Mark Reads ‘Mort’: Part 1

In the first part of Mort, young Mort receives an offer for an apprenticeship. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Discworld.


A book about Death? Named after them, but also as a trick because the other main character is named Mort, short for Mortimer? AND MORT IS SO ENDEARING ALREADY. OH MY GOD, SIGN ME UP. MY BODY IS READY.

But not any Death. This is the Death whose particular sphere of operations is, well, not a sphere at all, but the Discworld, which is flat and rides on the back of four giant elephants who stand on the shell of the enormous star turtle Great A’Tuin, and which is bounded by a waterfall that cascades endlessly into space.

Okay, I love the idea that there’s a Death for every world. I love it! And this Death, who we met back in the first two books in the series, is heading for the Ramtops at the beginning of Mort, though not for his normal business. I actually fell for this and immediately assumed that Death was going to kill the kid he focused on. But Mort – daydream-friendly Mort – had something special coming his way. What I like about this is that so much of the story before the job fair is about how Mort is traditionally useless, at least to the people in the town where he lives. His father and his uncle are convinced that he’s too unmotivated to be a contributing member of society, so much so that Uncle Hamesh lies about having an apprentice just so that he doesn’t have to take in his nephew.

The problem is that Mort thinks too much. As someone who was a quiet bookworm as a kid, I RELATE TO THIS ALL TOO WELL. Like I said before, he’s incredibly endearing because there’s no cruelty to his curiosity. He just wants to ponder everything in the world! But he’s not naïve about it, and I think the entire sequence in Sheepridge proves that. He asks a lot of questions because he doesn’t understand how the whole apprenticeship deal works, but that doesn’t mean he’s ignorant about the ramifications of it. He’s aware that he may be thrust into an industry he has no interest in. And when absolutely no one asks him to be an apprentice, I don’t think he’s blissfully unaware of how disappointing this is to him and his father. I noticed that he takes cues from his father, and now he’s realizing that this may not have worked at all.

My big question, then, is Why? Why does Death decide that Mortimer is his best option for an apprentice? He arrives in a brilliant display of grandeur, riding in on his pale horse, and the promptly slipping and falling on a patch of ice. (It seems Pratchett is invested in upsetting all grand entrances. I’m into it.) He comes bearing an offer: to make Mort his apprentice and fellow name-sharer. He hides his true image and nature from Lezek, which must mean that he expected that Mort wouldn’t freak out about him. And Mort doesn’t! No, this is his reaction:

Mort had never heard the word “intrigued.” It was not in regular use in the family vocabulary. But a spark in his soul told him that here was something weird and fascinating and not entirely horrible, and that if he let this moment go he’d spend the rest of his life regretting it. And he remembered the humiliations of the day, and the long walk back home….

Doesn’t it fit perfectly for him? What little we know about Mort compliments the offer Death has given him. Still, Mort looks to his father for nearly everything (is his mother not alive? I haven’t seen a mention of her), so he asks his father permission to go off and be an… undertaker. HA. Clever! Anyway, I thought it was a touching scene, which says a lot considering that I just started the book. But I was struck by a thought: What if Mort won’t see his father again until the day he dies? What if Mort doesn’t return home except to collect a soul? There’s a strange finality to the decision that Mort makes to go with Death, as if his goodbye to his father is the goodbye, the last one.

It’s a damn good set-up to a book, though. I WILL READILY ADMIT THAT.

Video 1

Video 2

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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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