Picture a hooded figure on horseback. Notice its stick-thin figure despite the robe its wearing, you can tell from the bony hands. The bleached white skull it had as a face should also count as a hint. Notice the scythe in its hands, the blade unnaturally sharp and glowing blue from all the air molecules bisected on its edge. Notice a tamer colour of blue where the figure’s eyes were supposed to be, twinkling and flaring like distant stars like some substitute for emotion.
His name (obviously by this point of the narration) is Death.
Picture an eternity of being stuck with the job – “The Duty” as Death would put it. Picture a personality forming despite all that, one that has a liking for cats and wheat fields. Picture an idea forming in his skull, one that involves taking a leave of absence and leaving behind a sign on his desk with an explanation written in bold Gothic letters:
Now try to imagine what would happen when he does just that. Or, better yet, gets fired.
This is exactly what happens in the first two books focusing on Death and his misadventures in the wonderfully strange and fanciful setting that is the Discworld. Terry Pratchett* takes a look at the nature of Death as a phenomemon and as a character, then gives said character and our expectations of it the satirical treatment.
We’ve all been acquainted** with the image of Death one way or another. Mass media had pigeonholed the concept into the familiar robed skeleton riding a horse, wielding a scythe, having a voice that sends chills down your spine. Attitude towards living beings differs from author to author.
Sir Pratchett gave us a version that is both dorkish and adorable at the same time. Discworld’s Death reacts to life the same way someone colourblind reacts to a rainbow. He witnesses it but he doesn’t understand. He puts an end to it but that doesn’t stop him from being curious. He appreciates life despite his role, and his deadpan commentary about the quirks of the living border the comically serious that it comes off as something deep, witty, and funny at times. We readers can both laugh and learn something whenever Death makes a comment about the nature of life and the universe, that there should also be a life lesson hidden somewhere in the narrative. The things he points out are one for the self-help books.
The first book in the Death-centric portion of the Discworld series features Death taking in a human apprentice, Mort (short for Mortimer), for extra help. The boy-
-bungles up the job when he refuses to take the life of a princess whom he had started crushing on, and the paradox of her still being alive despite her predetermined death causes a rift in reality. Death could easily remedy this, but he’s on a dayoff somewhere and couldn’t be reached. Hilarity ensues.
The second book shows us the first appearance of The Auditors of Reality, the main antagonists for Death series, with the first thing they do is get the character fired. They did let him keep his horse though. With Death out of the picture, lifefore is overflowing on the Discworld that dying people won’t die, dead people don’t know where to move on, and a live shopping mall threatens to take over a city. Meanwhile, Death uses his expertise with a certain farming implement to get work as a farmhand. Again, hilarity ensues.
I got the next two books, Soul Music and The Hogfather, which I’m still trying to finish. The fifth book, The Thief of Time, has yet to join my collection, but it will be as soon as I get hands on a discounted copy. Hopefully, it will be one with the Josh Kirby cover.
*Correction: that’s SIR Terry Pratchett, He Of The Meteor-rock Sword.
**Not literally of course, but we’ll all get ’round to that someday.
***He really prefers being addressed by his given name.