Discworld / Mort

There is no fair. There is no justice. There is just me.

Fourth Discworld book and the first to really develop the character of Death, going from the sadistic lurker seen in The Colour of Magic to the complex, sympathetic-to-humans figure who merely has his Duty. It built upon themes raised in a brief foray to Death's house in The Light Fantastic.

Mort follows the story of Mort, a young boy who is chosen to become Death's apprentice.

Mort is one of the most popular early Discworld novels and won a contemporary award for best Gothic Novel of the year, despite Terry Pratchett's protest that it wasn't Gothic.

Adapted as a largely faithful but somewhat abridged graphic novel. Disney at one point was going to adapt Mort as a hand-drawn animated feature. They had to put it to a close because they couldn't afford the rights.

Preceded by Equal Rites, followed by Sourcery. The next book in the Death series is Reaper Man.

Tropes employed include:

  • Absurdly Sharp Blade: Death's scythe and sword.
  • Aluminum Christmas Trees: One of the books chronicling Albert's life is from before they invented spelling. Believe it or not, prior to the spread of dictionaries and printing presses, there was no one way to spell things. Spelling was done entirely phonetically, and two different spellings of the same word could be completely legitimate.
  • Apothecary Alligator: In Cutwell's workshop.
    There was a large crystal ball with a crack in it, an astrolabe with several bits missing, a rather scuffed octogram on the floor, and a stuffed alligator hanging from the ceiling. A stuffed alligator is absolutely standard equipment in any properly-run magical establishment. This one looked as though it hadn't enjoyed it much.
  • Arc Words:
    • "To tinker with the fate of one individual could destroy the whole world."
    • Also, "There is no justice. There is just me."
  • The Archmage: The founder of Unseen University, Alberto Malich. AKA Albert.
  • Aren't You Going to Ravish Me?: When Mort is about to enter Ysabell's room, she readjusts her clothes to be more revealing and says, "I hope that you have not forced your way in here in order to take advantage of your position in this household." She is, in fact, entirely hoping this is the case.
  • Awful Wedded Life: The fisherman rescued by Death enjoyed six months of marital bliss some twenty years ago.
  • Belligerent Sexual Tension: As stated in a later book: "Between Mort and Ysabell there was an instant dislike, and everyone knows what that means in the long term".
  • Berserk Button: Mort's reaction to being called 'Boy'. He starts off calmly correcting people but it all goes downhill from there. To the extent that Death calling him "boy" gives him the energy to fight back against him.
    • We see Death get angry for the first time when he finds a bag of drowned kittens.
  • Bewitched Amphibians: Alberto Malich, upon returning to Ankh-Morpork, has a quarrel with an innkeeper over a two-thousand-year-old bar bill. When next he's seen, he's got a bewildered-looking toad with him and remarks how that's one landlord who'll never talk back to wizards again.
  • Big Ol' Eyebrows: Mort compares Ysabell's eyebrows to a pair of mating caterpillars.
  • Bigger on the Inside: Death's house.
  • Bilingual Bonus: Sto Lat in Polish means "a hundred years".
  • Blue Blood: Mort and Ysabell are appointed as the duke and duchess of Sto Helit, so that they will unite with Sto Lat to keep the future Keli's uncle was supposed to make.
  • Butterfly of Doom: Though the butterfly effect is not part of the cataclysmic aspect of the Interface, it is referenced. On one side of the Interface, the clouds are distributed differently to the other, because the small changes added up to alter the weather patterns. When Mort sees the Interface sweep through a pub, not only does the name change from the Queen's Head to the Duke's Head as a direct result of the retcon, but also the landlord's clothes change because he happened to decide to put on different ones in the altered timeline.
  • Catchphrase:
    • "Mort", Mort's response to being called "boy". (Which also makes him a Phrase Catcher.)
    • Cutwell has "I'm a wizard. We know those things."
  • Chair Reveal: After rescuing Keli and Cutwell from the collapsing timeline, Mort takes them back to Death's domain with no plan beyond "I'll think of something." Cue Albert slamming the door behind them and Death spinning round in his chair.
  • Characterization Marches On:
  • Character Overlap: Rincewind and the Librarian feature in a cameo at the university.
  • Compound Interest Time Travel Gambit: Inverted. When Albert returns to Ankh-Morpork after 2000 years, an innkeeper hits him up for a fortune in interest on the three copper pieces he'd owed on his bar tab.
  • Continuity Nod: Farmers where Mort comes from grow reannual crops (you plant them this year, they come up last year) which were first mentioned in The Colour of Magic.
  • Cool Horse: Binky.
  • Cosmic Retcon: The Interface is the physical manifestation of the universe gradually retconning away Mort's 'mistake' in not taking Keli's life. More accurate, Mort changed how history is meant to go, and the Interface represents the inertia of history Cosmic Retconning it back again.
  • Creative Sterility: Death can't create. He can only copy.
  • Desperate Object Catch: When Mort and Death duel in the Hall of Lifetimers, Ysabell and Cutwell catch several of the hourglasses that are knocked off the shelves. Across the Disc, the corresponding people are miraculously saved from fatal falls.
  • Delayed Ripple Effect: The Interface is a variation on this trope, but with the change travelling across space instead of time—the world as a whole is running on the 'proper' timeline and the pressure on the changed timeline causes it to collapse inwards towards Sto Lat.
  • Death's Hourglass: Every living thing is represented in Death's domain by an hourglass showing how long they have left to live. (There's also one for Death himself, but it has no sand in it.) Also notable is the fact that breaking the hourglass immediately kills the person. Mort attempts to exploit this by breaking Death's hourglass during their battle, but his sword just passes through it harmlessly.
  • Death Takes a Holiday: Death goes on vacation, but leaves Mort in charge to make sure people die as they are supposed to. It doesn't exactly go as planned.
  • Do Wrong, Right: A Grand Vizier tries to poison his emperor but is finally tricked into eating the poisonous object himself, then kept from leaving because the emperor knows he's leaving for the antidote. As he's dying, the grand vizier actually compliments the emperor on his technique in killing him.
  • Dropped a Bridge on Him: The Duke of Sto Helit, a major antagonist, dies in an offhand way near the end when his hourglass happens to be one of the ones Death accidentally broke during his fight with Mort. This drives home the point of Death being a hypocrite, as the fate he was defending involved the Duke becoming king of Sto Lat.
  • The Dulcinea Effect: this is what first gets Mort into trouble.
  • The End of the World as We Know It: What happens if someone doesn't deal with Death's node charts. (Luckily, Ysabell knows how.)
  • Everything's Better with Princesses: Princess Keli of Sto Lat
  • First Girl Wins: Mort falls for Princess Keli at first, but eventually comes to realise that he and Ysabell have more in common.
  • Fluffy the Terrible: Death's mighty steed, able to travel through the sky, through space and through dimensions, is named Binky. Mort takes note of the strangeness of that name, thinking that the woodcut he saw as a child of Death on his pale horse would've been less impressive if he'd known the name then. Albert also comments that he would have expected Death's horse to have a much more intimidating name.
  • Food Porn: Possibly inverted, creating Food Gorn. The description of a meal in Harga's House of Ribs is described thusly.
    "[Customers] don't go in for the fancy or exotic, but stick to conventional food like flightless bird embryos, minced organs in intestine skins, slices of hog flesh, and burnt ground grass seeds dipped in animal fats; or, as it is known in their patois, egg, sausage, bacon, and a fried slice [of toast]."
  • Foreigners Write Backwards: Examining Death's node charts, Mort and Albert can't even tell if it's supposed to be read left to right or right to left. Ysabell explains that it spirals out clockwise from the center.
  • Gargle Blaster: This is the book to introduce scumble. A naive Mort orders a pint of it in the Quene's Hed / Duke's Head pub, and a clue that he is taking on some of Death's nature is that he survives.
  • The Grim Reaper: Of course.
  • Groin Attack: From a skeleton. Think about that for a second.
  • Glowing Eyes of Doom: It's an extremely bad sign when Mort starts to develop them.
  • Hey, You!: The other main characters all call Mort "boy", however many times he politely corrects them.
  • Hidden Depths: Albert.
  • Hypocrite: Death is absolutely enraged when he eventually finds out Mort has tampered with the flow of reality by leaving alive someone who was supposed to die. Ysabell later calls him out on the fact that he, Death himself, tampered with her own fate, Mort's, and several other people's whose hourglasses he accidentally broke during his fight with Mort. And she doesn't even mention that Death's attempt to take a vacation from being Death almost resulted in the collapse of all reality: sure, he taught Mort to reap, but he neglected to teach him to work the nodes so as to determine who to reap. Death seems to think that since he's the Death, those rules don't apply to him.
  • Ignore the Fan Service: When Mort visits Ysabell's room late one evening, she adjusts the neckline of her nightgown before letting him in. His response: "Put something on, you're overflowing."
  • Karma Houdini: the Duke of Sto Helit is supposed to be one according to the original timeline. Instead, his hourglass gets broken during the fight with Mort.
  • Living Forever Is Awesome: Albert is quite happy living the repetitive tedium of being Death's manservant outside time, and considers his plan to achieve immortality a relative success. However, this is because of an intense fear of the world after death, since he knows bad things will happen and he also showed missing a LOT of his actual living life when he goes back for a while and even plans to stay.
  • Magic A Is Magic A: It's revealed that Albert's presence in Death's country is a result of assuming this too much. Given that the Rite of AshkEnte summons Death and knowing that he was dying, he presumed that performing the Rite backwards would keep Death away from him. However, this turned out to invert the spell in a different way—instead of summoning Death to him, it sent him to Death.Alternatively 
  • Master Poisoner: Death comforts the ghost of an assassinated king with the knowledge that he has an appointment with the King's assassin later on. Apparently it isn't a good idea to let someone skilled in poisons and capable of contracting a killer prepare you a packed lunch.
  • Matter of Life and Death: Mort demands that Ysabelle come help him in the middle of the night because it's this.
  • Meaningful Name: Mort is the French word for death. Lampshaded.
  • Men Can't Keep House: Cutwell's housekeeper is away. The resultant mess intimidates even Mort.
  • Mugging the Monster: Lampshaded when three thugs try to mug Mort in the Shades:
    They had the heavy, stolid look of those thugs whose appearance in any narrative means that it's time for the hero to be menaced a bit, although not too much, because it's also obvious that they're going to be horribly surprised.
  • Narrating the Present: the books in Death's library write someone's life as a narrative as it happens. The last scene of Mort is actually Mort reading that scene from his own book.
  • Never Say "Die": Obviously averted, but pops up in a behind-the-scenes anecdote. Allegedly, a meddling executive trying to make Mort into a movie told Terry Pratchett to "lose the Death angle." Terry Pratchett pretty much pulled out of the project then, because the entire point of the story is Death!
  • No Social Skills: This book introduces Death's inability to relate to people and normal life. Feelings are organic. He didn't feel sorry for Ysabelle, he thought sorry. Developing true empathy is more or less his character arc.
  • Older Than They Look: Ysabell has been 16 for 35 years.
  • Ontological Inertia: Played With heavily. When something happens that deviates from what should happen, the universe takes some time before realizing something's wrong and tries to smooth it over.
  • Picked Last: At the hiring fair, Mort is still waiting to be apprenticed at midnight, long after the wall-eyed kid with the stoop has been chosen by the local beggar.
  • Pimped-Out Dress: Keli wears her mother's Vermine-trimmed dress for a coronation that is an attempt to avert reality trying to reassert itself.
    Whoever had designed the dress didn't know when to stop. They'd put lace over the silk, and trimmed it with black vermine, and strung pearls anywhere that looked bare, and puffed and starched the sleeves and then added silver filigree and then started again with the silk.
    • Cutwell's wardrobe for the same coronation:
    "the special ceremonial robe the palace seamstress had made up for him, digging deep into her workbasket for scraps of lace, sequins and gold thread to produce a garment of such dazzling tastelessness that even the Archchancellor of Unseen University wouldn’t have been ashamed to wear it. "
  • Pink Elephants:
    • Mort's discovery of the reality interface and what it's doing occurs in a tavern, causing the other people present to write off his increasingly frantic descriptions of its effects as hallucinations caused by drinking.
    • At one point there is a drunk elephant and the narrator suggests that it is going to hallucinate pink people.
  • Please Put Some Clothes On:
    • This from Mort after Ysabelle's transparent attempt to seduce him: "And for heaven's sake, put on something sensible, you're overflowing."
    • Ysabell later gets one right back at Mort.
    Mort looked down. "Oh. Who put me to bed?"
    "I did. But I looked the other way."
  • Poisoned Squishi Tennis: the poisoned piece of squishi goes back and forth between the vizier and the emperor's bowls as each thinks of a better reason for the other to eat it.
  • Red Eyes, Take Warning: Death's glowy eyes change from their usually placid shade of blue to pants-crappingly-scary red when he's mad.
  • Red-Headed Hero
  • Rescue Romance: Teased, but ultimately averted, to Death's approval. Too many young women leap into the arms of the first young man to wake them after a hundred years' sleep, for example.
  • Retired Badass: Albert
  • Royals Who Actually Do Something: Princess Keli kind of, and Mort and Ysabell become this
  • Rubber-Band History: the Interface is one of the more interesting analyses.
  • Running Gag: Mort repeating his name whenever people call him "boy". That happens often.
  • Sinister Scythe: Death wields a scythe in battle with deadly effectiveness.
  • Slap-Slap-Kiss: Mort and Ysabell
  • Shipper on Deck: Death only brings Mort in so he can marry Ysabell.
  • Stealth Pun: Death's home contains written stories of the lives of every person on the disc who has ever lived. Stories that write themselves. Naturally, they're called autobiographies.
    • Cripple Wa is dicing with Death. (Probably a Type 2.)
  • Subbing for Santa: Mort takes care of the reaping business when Death decides to take a break.
  • Tarot Troubles: Cutwell attempts to do a Caroc reading for Keli, and produces three Death cards — out of a deck containing only one Death card — before giving up.
  • Took a Level in Badass: Becoming Death for awhile made Mort a helluva lot cooler and scarier.
    Ysabel: Pardon me for living, I'm sure.
    Mort: No-one gets pardoned for living.
    • Mort also later challenges death to one on one combat and calls him a bastard.
  • Twisted Echo Cut: At one point there's a cut from Keli telling Cutwell, "I think there's something you ought to know" to Death saying There is? because Mort has just said the same to him — which is immediately lampshaded with a footnote about the technique. It happens again later, though much more subtly.
  • Unwanted Rescue: Death does this to a fisherman who was unhappy with his life but whose religious beliefs forbade deliberate suicide, and so was quite pleased to be drowning.
  • Volleying Insults: Mort and Ysabel take turns in insulting each other's appearance. Interestingly, they get on much better after that.
  • When the Clock Strikes Twelve: Mort and Death meet as the clock is striking midnight on Hogswatch Eve.
  • Who Wants to Live Forever?: Played straight with most major characters - Mort, Ysabell, and even Death himself.
  • Xanatos Gambit: Death's battle with Mort could be seen as one of those. If Death wins, he punishes Mort for his perceived insolence and negligence, if Mort wins, he must take Death's place, which means that Death can finally rest.
  • Year Inside, Hour Outside: Time only passes in Death's domain as Death wills it: Ysabell has been 16 for over 30 years.
  • You Can See Me?: Played for humour. Mort asks this question to a random stallholder, who squints hard at him and concludes: "I reckon so, or someone very much like you."
  • You Can't Fight Fate: This story establishes that attempts to change the timeline are eventually self-corrected. Unless the gods decide otherwise.
  • You Kill It, You Bought It: If Mort kills Death, he will have to take over the Duty himself.