Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Reaper Man by Terry Pratchett


What happens when the auditors decide that Death has grown inefficient at his job? It seems that the powers-that-be began to grow concerned when Death first adopts a daughter, then takes on an apprentice (* See Mort *). They feel that his developing personality may be a danger to the whole of reality, and may be due for replacement. But you can't simply give him a cheap watch and a retirement party and send him on his way. Well, I suppose you can, but instead they give him the one thing he can't get for himself: a life. Death is sent to live on the Discworld as a human, if a rather vague and confused one. And where else would you expect to find him but on a farm, swinging a scythe, with a solid human name, Bill Door. Well, give him a break, would you have wanted a creative death?

While Death/Door is laboring on the farm of the elderly Miss Flitworth, there has been a glitch in the system. There is no one out collecting souls, and it takes time for human belief to build up enough to fill the void. In the mean time the dead are restless, and the wizard Windle Poons can't die. Wizards have a gift, they know when their going to die, allowing for proper planning and partying beforehand. And there's a rule: when a wizard dies, his soul is personally collected by death. So here's poor Poons, knowing he should be dead, buried and everything, and yet still waiting for death to come. Of course you can only wait in the ground so long, and Poons digs himself back up and rejoins humanity, much to the dismay of every one else.
Finally though, it comes down to a showdown. The nameless stranger going up against the newly crowned king of the afterlife. For the new death has no desire to be gentle, but before he can really get things going, he has to take care of one last detail, Bil Door.

Some Thoughts

Mort gave us a great intro to the character of Death. We saw a creature that tried to care about those who were under his care, Ysabell and Mort. In Reaper Man, we see him expanding that desire, to care for the whole of the Disc. When he stands before Azrael and demands that humans deserve a caring death, rather than just the mass-production the new death had sought, it shows a love that is at odds with the mission of this being. Understanding that Mr. Pratchett has been an atheist for many years, it interests me that he would portray Death in such a light. It doesn't feel like sarcasm or caricature. It feels as if he expects that, if death could in fact be personified as a character, it would be one that would eventually take an interest in the beings he deals with, maybe even grow to love them. I always wondered if this is how Mr. Pratchett perceived god, that if there were a god, wouldn't he eventually take an interest in what we do and try to save us from ourselves?

I love the Death novels. They delve into philosophy far more than the others groups. There's the simple surface read, where you get to enjoy a fun story, with some great jokes and puns. But there's also the deeper examination of life and death, and the contemplation of it all. Certainly a great book, one I read again and again, and recommend to all my friends.  The idea of the auditors of reality, of bland, generic figures with no life or personality, no individuality at all, are overlooking everything to make sure form matches function. It sends chills to think that they might be out there, trying their best to get us to conform to the laws of reality. Nice to know that somewhere out there is an author that can interject a little chaos into it all. Thanks Mr. Pratchett.

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