In the fifteenth and penultimate part of Reaper Man, surprising characters save the day, and Death asks for a favor from the Death of the Universe. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Discworld.
Trigger Warning: For talk of homophobia, racism, suicide.
This section was simply incredible. I have two things to nitpick, but on the whole? The writing here was a clear sign that the Discworld books are getting better, and I’m so pleased that I’m getting to experience this in this way. Let’s discuss!
So, yes, it’s seriously creepy to think about the clever and terrifying plot twist that Pratchett drops into his book. Windle was trying to find the Queen of this “hive” of trolleys within the mall, and HE WAS INSIDE OF IT THE ENTIRE TIME. But laced within this narrative is Windle Poons’ desire to finally die. It’s sad in one sense, but what’s so powerful about it is that Windle wants to sacrifice himself in the process. His act is both selfish and selfless, and I love that.
That’s not to ignore how multiple characters help save the day here, and I also adore what a group effort this is. The Dean uses a triplicate of spells to help explode/implode the Queen, and Schleppel (WHO I HAD COMPLETELY FORGOTTEN ABOUT) shows up to clear a path so they can all escape. And let’s just take a moment here to acknowledge the supreme joy that is Schleppel, who, despite being a horrifying bogeyman, still manages to imbue every scene he is in with an infectious happiness. I swear, y’all, I get so excited to read about him because out of all the undead, he’s the most satisfied with who he is, and you can tell. He gets so excited to be around his friends! I really wish his scene here in the early part of this section didn’t have that coming out joke, though, because it’s just so unfortunate. This is something I’ve talked about in my Supernatural reviews lately. I’d feel less negative about such a clever joke if there weren’t zero gay characters in the Discworld series so far. You don’t get to make jokes about us without us actually playing any significant part in the story, you know?
I actually thought that Windle would remain in his undead life, but I’m seeing now how much more sense it makes for him to end his life now that he’s helped save the world from the Queen. There’s a bittersweetness to his scene after he leaves the Fresh Starters behind in the University; he’s comfortable with what he’s done in the world. He set up Ludmilla and Lupine in a way that might end with them together, eager to share their company with one another. He did something undeniably good and heroic, and he served his purpose:
They didn’t need him. At last. The world didn’t need Windle Poons.
In another context, that might seem like one of the saddest things you could possibly read in the universe. Doesn’t everyone want to feel needed? But for Windle Poons, his sense of duty is now over, which means that he can finally move on. And he takes great comfort in knowing that in doing so, he set in motion a potential companionship in Ludmilla and Lupine, one made possible by his stand against the Queen and her trolleys. As Pratchett puts it here, Windle’s life might have literally ended with his appointment with Death (which we haven’t seen yet), but his life hasn’t metaphorically ended:
In the Ramtop village where they dance the real Morris dance, for example, they believe that no one is finally dead until the ripples they cause in the world die away – until the clock he wound up winds down, until the wine she made has finished its ferment, until the crop they planted is harvested. The span of someone’s life, they say, is only the core of their actual existence.
Unfortunately, like Schleppel’s scene, I feel like the whole One-Man-Bucket naming joke is just abysmal, enough that it brings down some of the scene. Like, jokes about the naming schemes of indigenous Americans (who have no place within the Discworld) seems particularly crass and egregious. I don’t think it’s funny at all, and all it does is distract from the genuinely great writing all around it. So take note, writers: your racism will probably ruin the good shit you do.
And I have absolutely no complaints about anything that happens in the remainder of this section. My god, y’all! It’s been an endlessly rewarding experience reading the Discworld books in publication order. There’s something very unique about the journey of an author, so I’m glad I did not follow the other suggested reading order. From the joys of Moving Pictures to this stellar sequence, I’ve gotten to see Pratchett expand what sort of writing can be a part of the Discworld narrative. His poeticism here, both in describing the universe and the emotional vulnerability of Death, allows a fuller portrait to be painted for us.
So I can see him in my head as he travels to Miss Flitworth’s farm, inspects the music box that was given to her long ago, and realizing that even though he’s no longer mortal, he still has a remnant of that life within him. That piece is love. It’s affection. It’s the terrifying pain of realizing that you care about a person, that you ponder how you can make their life better, that you end up worrying about the bad things that might happen to them. I’d like to think that in this instance, Death believes he can be the light to shine on the darkness within Miss Flitworth and he traveled three hundred million light years just to be able to shine upon her. He traveled all of that to put himself before Azrael in order to ask the most heartbreaking request imaginable:
AND EVEN OBLIVION MUST END SOME DAY. LORD, WILL YOU GRANT ME JUST A LITTLE TIME? FOR THE PROPER BALANCE OF THINGS. TO RETURN TO WHAT WAS GIVEN. FOR THE SAKE OF PRISONERS AND THE FLIGHT OF BIRDS.
Death took a step backward.
It was impossible to read expression in Azrael’s features.
Death glanced sideways at the servants.
LORD, WHAT CAN THE HARVEST HOPE FOR, IF NOT FOR THE CARE OF THE REAPER MAN?
It’s a request that Death hopes Azrael, the reaper man of the entire universe, might be able to understand. Who could understand it better? Who else would quietly and privately wish that they could be cared about?
Thus, Death wants to provide Miss Flitworth with closure. I’m guessing the Time that Death keeps referencing is the Time before he’s no longer human at all? Maybe? I don’t think I actually understand those references, but anyway. THE POINT: Death seeks out the few things he understands as part of human romance, like flowers, chocolates, and diamonds. They’re adorable scenes because Death just wants the best for Miss Flitworth, not understanding that he doesn’t really need to do any of this for her. I think she’d understand how he felt without any of this, you know? I’m still excited to see what comes of this. OFF I GO TO FINISH ANOTHER DISCWORLD BOOK!!!
The original text contains use of the word “lamely.”
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