Mark Reads ‘Mort’: Part 7

In the seventh part of Mort, Keli tries to convince Cutwell to help her, and Mort bonds with Ysabell. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Mort.

Trigger Warning: For talk of suicide.

WELL, THIS IS DISTURBING.

Princess Keli

It really wasn’t all that surprising that Igneous Cutwell was a major slob. As I said in the first video, Equal Rites had established that the wizards had an entire staff of women cleaning up after that, so it only stands to reason that they’d end up needing that once they started living on their own. Incidentally, while every guy I’ve ever been roommates with has been messy, my messiest roommates were two women, who… lord. If anyone needed a maid it was them. One time, I went on tour with a band for over a month while I was working at Buzznet. I was away from home for over six weeks, and I returned back to our apartment to the exact same dishes in the sink from when I left. Not only had a small ecosystem grown in the mess, but they had bought more dishes to avoid cleaning the other ones. I moved out not long after that, good GOD.

ANYWAY, NOT IMPORTANT. Keli’s interaction with Cutwell has disturbing implications for Keli’s life. Believing that her state is due to magic, she seeks him out and enlists him to help… well, diagnose her? I don’t know if that is quite the right term, but it works for me. Cutwell isn’t all that helpful at first, and he also has NO IDEA who he’s talking to. He’s so easily distracted! (Though, if I sat on a pizza I’d “misplaced,” I would probably be distracted, too.)

Eventually, Keli gets him to read her “present” to get around her father’s ban on fortune telling. (Her father didn’t like wizards! Well, now his daughter is a wizard’s house. THE SCANDAL.) I loved the joke that Pratchett made of the Ching Aling method of fortune telling because technically, he told her to throw the yarrow stalks in the air. And technically, she did. She just threw them very far. BLESS HER HEART. But she wouldn’t know better! Her father forbade fortune telling, so it makes sense she’d do it wrong. Regardless, the information she gets is bogus and ambiguous and beautifully written:

“Without verticality, wisely the cochineal emperor goes forth at teatime; at evening the mollusc is silent among the almond blossom.”

CLEARLY VERY HELPFUL.

But it’s at this point that things get less and less funny as everything Cutwell utilizes says that Keli is dead. Like, the world isn’t just convinced that she’s dead; she is dead without enjoying all the benefits of being dead:

“Something very fundamental seems to have gone wrong, you see. You’re dead in every sense but the, er, actual. I mean, the cards think you’re dead. Your lifeline thinks you’re dead. Everything and everyone thinks you’re dead.”

I don’t,” said Keli, but her voice was less than confident.

“I’m afraid your opinion doesn’t count.”

And it just gets worse and worse. Because the world and everything in it believes she is dead, that means it will go on without her. Cutwell makes reference to predestination, but it’s more like the world can’t account for her continued presence. People overlook her, they don’t hear or see her, and she can’t play a part in anything.

But can she??? She’s still a person who is alive and thinking and acting. How does agency work in a universe that acts as if you don’t exist anymore? Can she eat food “destined” for other people? Can she interact with others if she tries really hard? She appoints Cutwell as her “Royal Recognizer,” but is that a futile act?

Mort / Death / Ysabell

Unfortunately, Mort cowers in Death’s presence, choosing to stay silent about what he’d done to Princess Keli. When I was first reading this, I wondered how it was possible that Death wouldn’t be able to sense that something was wrong. But Pratchett provides a very easy answer to this. Death is discovering that he enjoys time off. I now understand all the stuff I was confused about before concerning Death. He’s experiencing human things and HAVING A GOOD TIME. He is believably distracted enough that he would completely miss the fact that Mort is lying to him and that the future is slowly unraveling.

But it’s what this section reveals about Ysabell that DESTROYS ME FOREVER. I didn’t really pick up on the handkerchief being left in Death’s library or the stacks of books on young women that were left out. I assumed that this was just something Mort was doing and refusing to admit to? But it’s not. Ysabell was reading those books, and this isn’t even the most remotely shocking thing here:

“You mean you’re not going to marry me?” she said.

Mort was horrified. “Marry?”

“Isn’t that what father brought you here for?” she said. “He doesn’t need an apprentice, after all.”

WHAT THE FUCK???

“You mean all those nudges and winks and little comments about some day my son all this will be yours?” said Mort.

WOW, I COMPLETELY MISSED ALL OF THIS, HOLY SHIT. It’s all part of Death’s characterization as a father who is desperately trying to do right by his adopted daughter. That doesn’t mean he’s succeeding, though. Ysabell and Mort alternate between being despised with one another and get along, and it’s also clear that they’re both lonely as hell. But Ysabell has it so much worse. She’s been Death’s daughter for a long time, and the very nature of Death’s world has been grating on her for most of it. Everything’s a copy because Death lacks the ability to create anything original. So Ysabell, who hasn’t had anyone to speak with honestly, continues to confess her issues with her father and her life. Mort sees it as the perfect cue to confess his own horrific mistake, but he misjudges the moment so badly that she just passes right over it without even understand that he just admitted to UNDOING THE FUTURE.

Granted, it was obvious to me that Ysabell had kept all of this within her for decades, and Mort was the first sympathetic ear she’d had in forever. Oh god, and this isn’t really an exaggeration? Because while Ysabell is sixteen years old, she’s been that way FOR THIRTY-FIVE YEARS. TIME DOES NOT PASS IN DEATH’S WORLD, WHICH MORT HASN’T TRULY EXPERIENCED BECAUSE HE GETS TO LEAVE THAT WORLD. OH MY GOD. OH MY GOD. So it made sense to me that she’d idolize stories of passionate love that end in suicide because they end. They progress. There’s growth and action and tragedy and nothing stays the same.

Lord, y’all. I wasn’t ready for this. One girl who can’t die, and the other who is destined to be dead forever. LORD.

Video 1

Video 2

Video 3

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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since ’09.

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