Terry Pratchett – Mort

Carrying on with the The Great Terry Pratchett Re-read-athon, we come to a particularly fine example of the earlier Discworld books. Before Mort, it was all wizards and witches, and a lesser writer could have carried on with further adventures for Rincewind and Granny Weatherwax, and we’d all have had fun with those. Instead, Terry started to develop one of the interesting subsidiary characters: Death. Yes, the quite traditional Grim Reaper, complete with grinning skull, scythe and a tendency to TALK IN ECHOING CAPITALS. Death is what you might call an Anthropomorphic Personification[1], assuming you’re the kind of person who can manage to say that kind of thing without your tongue wrapping itself in knots. In short, Death appears that way because that’s what people expect. He doesn’t appear when just anyone dies, but is there for magical types, royalty and others whose ending is somehow significant. As the kind of entity he is, he’s supposed to be distant and remote, but contact with people (albeit quite brief contact) has been rubbing off on him, and giving him odd ideas.

It started some years previously when he, err, adopted a daughter, who’s now sixteen, and has been for quite some time, as time doesn’t really flow properly in Death’s domain, where he and his daughter Ysabell are looked after by the elderly servant Albert, who has a good line in fry-ups, and like most things, not quite what he seems.

Anyway, Death decides that it’s a good idea to take on an apprentice. Arriving at the hiring fair after everyone else, he takes on the last and apparently most useless of the lot, a boy who introduces himself as

Mortimer… sir. They call me Mort.

WHAT A COINCIDENCE, said the skull.

Mort starts to learn the trade, so to speak, doesn’t get on too well with Ysabell, and on his first solo job risks destroying the whole fabric of time, which is quite impressive for a beginner. In an impulsive moment, he severs the lifeline (so to speak) of an assassin rather than the princess who was due to die.

While Mort struggles to sort out the consequences of his actions, and Albert decides to have some fun, Death tries a new career, which leads to one of the best never completed jokes:

Alligator sandwich. And make it sna-

Can Mort sort things out? Will Death really give up the job? Read Mort to find out.

[1] And indeed Piers Anthony did in his Incarnations of Immortality series of novels which I read many years ago