In the fourth part of Mort, Mort gets an afternoon off and discoversâ€¦ well, a lot of things. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Mort.
There are so many little details here that are some of my favorite bits of worldbuilding in Discworld, y’all!
- Death’s world has a “gloomy sun.” I NEED TO SEE THIS.
- There are black moors above the cottage!!!
- DEATH’S LIBRARY IS FULL OF BIOGRAPHIES OF EVERYONE ON THE DISCWORLD THAT UPDATE IN REAL TIME BASED ON WHAT HAPPENS IN A PERSON’S LIFE.
- Death has a scythe-shaped paperknife. BLESS.
But the most surprising detail here? That Death thought Mort had everything he needed.
ALLRIGHT, he said grudgingly. BUT IT SEEMS TO ME YOU HAVE EVERYTHING YOU NEED RIGHT HERE. THE DUTY IS NOT ONEROUS, IS IT?
AND YOU HAVE GOOD FOOD AND A WARM BED AND RECREATION AND PEOPLE YOUR OWN AGE.
“Pardon, sir?” said Mort.
MY DAUGHTER, said Death. YOU HAVE MET HER, I BELIEVE?
“Oh. Yes, sir.”
SHE HAS A VERY WARM PERSONALITY WHEN YOU GET TO KNOW HER.
“I am sure she has, sir.”
NEVERTHELESS YOU WISH â€“ Death launched the words with a spin of distaste â€“ AN AFTERNOON OFF?
It’s such a revealing exchange because Death is entirely serious. He genuinely thought that Mort would be fine with this sort of arrangement, despite that Mort has virtually no way to socialize with new people. Death tried to point out that Mort met new people every day, but those people IMMEDIATELY DIED, so it’s not like he could maintain a lasting friendship with any of them. The more I thought about this, the stranger I felt. Mort would definitely get to see the world this way, but only in bits and pieces. He’d never be able to gain any sort of attachment to any of it because he’d just be popping in and out of places all over the Discworld.
So! He convinces Death to give him an afternoon off so he can visit the mortal world, and off Mort goes to Ankh-Morpork, where he promptly misunderstands everything. But it’s not played as if Mort is a bumbling fool, I should state. Mort is new, and he doesn’t understand the world around him very well. (Like thinking a brothel is a dining establishment, for example.) But he’s always asking questions of everyone he meets, and I love that it’s through this that he grows. He learns the hard way frequently. In the last section, he tried to stop a death. In this section, he finds out that The Shades, a “inner-city area” of Ankh-Morpork, is a terrible place to walk through, alone and with a sack full of coins. (I bet Twoflower could teach him a thing or two about that.)
For the most part, Pratchett avoids what could have been a super messy scene by avoiding any racial stereotypes. (Though that language line later made me grimace. MORE ON THAT.) I admit I braced for it once we started getting into the whole “inner-city” thing because that’s coded language for poor people of color 99% of the time. Instead, he takes us through a comical interaction between Mort and a group of thieves who are perplexed by the fact that Mort questions their intentions:
“Give us the money,” he rasped.
Mort’s hand went to the bag on his belt.
“Hang on a minute,” he said. “What happens then?”
“I mean, is it my money or my life?” said Mort. “That’s the sort of thing robbers are supposed to demand. Your money or your life. I read that in a book once,” he added.
That last bit reminded me of Twoflower! But I noticed that Mort was far more aware of the danger he was in; this was not at all like Twoflower’s constant optimism. So he stalls the thieves through incessant questioning. AND IT WORKS! That’s not to imply that his plan all along was to walk through a wall. My guess is that this was entirely an accident, made possible because of Mort’s new “job.” He did say that he was sure it wasn’t his time to die!
Regardless, it’s this action that puts Mort within the house of the waiter who served him and Death earlier in the book! We meet the first Klatchians, who are a culture that feel like they’re based off something in South Asia. (If we’re taking cultural cues, then the catfish, kohl, curry, and use of rice as a base for meals makes me pretty confident that they’re based on a real-world culture.)
Now, I know it’s subtle, but the line about the “fifteen words meaning ‘assassination'” struck me as really bizarre because I wasn’t sure what Pratchett was trying to convey. That the language wasn’t common English? (This is probably wrong, though, since they wouldn’t call the language English. I don’t actually know what it’s called!) It seems to posit that whatever language is spoken in this region is more common, and the Klatchian language is weird and wacky! It doesn’t help that the entire joke that follows this relies on the idea that immigrant cultures lead people to fundamentally misunderstanding the world. I mean, the whole idea that strange white people cause non-white people to view them as gods or demons is pretty common in fantasy, and I don’t know that Pratchett subverts that all that much here. I did find a lot of funny! The affection names they use to refer to Mort are great, and the “ancestor” hogging the rice was awesome. I just either misunderstood the intention here or there’s something else going on. I DON’T KNOW. But I do know that there’s no way that Mort is going to make it to Sto Lot and find the queen in enough time. Which makes me wonder: Is that who Death was going to claim that night? Is she Princess Keli? HMMMM. And what the hell is going on with Death? Why is he suddenly sad about claiming a life? I DON’T GET IT. SOMETHING IS HAPPENING.
The original text contains use of the word “mad.”
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