If you’re going read just one Discworld novel make it Mort. Terry Pratchett, who died today aged 66 after a well-documented battle with Alzheimer’s, was poking fun at death long before he began campaigning for assisted suicide.
Published in 1987, Mort is the fourth of Pratchett’s vividly surreal Discworld novels and the first to feature death as a main character. In the novel the titular protagonist Mort is enlisted as Death’s assistant, helping him usher souls into the next world.
But unlike the cold, stereotypical hooded figure wielding a scythe, Pratchett’s Death is a haphazard figure who we see embarking on the very human experiences of getting drunk, dancing wildly and even hankering after happiness. He likes cats. He enjoys curry.
Far be it for Pratchett to stick reverently to the hackneyed image of the Grim Reaper, the novelists’ Death dresses up as Father Christmas and displays an endearing fascination for the human lives he is helping to extinguish. He might yell COWER, BRIEF MORTALS but no-one is hiding behind the sofa.
Death's importance is compounded by the fact that he (or He as Pratchett would refer to Him) has appeared in nearly all 40 of Pratchett’s Discworld novels, with the exception of The Wee Free Men and Snuff.
Terry Pratchett: A career in quotes
Terry Pratchett: A career in quotes
1/13 “Inside every sane person there’s a madman struggling to get out” –The Light Fantastic
Pratchett photographed in 1990
2/13 "We Pratchetts are a feisty bunch"
Pratchett with his daughter Rhianna at home in 2009. Rhianna is now a writer in her own right and has written the storylines to video games such as Tomb Raider and Overlord
3/13 "It occurred to me that at one point it was like I had two diseases - one was Alzheimer's, and the other was knowing I had Alzheimer's"
Terry Pratchett delivers a petition on behalf of the Alzheimer's Research Trust calling for an increase in government funding for dementia research in 2008
4/13 "Imagination, not intelligence, made us human"
Terry Pratchett with his double-row of six computer screens in 2009
5/13 “If you don’t turn your life into a story, you just become a part of someone else’s story”
Pratchett was awarded an OBE in 1998
6/13 “Sometimes glass glitters more than diamonds because it has more to prove” - The Truth
Terry Pratchett launches his 25th novel of the 'Discworld' series, 'The Truth' in 2000
7/13 “Time is a drug. Too much of it kills you”
In 2007, the year he announced he had Alzeihmer's
8/13 "You can't ask a fantasy writer not to want a knighthood"
Receiving his knighthood in 2009
AFP PHOTO/Ian Nicholson/POOL
9/13 "Life doesn't happen in chapters - at least, not regular ones"
Pratchett at home in 2009
10/13 “The trouble with having an open mind, of course, is that people will insist on coming along and trying to put things in it”
Pratchett at the world congress of the World Federation of the Right-to-Die Societies in Zurich, 2012
11/13 “Inside every sane person there’s a madman struggling to get out”
Attends the South Bank Sky Arts Awards in 2012
12/13 "Insanity is Catching"
Pratchett won the Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize at the Telegraph Hay Festival, pictured with Snuff the pig in 2013
13/13 “People don't alter history any more than birds alter the sky, they just make brief patterns in it” - Mort
Campaigning for Dementia Friends in 2014
In short, Pratchett is sticking two fingers up at death, revealing that even the heavily sanitised concept which most of us try to ignore is fair game. And he did this 20 years prior to the conversations about death that his diagnosis with Alzheimer’s - and the ensuing years of Right To Die - forced him into.
In the novels Death's voice is portrayed written without quote marks and in caps. The author’s final words, published on his Twitter, are surely Death’s own:
AT LAST, SIR TERRY, WE MUST WALK TOGETHER.— Terry Pratchett (@terryandrob) March 12, 2015
Terry took Death’s arm and followed him through the doors and on to the black desert under the endless night.— Terry Pratchett (@terryandrob) March 12, 2015
Since news broke that Pratchett had taken Death's arm, Twitter has been awash with Mort and Death quotes in his honour.
"...Death must be the loneliest creature in the universe. In the great party of Creation, he was always in the kitchen." - Mort, Pratchett.Chris Nicholson (@EraseThisTweet) March 12, 2015
“People don't alter history any more than birds alter the sky, they just make brief patterns in it.” ― Mort you made good patterns, Mr P.xSarah Pinborough (@SarahPinborough) March 12, 2015
RIP Terry Pratchett. :( One of my all-time favorite writers and a true inspiration. I hope Mort treats him well.Jeff Green (@Greenspeak) March 12, 2015
"THERE'S NO JUSTICE", said Mort. "JUST US." I always found those the most hopeful of Pratchett's words. Strong belief we make our world.Troy Goodfellow (@TroyGoodfellow) March 12, 2015
"It struck Mort that Death must be the loneliest creature in the universe". Now he has the best company anyone could ask for #terrypratchettJamie Ryan (@JamievRyan) March 12, 2015
"Death comes to us all. When he came to Mort, he offered him a job" Mort, Terry Pratchett, RIPEoin O'Dell (@cearta) March 12, 2015
Good Omens, which Pratchett co-wrote with Neil Gaiman, includes the line: “DON’T THINK OF IT AS DYING, said Death. JUST THINK OF IT AS LEAVING EARLY TO AVOID THE RUSH.”
It is a fact that although the Death of the Discworld is, in his own words, an ANTHROPOMORPHIC PERSONIFICATION, he long ago gave up using the traditional skeletal horses, because of the bother of having to stop all the time to wire bits back on.
"My granny says that dying is like going to sleep," Mort added, a shade hopefully.
I WOULDN'T KNOW. I HAVE DONE NEITHER.
"Pardon me for living, I'm sure."
NO-ONE GETS PARDONED FOR LIVING.
I DON'T KNOW ABOUT YOU, he said, BUT I COULD MURDER A CURRY.
Death addresses his new apprentice (Terry Pratchett, Mort)