IMG_20151013_165828I’ve been a pretty avid reader since childhood. I remember it being a big deal for me to have a special permission in Grade 2 of elementary school to be allowed to take out books from the Grade 6 shelf at the library. This isn’t just to brag (but it’s also to brag) but also to say that I’ve been reading at a pretty good level for a long ass time.

Even though I might not have gotten many of the jokes or clever word play, I would say that the Discworld books were probably in my reading range since about Grade 4. That was 22 years ago. 22 years of being a geek; reading sci-fi and fantasy novels, playing role playing games, being in a science fiction and fantasy club in college. All that time being aware of Discworld but always somewhat intimidated by the massive series and having no idea where to start.

I’ve ready quite a few of Neil Gaiman’s novels and short stories, so I became aware of Terry Pratchett pretty early (sometime in high-school probably) through Good Omens, which remains one of my favorite novels ever.

I always sort of knew that I would eventually read them though. I purposely stayed away from the series in every way, avoiding spoilers for most of my adult life. I even avoided playing the original PC/Playstation game to avoid ruining any possible jokes.

When Sir Pratchett passed away this year, I felt somehow like I had let him down by not reading any of his Discworld books. 40 novels (with a 41st slated for posthumous release) that I had always intended to read and just somehow never found the time for.

I decided to try and fix this, but I still had the problem of knowing where to begin. I know that a lot of fans subscribe to the “start at the beginning” and others suggest that you “start anywhere”. Then I heard reports that the first few books are a bit of a learning curve for Pratchett and the reader, as he finds his literary voice. Finally, I stumbled across that famous little image of all the books sorted into their popular “groups” (IE: Witches, Wizards, City Watch, Death, etc.)

It was a little macabre maybe, but in light of Terry’s passing, I decided to start with Death. So the obvious place to start was his first appearance, which is Discworld Novel Book 4: Mort.

Mort tells the story of Mort, which, knowing French and knowing this was a book about death, already had me chuckling. Without revealing many more spoilers than the back of the book it is the tale of a young man named Mort who is drafted into the service of Death (or rather, the anthropomorphic personification of death) as an apprentice. He learns the ins and the outs of the business, but is maybe a little too softhearted to properly fulfill the duties prescribed by the job description. Hi-jinx ensue as Mort navigates boyhood crushes and budding relationships between a beautiful princess and the not-so (conventionally) beautiful adopted daughter of Death himself (itself?). And there’s a wizard.

I don’t want to get more into it than that, since there are plenty of little twists and turns along the way in the plot that make for an enjoyable read. However, I realized early on that you don’t just read Terry Pratchett for the plot, you read it for the ideas. I am even more hesitant to share the ideas of a Terry Pratchett novel than I am to share the plot, since they’re, in my opinion, even more important in many ways.

61JTH49HADLSo instead I’ll talk a little about the concepts that Sir Terry touches upon in this, only his fourth novel in what would become a ten times larger series. What gets you right away is the idea of Death himself, he was brought to existence through unknown means and in the course of eternity he developed somewhat of a personality. One that he never got to fully explore or discover, on account of the constant demands of “The Duty”. It’s incredibly sad when you think about it. I don’t think there always has to be a deeper reading of every little thing you pick up, and if you want to enjoy Discworld on the surface for the clever writing and witticisms, you definitely can. Cleverness and wit abound throughout.

But I think there’s also something more substantial in Mort and it takes looking at the story archs of Death and Mort to really get there. Death is someone (he used to be a something, but at this point he really is a someone) who only has his job. Every day it’s the same, and it’s quite literally the most grim business imaginable. Mort is an apprentice at this job, and as he gets more and more burdened with the work he too gets more and more wrapped up in it. As Mort’s duties expand and Death takes a less active role in the business of Death, Death discovers more and more what he (as a person) enjoys and Mort loses more and more of himself to the job.

Is Terry telling us not to get too caught up with work? To leave room for creativity and happiness? Maybe. I like to think so. I really don’t want to get too into all the details, but this is a big piece of what I took away from this, my first trip to Discworld. It’s not the most complicated little allegory, but I think it’s there.

If a book series can be absurd, witty and also have a bit of a message, I think I will stick with it for a little while.

The next Discworld book I’m going to take a crack at is the next Death book Reaper Man. After that I might head back to the beginning, according to the author’s notes, there’s no wrong way to read Discworld. So I’ll do it my way.

Keith does all sorts of things here on, he works with the other founders on 9to5 (illustrated), co-hosts our two podcasts: The 9to5 Entertainment System and Go Plug Yourself and blogs here as The Perspicacious Geek.