Discworld novel by Terry Pratchett

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Mort is a 1987 fantasy novel by British writer Terry Pratchett, the fourth Discworld novel.


Publisher's excerpts online
You don't see people at their best in this job.
History always has a few tricks up its frayed sleeve. It's been around a long time.
  • This is the Death whose particular sphere of operations is, well, not a sphere at all, but the Discworld, which is flat and rides on the back of four giant elephants who stand on the shell of the enormous star turtle Great A'Tuin, and which is bounded by a waterfall that cascades endlessly into space.
Scientists have calculated that the chance of anything so patently absurd actually existing are millions to one. But magicians have calculated that million-to-one chances crop up nine times out of ten.
  • It wasn't that he was unhelpful, but he had the kind of vague, cheerful helpfulness that serious men soon learn to dread.
  • In short, Mort was one of those people who are more dangerous than a bag full of rattlesnakes. He was determined to discover the underlying logic behind the universe... which was going to be hard, because there wasn't one.
  • His father regarded him critically.
"Very nice," he said, "for the money."
"It itches," said Mort, "I think there's things in here with me."
"There's thousands of lads in the world'd be very thankful for a nice warm—" Lezek paused, and gave up—"garment like that, my lad."
"I could share it with them?" Mort said hopefully.
  • What is your name?
'Uh,' said Mort. ‘Mortimer...sir. They call me Mort.'
What a coincidence, said the skull.
  • "Where did you say your business was?" said Lezek. "Is it far?"
No further than the thickness of a shadow, said Death. Where the first primal cell was, there was I also. Where man is, there am I. When the last life crawls under freezing stars, there will I be.
  • [Death pays for something from a large bag of assorted copper coinage, most of it turned blue and green with age]
"How do you get all those coins?" asked Mort.
In pairs.
  • The only things known to go faster than ordinary light is monarchy, according to the philosopher Ly Tin Weedle. He reasoned like this: you can't have more than one king, and tradition demands that there is no gap between kings, so when a king dies the succession must therefore pass to the heir instantaneously. Presumably, he said, there must be some elementary particles—kingons, or possibly queons—that do this job, but of course succession sometimes fails if, in mid-flight, they strike an anti-particle, or republicon. His ambitious plans to use his discovery to send messages, involving the careful torturing of a small king in order to modulate the signal, were never fully expanded because, at that point, the bar closed.
  • There were temples, their doors wide open, filling the streets with the sound of gongs, cymbals and, in the case of some of the more conservative fundamentalist religions, the brief screams of the victims.
  • You don't see people at their best in this job, said Death.
  • What do you think, said Death. Am I really here, boy?
"Yes," said Mort slowly. "I...I've watched people. They look at you but they don't see you, I think. You do something to their minds."
Death shook his head.
They do it all themselves, he said. There's no magic. People can't see me, they simply won't allow themselves to do it. Until it's time, of course. Wizards can see me, and cats. But your average, never. He blew a smoke ring at the sky, and added, Strange but true.
  • Death was standing behind a lectern, poring over a map. He looked at Mort as if he wasn't entirely there.
You haven't heard of the Bay of Mante, have you? he said.
"No, sir," said Mort.
Famous shipwreck there.
"Was there?"
There will be, said Death, if I can find the damn place.
  • Albert grunted. "Do you know what happens to lads who ask too many questions?"
Mort thought for a moment.
"No," he said eventually, "what?"
There was silence.
Then Albert straightened up and said, "Damned if I know. Probably they get answers, and serve 'em right."
  • "I've never seen Death actually at work."
"Not many have," said Albert. "Not twice, at any rate."
  • "They can't see me either!" said Mort. "But I'm real!"
Reality is not always what it seems, said Death. Anyway, if they don't want to see me, they certainly don't want to see you. These are aristocrats, boy. They're good at not seeing things.
  • 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.
  • "And he goes around killing people?" said Mort. He shook his head. "There's no justice."
Death sighed. No, he said,... there's just me.
  • "My granny says that dying is like going to sleep," Mort added, a shade hopefully.
I wouldn't know. I have done neither.
  • "Look, I'll be frank," he said. "I could point you in the direction of a great brothel."
"I've already had lunch," said Mort, vaguely.
  • "In a figurative sense," he said.
"What does that mean?
"Well, it means no," said Cutwell.
  • "He doesn't like wizards and witches much," Mort volunteered.
"Nobody likes a smartass," she said with some satisfaction. "We give him trouble, you see. Priests don't, so he likes priests."
"He's never said," said Mort.
"Ah. They're always telling folk how much better it's going to be when they're dead. We tell them it could be pretty good right here if only they'd put their minds to it."
  • "I've—we've got a special on Cutwell's Shield of Passion ointment," said the face, and winked in a startling fashion. "Provides your wild oats while guaranteeing a crop failure, if you know what I mean."
Keli bridled. "No," she lied coldly, "I do not."
  • "You're dead," he said.
Keli waited. She couldn't think of any suitable reply. "I'm not" lacked a certain style, while "Is it serious?" seemed somehow too frivolous.
  • (That was a cinematic trick adapted for print. Death wasn't talking to the princess. He was actually in his study, talking to Mort. But it was quite effective, wasn't it? It's probably called a fast dissolve, or a crosscut/zoom. Or something. An industry where the senior technician is called a Best Boy might call it anything.)
  • The thing between Death's triumphant digits was a fly from the dawn of time. It was the fly in the primordial soup. It had bred on mammoth turds. It wasn't a fly that bangs on window panes, it was a fly that drills through walls.
  • The world's greatest lovers were undoubtedly Mellius and Gretelina, whose pure, passionate and soul-searing affair would have scorched the pages of History if they had not, because of some unexplained quirk of fate, been born two hundred years apart on different continents. However, the gods took pity on them, and turned her into an ironing board, and him into a small brass bollard.
  • When you're a god, you don't have to have reasons.
  • History has a habit of changing the people who think they are changing it. History always has a few tricks up its frayed sleeve. It's been around a long time.
  • "What do people like to drink here, then?" The landlord looked sideways at his customers, a clever trick given that they were directly in front of him.
  • "You like it?" he said to Mort, in pretty much the same tone of voice people used when they said to St George, "You killed a what?"
  • Go away, Mort thought. His subconscious was worrying him. It appeared to have a direct line to parts of his body that he wanted to ignore at the moment.
  • You know, people just don't see what their mind tells them isn't there.
  • Ankh-Morpork had dallied with many forms of government and had ended up with that form of democracy known as One Man, One Vote. The Patrician was the Man; he had the Vote.
  • "I'm sure it's not wizardly to be alone in a lady's boudoir."
"Hmm? But I'm not alone, am I? You're here."
"That," she said, "is the point, isn't it?"
  • I ushered souls into the next world. I was the grave of all hope. I was the ultimate reality. I was the assassin against whom no lock would hold.
"Yes, point taken, but do you have any particular skills?"
  • It struck Mort with sudden, terrible poignancy that Death must be the loneliest creature in the universe.
  • "Sodomy non sapiens," said Albert under his breath.
"What does that mean?"
"Means I'm buggered if I know."
  • Resolution was good for the moral fiber; the only trouble was the fiber didn't appreciate the sacrifices he was making for it.
  • Truly, he thought, the way of enlightenment is like unto half a mile of broken glass.
  • "As simple as that? You didn't use magic?"
"Only common sense. It's a lot more reliable in the long run."
  • Women's clothes were not a subject that preoccupied Cutwell much—in fact, usually when he thought about women his mental pictures seldom included any clothes at all—but the vision in front of him really did take his breath away.
  • "Pardon me for living, I'm sure."
No one gets pardoned for living.
  • Albert glared at him. "Shut up."
"Shutting up right away, sir."
  • Only one creature could have duplicated the expressions on their faces, and that would be a pigeon who has heard not only that Lord Nelson has got down off his column but has also been seen buying a 12-bore repeater and a box of cartridges.
  • What's the use of having the power if you don't wield it? Man doesn't show you respect, you don't leave enough of his damn inn to roast chestnuts on, understand?
  • He was suddenly aware that he had made some lifelong enemies, and it was no consolation to know that he probably wouldn't have them for very long.
  • Death is whoever does Death's job.
  • There were more than nine hundred known gods on the Disc, and research theologians were discovering more every year.
  • "You won't get away with this," said Cutwell. He thought for a bit and added, "Well, you will probably get away with it, but you'll feel bad about it on your deathbed and you'll wish—" He stopped talking.
  • What are you going to do when we get there?"
"I don't know," he said. "I was sort of hoping something would suggest itself at the time."
  • "Am I going to be crowned or not?" she said icily. "I've got to die a queen! It'd be terrible to be dead and common!"
  • Although the scythe isn't preeminent among the weapons of war, anyone who has been on the wrong end of, say, a peasants' revolt will know that in skilled hands it is fearsome. Once its owner gets it weaving and spinning no one—including the wielder—is quite certain where the blade is now and where it will be next.
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