I have an uncomfortable relationship with endings. I suppose, deep down, we all do - none of us like the thought of dying, of time passing and irreversible change, each second passing another point of no return. My fastidiousness with endings has a particular effect on my enjoyment of literature. I despise a bad ending. I don't mean that all endings must be happy. After all, how is happiness defined? Surely a good outcome for the princess must go badly for the witch. What I crave is the satisfying feeling of a story told, the brief glow of peaceful pleasure when you reach the final page and for a moment everything makes sense - sort of like the Catharsis promised by ancient Greek tragedies, but without so much blood all over the place. Poetic justice, if you like. Sometimes, if the story is really good, you can carry that glow with you as you crash back into the messy world of real life, and feel a little lighter for a while, slightly less confused about it all. But a bad ending can ruin a good thing, or at least rob me of a good night's sleep (Arlington Road, I am looking at you. And don't get me started on Ian McEwan's Atonement - but I guess that's what you get for dabbling in High Culture). So it was with great trepidation that I picked up The Shepherd's Crown.
The Shepherd's Crown is a book of endings. It was the last book Sir Terry wrote before he died, and within the first few pages, the world he created many of us came to know and love experiences a transformation through death. Death is not an unusual subject in the Discworld series - in fact, Death is one of Pratchett's most likeable characters, and an exemplary comic foil. But in this case, there is a solemnity to the proceedings absent from other Discworld death scenes, most of which occur at the ends of stories, and offer a sort of solace to counterbalance the bleak feeling of finality. The description of the death launching the action in The Shepherd's Crown didn't quite work for me - perhaps because Pratchett's writing style is incompatible with melodrama, and I could be satisfied by nothing but a shameless tearjerker in this particular instance. After its shaky beginning, the book gathered momentum, and drew me into the familiar territory of a cracking Discworld adventure for one last time. There were plenty of laughs, which were all the more enjoyable for being shaped around familiar and comfortable jokes, and several moments that brought a pricking sensation to the eye. I couldn't say how one would read this book without my accumulated baggage of nearly two decades reading and rereading the Discworld novels - I can never have that experience. But I am glad and grateful that this book came into my hands, and I feel like it was a final gesture of Sir Terry's love for us, his readers, that he offered us, one last time, the sense of an ending.
Thank you, Sir Terry. For everything.