Mark Reads ‘Reaper Man’: Part 8

In the eighth part of Reaper Man, Death ponders death. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Discworld

Trigger Warning: For talk of death, suicide.

It’s not easy to think about death.

It’s been creeping up on me lately as more and more people I know pass into the great unknown. I’d lost friends in high school – to gang violence, to suicide, to alcoholism, to drunk drivers – and I lost a friend to HIV in college. My father passed in 2006; I watched friends wither away from disease and illness. That’s not to suggest that I have experienced death more than anyone else, but I don’t know that I’ve ever had a chance not to think about it, except when I was younger. But I also don’t recall ever giving it a serious thought until my father passed. Even then? I thought more about grief and absence than anything else. I don’t feel any reluctance when stating that I don’t think anything happens after we die, and that was definitely the case when my dad died.

Despite that I am not alarmed by my belief in nothingness, I’ve started wishing I didn’t have to die. It’s an absurd thing to spell out, but I have so much I want to do in life, and I certainly feel like the clock is ticking, louder now than a year ago, ten years ago, twenty. How much more time do I have left? Am I wasting my time? That crosses my mind a lot, and I don’t think I am. I know that motivates me to pursue experiences that are rewarding and exciting. (I’d definitely quantify this whole Mark Reads thing as one of those adventures!) But is it always going to haunt me? Is it going to get worse?

I’m so fascinated by these very questions that are addressed through Death’s experience as Bill Door. This is the first time that Death has ever truly thought about what death is. Since he’s never been able to even comprehend what it’s like, he’s mostly horrified and existentially challenged by its existence. He finds rat poison offensive. He believes he’s a murderer for eating chicken. Then he has an eye-opening conversation with Sal Lifton, the child from earlier who knows he’s actually a skeleton. (It took every ounce of willpower not to call him a skellington.) I think that child’s innocence and bluntness forces him to accept what’s happening to him. He’s dying. He’s going to die. And to expand on that, everyone around him is going to die, too, including Sal Lifton. That seems such a strange thing for Death, of all characters, to realize, but he’d never killed prior to this. Death was just a part of his job, and he’d never been on the other side of it. To him, death was inevitable fate for everyone, so it was never personal.

So when Sal gets trapped in a fire at the local inn, he has to accept that this inevitable fate hurts. It hurts people, it destroys lives, and in the case of Miss Flitworth, Bill Door’s apathetic take on death offends her. It all seems so impossible to Death because he can’t imagine how anyone could live a life knowing that it all ends, and so soon. That sense of existential dread haunts Death. How is he going to get over that? Perhaps saving Sal’s life will help. Can her life be saved, though? That whole “borrowed time” line is both a clever pun and a horrible clue. Did Death give part of his time to keep Sal alive?

That’s my guess. Props to those who worked on the splits for this book because I loved that this was almost entirely about Death. It flowed really well as its own piece. Sure, there’s a brief update about Windle and his bizarre, aimless quest alongside Schleppel and Lupine, but this is all about Death. And death. It’s clear now that Death’s fears precipitated in that dream that opened this section. I’m sure that he’d love to return to that world, you know? It’s comforting. It’s certain. But can he? It would have been too easy for him to be given his job back just because it was a “mistake.” I don’t imagine this is how the rest of this book will go. And shit, there’s still half a book to go! I love when I have no idea where a story is going to go, y’all.

The original text contains use of the words “crazy” and “stupid.”

Mark Links Stuff

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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since ’09.

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