“Pratchett’s humour takes logic past the point of absurdity and round again, but it is his unexpected insights into human morality that make the Discworld series stand out.”
NO MAJOR SPOILERS
I’m ashamed to say that, despite being an avid reader since early childhood, I haven’t read very much from one of Britain’s most well loved and prolific writers. Known for creating the fantastic and humorous Discworld fantasy series, which spans over 40 books, Terry Pratchett is a writing icon and his loss was keenly felt by readers across the globe when he passed away in 2015. I’ve always admired Pratchett and I regret that it has taken me this long to properly jump into the Discworld series.
Given that there are enough entries in the Discworld saga to fill a bookcase, newcomers to Pratchett’s work could be forgiven for feeling quite overwhelmed when it comes to diving in. Where does one start? From the first book published, or in chronological order, or with whichever book most appeals? The good news is that, whilst all the Discworld novels share the same universe and often see characters overlapping, the stories are more or less quite self contained and a new reader can pretty much dive into any book and still follow what’s going on. In fact, some Pratchett fans even suggest new readers start with one of the more popular books in the series in order to get hooked, then start from the beginning.
With this in mind, I decided it was high time I give Pratchett my attention and read a Discworld novel that I’d long heard high raise for and had long been on my ‘To Read’ pile. Widely considered to be one of the best Discworld novels, Mort tells the story of a young farm boy named Mortimer who, after failing to find a job, gets offered an apprenticeship by none other than Death. The Grim Reaper is usually depicted in fiction as an evil robed skeleton who’s mere presence indicates nothing but death, sorrow, and destruction. Whilst Pratchett’s Grim Reaper still looks quite threatening, he’s actually a pretty nice guy who takes no delight in harvesting souls, enjoys a good curry now and then, and rides a horse named Binky.
After showing Mort the ropes, Death decides to go on vacation where he tries his hand at some of humanities favourite past times such as dancing, fishing, and binge drinking in order to try and learn more about mankind. Meanwhile, Mort causes serious problems after he saves a beautiful princess from being killed when he was supposed to help her slip off the mortal coil. It soon becomes clear what a massive mistake Mort has made and, with Death on holiday, it’s up to him, the Princess Keli, Death’s adoptive daughter adopted daughter Ysabell, a bumbling wizard named Cutwell, and Death’s mysterious manservant Albert to set things right. Whilst all the characters in Mort are memorable in their own right, it’s arguably Death who steals the show. Pratchett’s take on the harvester of souls is both comedic in its subversion of the well worn tropes and surprisingly philosophical. Death doesn’t see himself as harbinger of doom and it appears he has little control over the fates of us mere mortals, he’s simply there to do his job. Good, evil, young, old, it makes no difference, as Death himself says: “THERE’S NO JUSTICE, THERE’S JUST ME.” It’s also interesting to note what a lonely existence a being such as Death experiences. Indeed, he has tried to stymie his isolation by allowing a few select mortals to exist in his realm, untouched by time, but none of them can truly appreciate his situation. As Pratchett writes, Death is like the landlord of life. When all the punters have gone, it’s his job to stack the chairs and turn off the lights.
Anybody remotely familiar with Pratchett’s writing will know how humorous a writer he was. There were several moments that had me laughing out loud and it was refreshing to explore a fantasy world that doesn’t take itself as seriously as many others. At one point, Death tries to get a job but finds he has no real life skills to speak of so naturally he’s recommended a job teaching!
Pratchett takes swipes at every aspect of life from religion to politics, but he does so in such a charming way that no one could stay angry with him for long. Besides, the jokes often conceal nuggets of great wisdom that will first have the reader laughing and then reflecting.
As a newcomer to Pratchett’s Discworld, I found Mort to be an excellent place to begin. There may have been a few references to previous characters and places I may have missed, and my knowledge of the Disc’s geography may not have been too clear, but the story itself is still very enjoyable for newcomers and it has certainly made me want to explore more of this strange, fantastical world, that sits upon four elephants, who stand upon a giant turtle.
Added 12th December 2017