In the tenth part of Mort, Death begins to understand, and Mort seeks out a solution to his problem. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Discworld.
Oh, Mort. I feel like I’m going to be saying that a lot. It’s so obvious to me that he wants to be the hero here, but both Keli and Cutwell are well aware that this is not really the best way for him to become a hero. Mort is dealing with immense, timeline-altering powers, and majestically whisking a princess off on his horse is not going to solve his problems. There is a certain naïveté to Mort that comes with his sense of hope, but I didn’t find it grating, nor do I see it as funny as Twoflower’s optimism. It’s just that Mort is so single-minded in his approach to this. Recognizing the “interface” as a giant dome of magic, his sole plan at this point is basically Find Stronger Magic. Cutwell doesn’t have it, so off he goes to see if he can gain the help of a wizard that’s much more powerful than Cutwell. Meanwhile, he’s still unknowingly becoming more real than the world around him, able to pass through solid objects because he is more solid than they are. I love that Cutwell is far more interested in this than Mort is, despite that it’s happening to Mort.
Intertwined with this story is the endless entertainment that is Death, who is taking every chance possible to understand human life. He has since moved on from floating craps to The Mended Drum, a tavern in Ankh-Morpork, where he’s desperately trying to discover why people fill themselves with alcohol. It takes him forty-seven drinks to begin to have any sense of drunkenness, and even then, it’s not until he nurses some random “green bottle” that he begins to open up to the barman. Truthfully, it’s as sad as it is funny. I like the imagery of Death pounding back one glass of hard liquor after another, perplexed by the lack of effect. And then I was struck by Death’s loneliness. Give how he’s rarely ever prone to being emotional, the scene was a lot more intense than I expected. He has no friends, he says, which means that he must not consider Albert one. Unless his drunkenness compelled him to exaggerated. Still, it’s not like what we’ve seen of Death is all that far from what he tells the barman. He does his job, he creates things in his world to try to please Ysabell and Albert, and that’s it. There’s not much else to his life.
So far. I don’t know how Death is going to deal with this. He’s teetering between bewilderment with human beings and empathy with them, and he’s unsure of what to do next:
He couldn’t fight it. He was actually feeling glad to be alive, and very reluctant to be Death.
So how do you change that? How do you engage with that kind of emotional realization? I don’t know! These are concepts that Death has never had to consider, you know?
Back to Mort! I think that his scene with Ysabell shows that he has misguided but ultimately decent ideas. Getting Albert to help him isn’t terrible, but it’s not the best plan either. He wakes up Ysabell so that the two of them can hopefully find Albert’s biography, confirming that Albert is Alberto Malich, the famed wizard who created Unseen University. Mort could have just asked him; he also could have told Death the truth, since Death ostensibly has the power to fix Mort’s mistake. But Mort buys into this notion of self-worth through heroism, which isn’t terrible in and of itself! It’s really not! And he’s not an antagonist by any means. He just navigates this conflict in a flawed manner because he can’t seem to see outside of himself as the solution. Yes, he’s seeking Albert to help him, but even that is predicated on saving Princess Keli from something that’s inevitable regardless of what he does. Even if he saves her from her death and somehow convinces the world that she is still alive, she’ll still die eventually.
All this being said? I AM SO THANKFUL THAT HE’S FLAWED BECAUSE WE GET THE STACK. This is one of my favorite bits of worldbuilding from Pratchett, y’all. I love the idea of this ancient, seemingly endless passageway full of all the biographies of every living being on the Discworld. AND IT’S SILENT. IT’S SILENT BECAUSE THEY’RE ALL LONG DEAD AND THERE ARE NO STORIES BEING TOLD except for one. Oh my god, I would totally love to explore the Stack. DO YOU REALIZE HOW MUCH FASCINATING READING THERE MUST BE THERE? Pratchett ratchets up the tension here by creating unsettling images in our minds, like the thought of Ysabell climbing up a ladder that is so tall that they can’t see where it connects to the top of the shelf. It’s all darkness and silence except for Albert’s biography and the lone candle that Ysabell carries up with her. HAUNTING.
Of course, I should have realized that it would be impossible for Albert’s history to fit in a single volume. I should have also realized that Albert, possibly the most powerful wizard ever, would definitely have figured out that Ysabell and Mort were up to something. It was certainly very eerie to know that Mort was reading Albert’s current life, and that Albert was ABOUT TO PUSH THEM OFF THE LADDER. Oh my god EVERYTHING IS SO META.
But here’s the thing: I think that Mort ruined his chances of getting Albert to help by seeking out his biography. It is inherently creepy to read someone’s biography in this context! They’ll know a person’s inner monologue. These books provide an incredibly intimate look into someone’s life, so much so that I’d argue that reading one would be a violation of their privacy. At the very least, Albert is justifiably furious with Mort. I get it. Pushing them off the ladder is a bit much for me to accept, but I understand why he doesn’t want to help Mort. The only thing left for Mort to do at this point is what he should have done the night this was all set in motion. He has to tell Death. I don’t see how he can escape this otherwise.
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