Thursday, April 9, 2015

Why You Must Read the Death miniseries from Discworld by Terry Pratchett

This post is part of the Once Upon a Time Challenge. I reread the books. That counts!

What do you do when your favourite author dies? When you're done crying, if ever, you read. You read their books. The ones you've read before and any you may not have. You devour every word, like it's their last, because it's their last. And then you spread the word. Nothing I write will suffice to express my immense admiration for Sir Terry Pratchett. I am relatively new to the Discworld series, but I love it and I do believe it is the greatest and most self-aware fantasy writing out there. All I can do is try to explain just why and hope that my gushing recommendation makes you finally add the books to your shelf, or revisit them. I couldn't possibly cover everything I have to say about a forty book series in one post, so I will start with five of my favourite books within it, and my favourite character.

Every time I find someone raving about the character of Death from The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, I kind of want to roll my eyes at them and tell them about Death of the Discworld. He looks much like our Grim Reaper, clad in a black robe and carrying a scythe. He talks in CAPS with a voice which you hear directly in your head and which sounds like two concrete blocks rubbing together. Death of the Discworld rides a horse named Binky, rather preferring it to the usual fiery steed that keeps setting his robe on fire and lives in an endless all-black dimension called Death's Domain in a black Victorian-looking house with a black garden.

Death has the most interesting story arc. Death, you must understand, is not cruel, only good at his job - he does no killing, we do it. Life ends, he is simply in charge of 'what comes after.' As an immortal outside observer, Death is fascinated by humans, puzzled by their stupidity and their intense grit in spite of it. Often out of concern for their well-being, or sometimes simply curiosity, Death attempts to imitate humans, without really understanding them. Needless to say, this leads to to all sorts of disasters which make the five-part miniseries centred on Death. Pratchett spins marvellous stories around ridiculous what if-scenarios.

In Mort, Death takes on a human apprentice, in Reaper Man Death gets fired for having developed too much of a personality and ends up working on a farm instead. Soul Music introduces us to Death's granddaughter, a most amusing girl, who reappears in later books; also, Death rides a motorbike. In Hogfather, when Discworld's Santa Claus goes missing, a curious and worried Death takes his place, to make one incredibly innovative story. In Thief of Time, Time has been kidnapped and Death recruits his granddaughter to rescue it. 

Through the course of five brilliant books, you watch Death learn ever more about humans and grow to sympathise with them. People often talk about Terry Pratchett and Douglas Adams in the same breath, I have likely done this too, but all they have in common is they both ingeniously churn humour out of genre fiction. Adams fuels his stories with one-liners and quips of such outrage, that it doesn't matter when he leaves the plot unattended to spiral off in mindless directions - in fact, if anything, it only reinforces the self-fulfilling farce, that nothing goes according to plan, that plans don't matter. Whereas, Terry Pratchett clearly cares about the craft of his stories as much as the message he sends through them. And this is because he does not write simply a zany story of a universe, or a planet, even one as extraordinary as the Discworld - which is a turte swimming through space with four elephants on its back who carry a magical disc-shaped world on their backs. Pratchett's books are about the many endearing oddballs living on the strange planet. Discworld is about people and making a difference; it is not Adams's clever exercise in futility. You can see this in the attention and respect Pratchett gives his version of Death. Discworld arises out of passion, not cynicism. It is satire, biting social critique, but with an unmistakable undercurrent of hope. This is its greatest achievement.

I wanted to make this a clear three-reasons sort of post, but when it comes to the Discworld series, I can't help but ramble on. Anyway, here, as succinctly as I can put them, are three reasons you must read the Death miniseries of the Discworld. Terry Pratchett was a man who redefined death, in more ways than you could imagine, which makes Mort as good a place as any to start reading the Discworld series.

1. Death will make you laugh.

THAT’S MORTALS FOR YOU, Death continued. THEY’VE ONLY GOT A FEW YEARS IN THIS WORLD AND THEY SPEND THEM ALL IN MAKING THINGS COMPLICATED FOR THEMSELVES. FASCINATING. 

2. Death will make you think.

“You're saying humans need... fantasies to make life bearable."

REALLY? AS IF IT WAS SOME KIND OF PINK PILL? NO. HUMANS NEED FANTASY TO BE HUMAN. TO BE THE PLACE WHERE THE FALLING ANGEL MEETS THE RISING APE.


(...) TAKE THE UNIVERSE AND GRIND IT DOWN TO THE FINEST POWDER AND SIEVE IT THROUGH THE FINEST SIEVE AND THEN SHOW ME ONE ATOM OF JUSTICE, ONE MOLECULE OF MERCY. AND YET, Death waved a hand. AND YET YOU ACT AS IF THERE IS SOME IDEAL ORDER IN THE WORLD, AS IF THERE IS SOME...SOME RIGHTNESS IN THE UNIVERSE BY WHICH IT MAY BE JUDGED.

"Yes, but people have got to believe that, or what's the point-"

MY POINT EXACTLY.


3. Death will never get old (or, you know, irrelevant.) 

Well, of course not. DEATH IS WHOEVER DOES DEATH'S JOB. 

Did I mention Death likes cats? Seriously, read the books. Any Discworld fans here (hopeful voice) who agree? If you loved Terry Pratchett, and haven't already read this article, you should - There is no Past Tense of Terry Pratchett by Scott Lynch.

14 comments:

Viktoria Berg said...

Thank you! I have been wondering where to start with this series, and now I know.

listenwatchreadshare said...

Hey, I made that comparison in my head too, the Zusak and Pratchett approaches to death. I too thought that Pratchett made a better job of it - as always, he had such a warmth to his characters, even Death.
I loved Pratchett so much.

Priya said...

Viktoria - Glad I was of help. I do hope you like the series! :)

Thanks for stopping by my blog, Denise. Pratchett did have a warmth to his characters, that is a beautiful way to put it...

Divers and Sundry said...

I love these books, and Death is one of my favorite characters. I'm also fond of the Luggage lol

Priya said...

Divers and Sundry, Death must make it to the favourites of any Discworld fan, right? I like the Luggage too, especially whenever it gets kind of wicked!

Delia D said...

If Death in the Discworld series is better than Death in The Book Thief I should read some of this series. I love The Book Thief.
I've read one book by Pratchett, Nation, and wasn't too enthusiastic about it. But a forty book series! Five seems like a more reasonable number.

Jason C. said...

You got me so hyped now to finally read Pratchett. I hope to start "The Color of Magic" this weekend.

Priya said...

I hope it lives up to the raised expectations, Jason. :D

Delia, I can imagine how forty is an intimidating number. But many of the novels work as standalones, and there are other small four or five-book miniseries within the main series!
Death in the Discworld is very different from Zusak's character, it may be unfair to compare the two, but I find the Discworld one rather more original.

Delia D said...

I will keep that in mind, Priya. I like the idea of Death as a character so I'll put this on my TBR list. Thanks for the recommendation.
P.S. I was sad to hear of Terry Pratchett's death and I can sympathize with your feelings, even though he's not one of my favorite writers. Still, it is sad to hear of a writer's death, especially when he was so beloved by many people.

Priya said...

Delia, it is very sad. The one good thing about writers though, is they really are immortalized in their books. Rhianna Pratchett, his daughter, tweeted something like he lives on through his characters... :)

Athira said...

You have convinced me to read this series! I have been curious about it for a while, but wasn't sure if the books were for me, and then looking at just how many books there are in the series, I kept postponing reading it even though I love the idea of series like that - really long but very connected. Have you read all the books in this series?

Priya said...

Hi Athira! I have read 28 of the 40 books in the series, I did say I was relatively new to the Discworld. But I have to admit, there is no other author I have read so many books by. Take a look at this graphic if you need help where to start or want to know which miniseries Discworld has: http://io9.com/how-to-read-terry-pratchetts-discworld-series-in-one-h-1567312812 .. The site hasn't been updated to the latest books, but it will help. :)

Lory said...

A dabbler in Discworld, I had read Soul Music and Thief of Time but not the others in this series. Now I'm working my way through them in honor of the late, great author. I loved your appreciation and agree with your assessment of Death.

Priya said...

Lory - It is so good to have comments from people who read and like Discworld. I am glad you agree with my assessment of Death, I do hope you enjoy the other books starring him as well. I'm also reading my way through the series... Thanks for stopping by! :)

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