a world that wasn’t my own, but he made me see things that were the same, that made me belong, and things that were different, that I could explore through him. He made me see that things could be different. He gave me a new way of understanding the world and it made me feel hopeful that growing up wasn’t going to be as awful as I imagined.
Through Pratchett I belonged. It was like being in a gang, but a great gang, where you knew that if you didn’t agree on thousands of other things, you could find common ground with a fellow fan. You knew that they couldn’t be all bad, that there were (and are) people out there like you, and they were (and are) probably alright.
After that, apart from The Carpet People and his early science fiction books (which I soon caught up with), I kept pace with him in terms of the Discworld and everything else he wrote, year after year. My sixth form Literature prize was the hardback copy of Good Omens by Pratchett and Neil Gaiman. Everyone else had atlases and dictionaries. I had something better. It gave me great pleasure that the MP David Tredinnick had to award it to me, and seeing the cover as he passed it to me, he looked worried. I think it was clear, even then, that I would never be a Tory voter.
Every Christmas there was a new book to look forward to, and it would be devoured almost as soon as it was unwrapped.
I had a falling out of love with him when The Lost Continent came out, and then, when I picked up Thief of Time one day, I fell back in love again, hard and this time it was a forever thing.
I know this is how many fans feel about the object of their affections. What I’m describing isn’t unusual, and that in itself is a cause for hope and celebration. How wonderful it is to know that there are people out there like Pratchett, who bring so many people together, who mean so much, and who will continue to mean so much.
It’s a miracle. My kind of miracle. It’s one that actually happens.
I get that people die. Everyone does eventually, but sometimes it hurts so much, even when you don’t know them, particularly when they had such a massive influence on your life. I felt this way when Sue Townsend died (author of Adrian Mole) and again when Pratchett left us. It was too soon. I still needed them. They still had things left to say to me, things that would make me laugh and cry and see the world in a new and better way. How can people like this leave? It seems so unfair.
So, The Shepherd’s Crown was massive for me. It was/is the end of an era. There will be no more after this, and even though I can return (and do) to his old books time and time again and still find magic there, I still wanted to travel on with him in his mind and his imagination, and see what other, wonderful treasures he had to share with me. Now that can’t happen.
It makes me so sad.
The book then. The book is so sad too, and yet also happy and despite its lack of polish, it is important. It is important to me, because it is about what matters most.
The book is a book of endings. You know that he knew it would be his last. It isn’t that it ties up all the loose endings, it doesn’t. It’s just that it talks about the important things. All his books do in a way, but in this one, the important things are just there, laid bare, right on top of the narrative. You don’t have to hunt for them or find them in an aside or a joke. It’s just baldly and plainly there.
It’s about making a difference in the world, doing your best, following your own path, doing no harm unless it absolutely cannot be helped. It’s about community. It’s about sharing and valuing what we have with and in each other and coming together against the darkness. It is about doing that in a way that doesn’t compromise who you are and what you stand for and what makes you absolutely yourself.
It is about love.
It is about coming to terms with death and what it means. It is about understanding that nothing dies. It is about understanding that the land under the wave is fixed and ever moving all at the same time.
It is about what is beautiful. It is not about polish. It is about the raw reality of the earth we live and die on, and the part we have to play in the way the world turns, and how each of us matters so very much, even when we think we don’t, or we can’t.
In this book, Pratchett shows us that we do, and we can, and that is beautiful.