In the seventh part of Reaper Man, Windle Poons meets his fellow undead; Bill Door meets Miss Flitworth’s parlor. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Discworld.
Ah, that wonderful combination of humor, bitter truths, and sadness. I feel like Pratchett is getting better at this with each book. I mean, look: it is unbelievably funny to think about half of the shit in the Fresh Start meeting. A bogeyman who won’t come out from the shadow under a chair. An honorary member who is a wereman / reverse werewolf. An undead activist who works at a mortuary and conducts recruitment meetings by shouting in cemeteries. IT’S SIMPLY TOO MUCH.
And yet, it’s still brutally sad to think about because all of these people are deeply lonely, and they know it. They hide their sadness and their dejection through jokes or anger or eye rolls, and the worst part is that they all know it. Even Reg Shoe, who’s the cheeriest and most motivated of them, is most likely not as happy as he seems to be. (I realize I’m probably projecting here because THIS IS ME TO THE LAST DETAIL, so I’ll be ready to admit that I interpreted this character wrong once I learn more about him.) At best, he’s trying to deal with an unfortunate situation as positively as he can, thus the existence of Fresh Start. But is that something these people need?
I think that they might in the long run, but in the immediacy of the undead existing in the Discworld, these people just want to live their lives without attracting anymore attention. There are some examples given here – such as Arthur’s story about Reverend Welegare – that paint a picture of undead life. (I suppose we can count Lupine’s trouser problem, too. Wow, that’s a weird fucking sentence to type.) Obviously, that’s different for each of these people, since they’re not all zombies. We’ve got a banshee, two vampires, a wereman, a bogeyman, a zombie, and Reg. What’s Reg? I can’t quite remember. Regardless, they all know that the living look upon them with disgust and fright. On top of that, there are logistical concerns they each have to deal with now:
“Do you know people can say what they like about you and take away your property, just because you’re dead?”
Obviously, the joke is that they did die, but people normally don’t keep “living” after death. But what if this keeps getting worse? What if the undead continue to lose their possessions? Their jobs? I mean, this is some genuine oppressive shit, isn’t it? In that sense, I could see how Fresh Start might become necessary if more undead continue to show up in Ankh-Morpork. Hell, there have to be more undead, right? Death still doesn’t have a replacement, and people die every day. So what happens next? I don’t imagine that the harassment these people face is going to end. They’re still viewed as monsters by the general public, and it’s only a matter of time before everyone turns on them. Right?
Even on a personal level, Windle feels like he’s drifting. As a whole, the undead are just trying to do their best in the midst of an existential crisis. You can see that specifically in Windle, who has to accept that he needs to move out of Unseen University, a place he’s called home for over a century. A wizard, not living at the University! It’s a strange thought, but this is now a strange world, and Windle is trying his best to adapt.
I think you could say the same thing of Death, who as Bill Door is still navigating his own strange form of humanity. Life at Miss Flitworth’s farm has settled down to a routine that must feel familiar for Death, whose entire life was full of them. Which is why it’s very surreal and kind of touching to see Miss Flitworth invite him into her parlor. Is it out of loneliness? A desire for company? Some other reason? I sense it’s the former, given the dilapidated state of the room. Had she used it for anything since she lost her father? Since her man had run out on her, possibly deserting her? (HOW FUCKING SAD IS THAT EXCHANGE, Y’ALL???? HELP ME.)
As awkward as their conversation was at times, I still found it to be sweet. This is new for both of them – more so for Death, of course – but they’re trying. Badly and uncomfortably and without the sort of dramatic wit and brilliance most people seem to have, but it’s happening nonetheless. Sometimes, life is lived gripping the arms of a chair while you sit in silence.
The original text contains use of the words “idiocy” and “stupid.”
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