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Terry Tuesday! Mini arc Overview: DEATH

“No one is actually dead until the ripples they cause in the world die away…”

DEATH was rated the number one created character of all time on r/book with a comment chain around 4K comments long and for good reason. He is  a character that takes the classic question of “what does it mean to be human” in a new and endearing way. DEATH is my favorite character next to Granny Weatherwax due to his dry humor and philosophical themes throughout his books. His character started out as a joke, but Terry enjoyed writing him so much he became an arc all to his own. DEATH is not invisible in this world, but most peoples brains refuse to believe what they are seeing, and instead make something up in their own mind to counter the bizarre reality that they are speaking to DEATH. Wizards, Witches and Cats are the only beings that accept reality for what it is, and are able to see DEATH for what he is. DEATH speaks in all caps which is why I’m referring to him in all caps, it adds a bit of humor to the books as well – if you listen to the audiobooks he has an echoing shout-but-not-a-shout way of speaking, a loud booming ethereal type voice.

Next to Guards Guards! Mort is one of the most common recommended starting points because it’s early on in the series, but one of the better books in the early Pratchett’ grouping.

There’s something about DEATH that makes him almost instantly likeable, it’s possibly his love of cats, or his horse Binky, but I don’t recall ever hearing of someone who enjoys the series that doesn’t love DEATH.

His arc is a mix of the philosophical and the silly, with some of his books leaning more towards silly (Hogfather and Soul Music) and others towards the philosophical (Reaper Man and Thief of Time).

DEATH lives in his own place that’s set outside of time, his servant Albert doesn’t age there and neither does anyone else who spends time there like Mort or Susan. There’s a room inside his home which is filled with hour glasses which count down each humans time left on the Disc, when the time runs out, DEATH shows up to usher you into the next world. DEATH himself has an hour glass, and when his sand starts to flow it kicks off the book Reaper Man when DEATH is meant to die. (He’s oddly excited about it).

Upon figuring out his hourglass is flowing, and therefore he has “time” and going to die:

“SEE! I HAVE TIME. AT LAST, I HAVE TIME!”
Albert backed away nervously.
‘And now that you have it, what are you going to do with it?’ he said.
Death mounted his horse.
I AM GOING TO SPEND IT.”

Most hourglasses look more or less like the standard hourglass, with a few exceptions, one of which is Rincewinds (Wizard) which looks more like a glassblower had too much fun. DEATH is as far as I know, the only character to make it into every single Discworld novel, and thank goodness because he’s just fabulous even as a cameo.

DEATH is absolutely fascinated by humanity, and is more often than not trying his best to resolve his confusion as to why we do what we do, and it’s his overall theme to his books. It’s a nice take on the ‘what makes life worth living’ type character in that he’s on the outside looking in on this question.

DEATH took on an apprentice in Mort and it lead to his “granddaughter” Susan Sto Helit. I didn’t appreciate the character when I first read her in my teens, but over the years she’s grown on me quite a bit. She resents being thrown into the weirdness that is being DEATHS granddaughter, and her distain and reluctance to have him in her life is why I didn’t like her at first. Now I sort of get how that would be an unwanted sort of lifestyle.

Albert, his servant is an ex wizard that accompanied DEATH to his palace outside of time, and if he goes back he will die within about a month, because that’s all the Time he has left, as a consequence he rarely accompanies DEATH back to the Disc.

Death of Rats aka The Grim Squeaker is an aspect of DEATH that has it’s own existence. He’s a favorite side character for many, and only says Squeak. He has a raven named Quoth that speaks on his behalf. Quoth The Raven…. Terry loves those sorts of jokes.

Binky is my favorite horse in any fantasy, mostly because of the name and who he belongs to, it just tickles me.  DEATH tried out the fiery steed bit, but they kept setting the barn on fire, and skeletal horses kept losing their heads.

The Books

Mort

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Mort was taken to the local market at a job fair of sorts to try and find him an apprenticeship since he wasn’t working out on his fathers farm, but no one wants to take him on because he’s a reject as far as farm life/labor jobs are concerned.  He stood there all day without anyone taking any interest in him as a helper, even for low wages.

“It would seem that you have no useful skill or talent whatsoever,” he said. “Have you thought of going into teaching?”

His father (not being able to see he’s handing his son over to DEATH) is happy that when midnight comes someone finally wants to take him on. And so, DEATH takes on an apprentice,  and it may not have been his best idea. Mort doesn’t listen to some of the rules laid out by DEATH and by the end of it DEATH breaks some rules of his own.

Mort manages to fuck up his first ever assignment, instead of taking the soul of the Princess Keli he feels bad for her and takes the life of the assassin instead. If he doesn’t follow rules with the next couple of DEATHS assignments, reality itself may break down.

Reaper Man

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This is my favorite book in the DEATH series, it’s actually split into two different storylines, one focused on a wizard, and the other focused on DEATH. I’ll come back to this briefly when I get to the Wizards mini arc.

The Powers That Be (Auditors of the Universe) have decided that DEATH has taken on too much of a personality, and aren’t pleased with how he’s doing his job. So, they fire him. This means that he will die, and at first DEATH is excited about that as strange as it sounds. He’s super stoked he finally gets to go to the Disc, live as a mortal, and experience Time.

He creates a persona known as Bill Door and works as a farm hand for an elderly lady. Since DEATH is a personification of the collective imagination of the people of the Disc, a new DEATH will be formed from their thoughts. Nobody likes the new DEATH and it’s quite a problem.

The ending to this book is one of my favorite conclusions to any of the Discworld books and it’s actually very sweet.

“LORD, WHAT CAN THE HARVEST HOPE FOR, IF NOT THE CARE OF THE REAPER MAN?”

Soul Music

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Unfortunately, this is probably my least favorite in the DEATH story line, I don’t have a strong connection to rock music so although it was still a good book, it’s one of the rare times outside of Colour of Magic/Light Fantastic that I gave less than 5 stars. It’s not a bad book, and if you are really into rock music you’d get a kick out of it.

A young harpist is trying to make music his living, and travels to Ankh, but finds trouble making enough money to enter into the Musicians Guild. He meets up with two other musicians and they for a band called Music With Rocks In, and they become a sensation.

Hogfather

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This is a book and movie that I re-watch when it gets close to Christmas. DEATH isn’t the only seemingly immortal personification of the collective conscious of Discworld people, there are many. The Hogfather is the Discs version of Santa Claus, and the Auditors (same fucks who fired DEATH) decide they don’t like Hogfather either. But, how do you kill a personification? Firing them doesn’t seem to work. They hire someone from the Assassins Guild to dispose of the Discs favorite gift giver, and Mr. Teatime is one of the creepiest and most ruthless killers in the Disc. He’s also quite insane. Susan Sto Helit has a large part in this book and she’s trying to figure out why DEATH is going around in a Santa suit handing out gifts. DEATH won’t tell her, but he’s taken over the role since The Hogfather seems to be MIA.

The movie is actually high quality production value, and the acting is good too. It has Christopher Lee in it as the voice of DEATH.

 

Hogfather is one of the more quotable DEATH series books.

NO. HUMANS NEED FANTASY TO BE HUMAN. TO BE THE PLACE WHERE THE FALLING ANGEL MEETS THE RISING APE.

“You can’t give her that!’ she screamed. ‘It’s not safe!’
IT’S A SWORD, said the Hogfather. THEY’RE NOT MEANT TO BE SAFE.
‘She’s a child!’ shouted Crumley.
IT’S EDUCATIONAL.
‘What if she cuts herself?’
THAT WILL BE AN IMPORTANT LESSON.”

 

Thief of Time

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Fucking Auditors up to their bullshit again. THIS time they are upset that humans and other races are too unpredictable and they want to stop time. They hire a clock maker to make a Perfect Glass Clock, which unbeknownst to the clockmaker, will be so perfect that it will manage to trap Time itself.

The Auditors send one of their own to go meet this clock maker and commission the should-be-impossible task of making a perfect clock. However, the longer she remains in human form the less she believes in the cause.

“You had to hand it to human beings. They had one of the strangest powers in the universe. Even her grandfather had remarked upon it. No other species anywhere in the world had invented boredom. Perhaps it was boredom, not intelligence, that had propelled them up the evolutionary ladder. Trolls and dwarfs had it, too, that strange ability to look at the universe and think “oh, the same as yesterday, how dull. I wonder what happens if I bang this rock on that head?” And along with this had come the contrary power, to make things normal. The world changed mightily, and within a few days humans considered it was normal. They had the most amazing ability to shut out and forget what didn’t fit. They told themselves little stories to explain away the inexplicable, to make things normal. Historians”


Sir Terry was knighted by the Queen of England for his contributions to literature, and for his House words he chose “Don’t fear the Reaper” already being diagnosed as terminal.

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