Let me start by saying that Terry Pratchett is one of the most quotable writers I’ve ever read, and that cutting this post down to a reasonable length was incredibly difficult. Take a moment to feel sorry for me. I’ll wait.
This is Discworld, a planetary disc balanced on the back of four elephants who in turn stand upon the Great A’Tuin. Here, magic is real. Faeries are terrifying. Death is the one who comes when your time is done, when the sands in your glass have run out, when you are ready to move on to whatever might be next.
He’s an imposing figure: tall, skeletal, a blue glow in the depths of his eye sockets. He wears a dark cloak and carries a wicked looking scythe. He speaks in ALL CAPS. It’s impossible not to like, even love, him.
He rides a pale horse.
“The horse’s name was Binky. He was a real horse. Death had tried fiery steeds and skeletal horses in the past, and found them impractical, especially the fiery ones, which tended to set light to their own bedding and stand in the middle of it looking embarrassed.”
He loves cats.
Though his job is solitary, he’s not entirely alone. There’s Albert, his manservant/ butler/grumbly accomplice. For a time, he had an adopted daughter, Ysabell. For an even shorter time, he apprenticed a young lad named Mort, who saw how difficult it was to be the Grim Reaper.
“It struck Mort with sudden, terrible poignancy that Death must be the loneliest creature in the universe. In the great party of Creation, he was always in the kitchen.”
Mort and Ysabell fell in love, and from their union came Death’s granddaughter, Susan Sto-Helit. She inherited certain familial traits, and fills in for Death on occasion.
Covering the demise of vermin is Death of Rats and his all-too-fond-of-eyes companion, Quoth the Raven.
“WHO KNOWS WHAT EVIL LURKS IN THE HEART OF MEN?
The Death of Rats looked up from the feast of the potato. SQUEAK, he said.
Death waved a hand dismissively. WELL, YES, OBVIOUSLY ME, he said. I JUST WONDERED IF THERE WAS ANYONE ELSE.”
He’s spent time as a simple farmhand, and once had to step into the shoes of the Hogfather to make certain that children all around the Disc received their winter cheer. While not quite jolly, he did his best at bestowing gifts.
“You can’t give her that!’ she screamed. ‘It’s not safe!’
IT’S A SWORD, said the Hogfather. THEY’RE NOT MEANT TO BE SAFE.
‘She’s a child!’ shouted Crumley.
‘What if she cuts herself?’
THAT WILL BE AN IMPORTANT LESSON.”
He’s even-handed – endings are his job – but he is not without kindness and compassion.
“LORD, WHAT CAN THE HARVEST HOPE FOR, IF NOT THE CARE OF THE REAPER MAN?”
Humans engender both curiosity and keen observation.
“All right,” said Susan. “I’m not stupid. 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.”
It’s been just over a year since we lost Terry Pratchett, but the grief remains fresh. Pterry himself, through a book 25 years old, offers some solace.
“No one is actually dead until the ripples they cause in the world die away…”
The ripples continue. The stories resound. Death will always be a part of them, of us, and in Pratchett’s final novel reminds us that our brief, strange lives matter.
“YOU HAVE LEFT THE WORLD MUCH BETTER THAN YOU FOUND IT, AND IF YOU ASK ME, said Death, NOBODY COULD DO ANY BETTER THAN THAT”
Honorable Mention: Death (of the Endless): Cheerful. adorable goth girl. Likes top hats, goldfish, and ankhs.
“When the first living thing existed, I was there waiting. When the last living thing dies, my job will be finished. I’ll put the chairs on the tables, turn out the lights and lock the universe behind me when I leave.”