In the nineteenth and final part of Soul Music, the music tries to have its way. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Discworld.
This has been a fun experience because I’ve gotten a chance to talk about something that’s impacted my life since I was very, very young. I appreciate that a great deal! I’m saying that at the start because I don’t want parts of this review to come off as overly negative. I’m thrilled by the developments for Susan and Death, but I think Soul Music completely fails nearly every other character in the story by resetting the narrative. (Though… now I’m thinking about the fact that this is one of the few times that a bunch of men sacrificed their character development for a woman. Huh!)
Anyway, DISCUSSION TIME.
The Legend Repeats
HA! I WAS RIGHT ABOUT A THING, let me bask in this moment. The Music refused to let the Band live because it wanted the cycle to continue forever. Thus, it was time for The Band to tragically die on the way to Quirm, immortalizing all of them forever. In turn, the Music would live on. There’s a great demonstration of that here when Susan confronts the Music:
She still couldn’t see the others. The light was streaming past her.
“But he threw away the guitar.”
I wanted him to live for me.
“You wanted him to die for you! In the wreckage of the cart!”
What is the difference? He would be dead anyway. But to die in music… People will always remember the songs he never had the chance to sing. And they will be the greatest songs of all.
Live your life in a moment.
And then live forever. Don’t fade away.
The wizards were so worried about the Things from the Dungeon Dimensions that they hadn’t prepared for this. The Music is a selfish force, but specifically in the Discworld. Pratchett isn’t really saying that rock n’ roll is an evil force; he’s saying it doesn’t belong in this world. Look what it’s done! Well… some of it was pretty cool. The wizards basically got to have the time of their lives, Ridcully was entertained, and plenty of people got to enjoy the thrill of live rock n’ roll. But at what cost? Buddy turned into a shell of his former self, and in the end, the Music was ready to discard them all in order to live.
That’s not really worth it, I think.
It’s through this Susan learns of the relentless unfairness of the universe, and it’s through this that Death teaches her that sometimes, just maybe, you might actually be able to correct that unfairness. Again, I think that depends on the situation, and I didn’t get the sense that Death was saying that he could always repair things. In fact, his playing of an empty chord – a musical zero, so to speak – is the only thing that allows him to send the Music back to its own world. We’ve seen Death help “correct” time before, but I bet you could easily argue that this doesn’t necessarily make the world more “fair.” He just helped put the world back together before the Music tore it apart.
And so the Music’s power over Ankh-Morpork and all the other Disc cities it controlled slowly slips away, leaving pain and disinterest in its wake. For the most part, people just move on, like the wizards. Clete dies when he drives his cart off a cliff, and Satchelmouth is saved by Death. But what about Susan? How the hell do you continue on after this? Unlike practically everyone else in this story, she remembers everything. Her mind is not wiped, there’s no alternate history for her, and nothing was reset. Does she go back to her life? Is she done being Death?
I found the end of her story to be sweet and touching, perhaps one of the most genuinely adorable endings in any of the Discworld books I’ve read so far. I REALLY WANT ANOTHER SUSAN BOOK, Y’ALL. I just love that Susan understands more about her own life and mortality in general. She gets closure on her parents’ death. (They refused immortality. That was the argument she walked in on, right?) And Death makes sure that Susan feels welcomed. THIS IS THE BEST PART!!! Look, I just have a lot of feelings about Death having feelings, and this bit destroyed me.
I KNOW IT’S RIDICULOUS, REALLY.
I SUPPOSE… YOU HAVEN’T GOT A KISS FOR YOUR OLD GRANDDAD?
stop it STOP IT! How dare you! This kind of affection is certainly a pleasure to read, but in the scenes that follow, I think you can see even more evidence that Susan has truly come to respect her grandfather. She uses his logic in a conversation with Miss Butts, and I saw that as a sign of her dropping her moral rigidity just a bit. Not a whole lot, but enough to suggest that maybe she’s re-thinking her perception of other people. But it’s the potential of the ending – of her running down to the shop in Three Roses – that gives us a glimpse of a hopeful Susan. Her eternal cynicism might just be not-that-eternal after all.
I think that’s why it frustrates me so much that none of the other characters get any resolution whatsoever. So, for the Band, all three of those characters just lived another version of events? What about any of their growth? What about the after effects of the story? Did they learn anything through this experience? Technically, no, they did not. They can’t have. The world is different now, and there are only lingering memories of the Festival and the Band With Rocks In scattered about the minds on the Disc. It just feels like a huge cop-out to me, especially since I came to care about Cliff, Glod, and Buddy. Yes, Susan and Death’s story is rewarding, but the cost of that seems strange to me.
As a whole, I think there are parts of Soul Music that are flawed, but like I said at the beginning, I enjoyed the experience of talking about it, perhaps more than the text itself. Anyway, onwards to my next Discworld book, Interesting Times!
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