Sunday 1 October 2023

'THE SHEPHERD'S CROWN' - and what I learned from it. By Penny Dolan

It’s October, when the publishing world ups its publicity game, enthusiastically sweeping everything and everyone into the Big Bookselling Season. Or that’s what all the media/social media/shop-displays/party-pix/awardings and more suggest. This is all brilliant for all the authors & illustrators whose titles are appearing on the shelves around now, so a big cheer for everyone involved! 

However, a wistful autum mist has gathered around all the spring and summer titles. They slip, slowly, beyond publicity’s bright beam. As do the titles from the year before, or the year before that and so on. With so many books are published annually, that’s how the process has to work although if you are an author, it’s hard when you feel the moment is moving on. 

 As for everyone with work-in-progress, or with work in an agent’s custody? Seems to me that the arrival of the shiny-bright season can feel discouraging indeed. But why so, when we are all sensible, rational grown-ups? 

Why, no matter how glad I was for those ‘new’ people or that I had bought and read some of their books, did I still felt an irrationally angry reaction to all the publishing razzamatazz. So you’re off to a party? Bully for you! So you have a giant cake decorated with you own book cover? Fantastic! Hey ho . .

Why, I wondered, feeling despicable, does Big Bookselling in its en-masse form feel so diminishing? Even if only to me? It did not make sense, though I could not get hold of what “it” was. 

Then, one insomniac night or three ago, I came across something that felt like an explanation, something to grasp on to tightly whenever any Big Book Season is upon us, one single word that makes sense. Illogically so, but still sense - and here’s where I found it: in Terry Pratchetts’ last Discworld novel, The Shepherd’s Crown.

                            The Shepherd's Crown by Terry Pratchett - Penguin Books Australia

The book opens with Granny Weatherwax, an admirably strong-minded witch, cleaning every corner of her home ready for Death to come visiting, as happens before long. Then, among other story-threads, the book develops into the story of the young witch, Tiffany Aching, as she grows into her own role as one of the Discworlds respected ‘hags’. 

 Part of the way through The Shepherds Crown, Tiffany takes in Nightshade, the Elf Queen and cares for her and her injuries. Although elves are nasty, mischievous, amoral creatures – as other characters point out - Tiffany decides to teach Nightshade about kindness and better ways. Meanwhile, the usurping Elf King - Lord Lankin - is preparing the elves to attack and invade the ‘human’ world. 

 Tiffany realises that she needs to teach all the other witches about the elves most dangerous power: the trick of “glamour” or as it is sometimes known, “glamourie”. She gathers them all together – old and young, skilled or newly chosen – and here’s how the scene is written:  

“Ladies, are you all ready?” There were some nods and yeses, so Tiffany said “Nightshade, please show us your glamour.” And she grasped the shepherd’s crown* in her pocket – this was a moment when she would need to keep a strong hold on her sense of herself. Yan tan tethera, she chanted softly. Yan tan tethera. 

Nightshade began slowly, her foxy little dairymaid’s face filling with a shining light, with beauty, with style, and then suddenly she was the most wonderful thing in the hall. 





The air was thick with glamour and Tiffany could almost hear the other witches fighting it. The inexperienced ones – Annagramma, Petulia and Leticia, Dimmity and Harietta - suddenly seemed flaccid, their faces like dolls. 

Petulia - like many of the other witches - felt a beguiling feeling that the world was all hers, all of it and everything that was in it. And then, her dream – as did theirs – unravelled. Who did she think she was? No one liked her, no one wanted her. She wasn’t worthy of anything. No one wanted her. Everyone knew she didn’t have any skills. It would be so much better if she was dead. Maybe it would be better if she simply let the pigs stamp her down into the mire, and even that wouldn’t be bad enough. She screamed. 

Tiffany moved towards Nightshade, and almost like a bubble bursting, the elf let go, and her glamour was all gone. 

But everyone in the hall looked shaken. . .

"And that, Ladies, was just one elf. Imagine what it will be like when we are facing a whole horde of them,” said Tiffany. 

Point made, lesson striking home - and nor, in the end, do the Elves triumph. 

Having read many folk and fairy tales, I found Pratchett’s depiction of ‘glamour’ sharply perceptive. In this scene, he shows the reader both the glimpse of beauty, success and inclusion, and then that heart-breaking sense of rejection as the bright light fades or moves on and away. 

Suddenly I thought that is it! That’s the word that helps, the concept I was after. 


A word for an unreal, conjured-up illusion, a phenomenon that feels real but not one to truly believe in. A time when you need to keep a watch over how you and your heart and your hopes respond. 

Keep away from all the ‘Elves’! Beware their Glamourie!

 And so, next time, when I feel inclined to grumble or feel too much dispirited by the Big Bookselling, I’ll shrug and say to myself “It’s those Elves again.”

 And, like Tiffany or Granny Weatherwax, keep a strong hold on my sense of myself and simply carry on with my ordinary, everyday work. That’s what I’ll be telling myself. Beware the Glamourie! 

Thank you, Terry Pratchett

Penny Dolan


* Tiffany’s ‘shepherd’s crown” is a fossilised sea urchin. which grounds her in the chalk of her homeland and in the practical work of being a shepherdess. 

ps. Terry Pratchett had always intended The Shepherd’s Crown, with its theme of the old order giving way to new, to be his last Discworld novel. He had planned much of it in advance, writing the beginning, the middle, the end and other pivotal scenes during the years when he was well enough to do so. Poignantly, the novel was completed by Rob Wilkins, who had worked alongside Terry for much of the time during his long illness. RIP Terry Pratchett.


Penny Dolan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Susan Price said...

RIP Terry Pratchett, indeed.
Perhaps my favourite writer. I'm not surprised, Penny, that you found the description you were looking for in Pratchett. I know he's a big favourite of yours too, and we both know that he is/was far wiser and more perceptive than he is usually given credit for.
(And I think you're exactly right about book-puffing glamourie too.)

Penny Dolan said...

Thanks, Sue!

Definitely a writer who enjoyed observing the real world and all the happenings in it, and commenting through his imagined universe.

Anonymous said...

Ooh - hurrah: a Pratchett I haven’t read! And the witches are my favourites…

Linda Strachan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Linda Strachan said...

Your comparison to the book world publicity machine is so perceptive, Penny. We all know the sense of it being smoke and mirrors, even when we contribute to that effect when necessary. It can also be difficult, when things are perhaps not quite as sparkly for ourselves, to see others with all the glamour and remember that most of it is glamourie! I agree, Pratchett is often undervalued!