Mark Reads ‘Mort’: Part 11

In the eleventh part of Mort, Death discovers a new emotion, Mort discovers a new disaster, and Cutwell discovers his hormones. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Discworld

I HAVE A LOT OF FEELINGS ABOUT DEATH. A LOT OF THEM.

Death

Just for the sake of organizing my thoughts, I’ll split up the three plots that are currently unfolding in Mort. I want to start with Death because it’s best that I get out this explosion of emotions. THIS IS SO GREAT. INCREDIBLY GREAT. And look, this is not the first time I’ve come across a fictional version of Death, nor is it the first time I’ve enjoyed a portrayal of Death. I love Death in The Sandman the most, and the Death of The Book Thief is also very near and dear to my heart. This version of the character is certainly funnier, but I’m just CRUSHED by what Pratchett does with him here.

We open this section with Death attempting to get a job, and not one bit of this sentence is sarcastic or ironic. It’s a sign of how serious Death is about wanting something else. It’s also super funny to see Death stumble through trying to explain what it is that he can do:

I USHERED SOULS INTO THE NEXT WORLD. I WAS THE GRAVE OF ALL HOPE. I WAS THE ULTIMATE REALITY. I WAS THE ASSASSIN AGAINST WHOM NO LOCK WOULD HOLD.

“Yes, point taken, but do you have any particular skills?”

Death thought about it.

I SUPPOSE A CERTAIN AMOUNT OF EXPERTISE WITH AGRICULTURAL IMPLEMENTS? he ventured after a while.

The young man shook his head firmly.

NO?

If anything, this is just endlessly adorably to me because Death is so sincere. He’s not trying to toy with Keeble at all! This is not like the scene with Wa earlier in the book, which felt like Death poking fun at another human. He truly wants to pursue something else, he doesn’t quite understand the questions being asked of him, and all of his answers are genuine and lack a shred of irony. It’s why he thinks walking through a wall is a skill! (I’ll touch on what that scene might mean later on when I talk about Mort.) And it’s why he ultimately loses his temper and lashes out at Mr. Keeble by showing him his true self.

Mr. Keeble reacts… well, just about how any person would react when realizing that the Death is standing in front of them. I thought it was pretty cool, though, that Death recognized that maybe he’d gone a bit too far:

Death decided that he owed the man something. He shouldn’t be allowed to lose custom, which was something humans valued dearly.

He repays that debt by getting the next customer of Mr. Keeble to leave. He does that by threatening her with a number of absurdly over-the-top things, all of which slide off the woman because SHE’S SEEN AND HEARD SO MUCH WORSE. She’s a cook up at Unseen University, and approximately zero people are surprised that the students there are constantly pranking her with magic. ZERO PEOPLE. But hey! She gets a stack of coins from Death. And Mr. Keeble, who has recovered from the shock of seeing Death in the whole, finally has a job for his customer. AND IT IS PROBABLY GOING TO BE MY SINGLE FAVORITE THING IN THE ENTIRETY OF THIS BOOK BECAUSE HOLY SHIT.

I wonder if Mr. Keeble hated Harga or had some sort of ongoing feud with them and reasoned that sending Death to work for Harga would be the ultimate revenge. Whatever his intention, we never find out. What we do get is Death, working in a greasy spoon style diner in the city, where he cooks flawless dishes in the span of a second because TIME IS NOT IMPORTANT. But that is not even remotely the best thing about this:

He’d opened the door to the cold night air, and a dozen neighborhood cats had strolled in, attracted by the bowls of milk and meat – some of Harga’s best, if he’d know – that had been strategically placed around the floor. Occasionally Death would pause in his work and scratch one of them behind the ears.

“Happiness,” he said, and puzzled at the sound of his voice.

WELL, HOW IS THIS NOT THE GREATEST THING. Death has a collection of cats in his kitchen while he makes food for people who appreciate it. THIS IS SO WONDERFUL.

Mort

Yet it has a side affect I didn’t even know was possible until this part of the book. Mort’s woken up from a dream (that has incredibly disturbing implications for Mort’s development) by Ysabell, who informs Mort that there’s a horrible crisis at hand: Death hasn’t come home. See, I assumed wrongly that all Death had to do was ferry souls from time to time. He didn’t have to do it with every death, so… what else was part of his Duty?

The nodes… well, I didn’t get them until Albert explained them.

“The point is, the nodes are part of it. They stop death from getting out of control, see. Not him, not Death. Just death itself. Like, uh –” Albert struggled for words – “like, death should come exactly at the end of life, see, and not before or after, and the nodes have to be worked out so that the key figures… you’re not taking this in, are you?”

“Sorry.”

“They’ve got to be worked out,” said Albert flatly, “and then the correct lives have got to be got. The hourglasses, you call them. The actual Duty is the easy job.”

Which makes sense! A lot of this book is about balance, and Mort’s actions have already upset the balance of things. But there’s a mechanism to fix that, so… I assume that without Death’s manual work on the nodes, there’s nothing that can automatically set them straight. Thankfully, Ysabell to the rescue! I loved her final line in this section, which establishes herself as the one doing all the work, AND SHE SHOULD BE RESPECTED AS SUCH.

I imagine this is going to take up a lot of time, though, so what is Mort going to do about Princess Keli? Is he ever going to tell Albert what’s going on with her? And what about the fact that Mort is, slowly but surely, turning into Death? WHAT IF THAT IS THE SOURCE OF ALL HIS NEW POWERS? Death is away, becoming more human, and Mort has remained, becoming more…. Death. Yes. That.

Cutwell

Speaking of such, it’s clear that there’s a huge, unavoidable problem with Cutwell’s plan to convince Sto Lat that Keli is alive and the queen. Having a coronation ceremony might be enough to push the people over to full-on belief, but in order for that to work, it has to happen on the right day and the right time, which is going to end up being one minute past midnight. If Cutwell’s calculations are correct, then it’ll all end up being a moot point, won’t it? The interface will wash over Keli and all of this careful calculation and preparation is for nothing. And it is careful preparation! It’s why everything is so precise; it’s for maximum believability, even if that believability is induced by force. Still, it’s kind of a disaster, isn’t it? All that Cutwell has at this point is the hope that his estimation is off and that the coronation ceremony will happen first, but I’m guessing that’s not going to be the case.

Cutwell’s section has a few hilarious lines. (Particularly that part where he asks Keli when she became a princess. BLESS.) But I was finally able to put my finger on a phenomenon I noticed in every Discworld book I’ve read so far. Pratchett has a moment in pretty much all four of the books I’ve read where a male character looks upon a woman and sexualizes her. Often times, it’s an entire sequence that’s explained in great detail, not a passing comment. Cutangle did it to Granny in the last book, and there’s a multi-page part where Cutwell does it to Keli more than a few times. And it’s weird to read it? It’s a strange thing because there’s this focus on the affect women have on men who consider themselves unattractive, and there’s no counterpoint or opposing voice for it. I know that being gay might explain part of the reason I keep seeing stuff like this, but I just think it felt really gratuitous this time around. The adam’s apple line and the one about mental pictures of women without clothes were unnecessary to the story here, at least for me. But again, THIS IS JUST ME. I don’t know if this is something that affects other people at all, but perhaps I’m actually just plain missing the point.

The original text contains the word “crazy.”

Video 1

Video 2

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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since ’09.

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