What can the harvest hope for, if not the care of the reaper man?
—The Death of Discworld
This is the 11th Discworld
novel. It was written at the same time as the Bromeliad
trilogy, and it shows: both works talk about how beings with short life spans live them faster
than humans, so everyone's lifespan is subjectively about the same. Both also use mayflies as an example.
Unusually, there are two almost completely separate plots, and they are even denoted using two different typefaces
(most noticeable in the first hardback edition).
The primary plot involves Death
. His cosmic bureaucracy, the grey and numberless Auditors of Reality, sack him for getting too close to humans, and Death is sent to live as a mortal instead. Will Death get his post back, or will he have to face his own mortality?
The B-plot focuses on the consequences of what happens when Death Takes a Holiday
(or in this case, is fired). Too much life force floods through the world, the recently dead arise as zombies, and metaphorical ideas are powered into life as the ancient (and recently deceased) wizard Windle Poons struggles to deal with the consequences.
The title is a pun on Repo Man
Preceded by Moving Pictures
, followed by Witches Abroad
. Preceded in the Death series by Mort
, followed by Soul Music
Contains examples of:
- Absurdly Sharp Blade: Death's scythe. His first one is sharpened on sunlight and is so sharp it cuts words. But at the end when Death is forced to use the harvest scythe against the New Death, his own rage gives it an edge "beyond any definition of sharpness".
- Artifact of Attraction: Death's new scythe is treated like this, because it is such a marvellous work of craft that Ned Simnel cannot bring himself to destroy it, as is required for Death's plan.
- Bait-and-Switch Comment: The wizards see a man chasing his animated suit shouting that he paid seven dollars for it, who is then followed by a pair of walking trousers. Ridcully then comments on what an extraordinary occurrence this is: a tailor selling a suit with two pairs of pants for only seven dollars.
- Berserk Button: Death, when he sees that the New Death wears a crown and sees himself as ruling over the lives of mortals.
Death: A crown?! I never wore a crown!
- Big "YES!": One that takes up a whole page by itself. Word of God has it Pratchett went to the extra effort of writing an entire extra page of narrative just to ensure the "YES" was on the left side, so the reader would see it when they turned the page.
- Rendered pointless by numerous editions which, as a result of typeface changes and other shenanigans, moved it to the right hand side, greatly diluting its shock value.
- The 25th Anniversary edition has it on the left side, but the paper is so thin that you can see it through the previous page—and the text on said previous page doesn't even reach far enough down to mask it at all.
- Book Ends: The story begins and ends with Azrael.
- Also, we are introduced to the Dark Morris at the beginning and it is explained at the end: whereas the normal Morris dance welcomes in the spring, the silent Dark Morris welcomes in the winter.
- Alternatively, the normal Morris celebrates life, while the Dark Morris celebrates death.
- Brick Joke: Turns out even the priests in the remote Lost Temple of Offler live in fear of "Mrs. Cake!"
- Buffy Speak: The "blasted wire wheely baskety things."
- Call Forward: Ned Simnel's son Dick is tritagonist of "Raising Steam" ; Ned got himself killed trying to perfect his steam engine; we're never sure if he still owes Death a farthing for not destroying the scythe like he should have, but Death stole the Three-Eigths Gripley as payback.
- Catapult Nightmare: The first time Death dreams he cries out in his sleep, loud enough to wake Miss Flitworth and Cyril the dyslexic cockerel.
- Cessation of Existence: Bill Door knows that's what will happen to him when he dies; as a result, he's terrified of the prospect.
- Clap Your Hands If You Believe: Standard Discworld trope, but comes into play here because instead of there being one Death for everything, the spontaneously re-forming Deaths are built up by the beliefs of all the different species - for instance, the Death of Mayflies is a great black trout. The New Death's malevolence is based on the fact that modern people tend to treat death as more fearful and less of a natural occurrence than people in the past.
- Dancing Pants: One of the side effects of the excess life force is inanimate objects coming to life, including clothing.
- Deadpan Snarker: Death to the New Death. Oh. Drama.
- Even better: Death deduces when the New Death will arrive because a Death who will pose on a hill on a skeletal horse during a thunderstorm to be lit up by a lightning flash, will not come at 11:25 when he could come at midnight.
- Death Takes a Holiday: Or is fired, but the effects are the same.
- Don't Fear the Reaper: Quite. "Oh lord, what can the harvest hope for if not for the care of the Reaper Man?"
- That being said, the Witch-King-esque Death of Humans that arrives later is definitely the type of reaper that should be feared.
- Early-Bird Cameo: Casanunda (here spelled Casanunder) the Dwarf is mentioned in a footnote at the end. He'd later become a major character in Witches Abroad and Lords and Ladies.
- There are a couple of passing references to The Amazing Maurice And His Educated Rodents, long before they received their own book.
- And while poor Ned Simnel never did get the hang of steam power, it turns out his son Dick did.
- Eureka Moment: Subverted. Ned Simnel is wondering how to make his Combination Harvester run without a horse. A blast of steam goes off immediately, but he writes it off as a useless distraction.
- In the New Discworld Companion, it is claimed that this has happened to poor Ned over 150 times and ultimately ends up beng the end of him. Dick learns from the mistakes.
- Evil Cannot Comprehend Good: The New Death is unable to understand why Miss Flitworth would give up some of her own time on the earth to give Death a chance to defeat him.
- Genius Loci: The living shopping mall
- Glamour Failure: Sal, the innkeeper's daughter, can see Bill Door clearly for a skellington in overalls.
- Gosh Dang It to Heck!: The excess of life force causes Mustrum Ridcully to produce small, strange-looking creatures whenever he swears. He resorts to euphemisms to prevent this from happening, and eventually produces "the most genteel battle-cry in the history of bowdlerization: 'Darn them to heck!'"
- Graffiti of the Resistance: Zombie Reg Shoe paints pro-undead-rights graffiti on any handy wall in Ankh-Morpork. Subverted in that La Résistance, in this case, consists of one overenthusiastic zombie who's only a heroic resistance leader in his own mind.
- Hair-Trigger Avalanche: Referenced.
"One yodel out of place would attract, not the jolly echo of a lonely goatherd
, but fifty tons of express-delivery snow."
- Heroic Fire Rescue: By Bill Door (Death) no less.
- Hey, It's That Guy!: Sort of... the New Death's appearance and some of his dialogue is based on the Witch-King of Angmar from The Lord of the Rings (who proclaimed to Gandalf that he was "Death Himself"). Then again, the Witch-King has a certain resemblance to the personification of Death in Paradise Lost.
- Hive Mind: The predatory shopping mall.
- "Just So" Story: A modern urban version; abandoned shopping trolleys being found in the strangest places is explained as them being rogue drones from the mall Hive Mind that escaped.
- Line-of-Sight Name: Death comes up with his alias' surname because there's a door behind Miss Flitworth (after his initial attempt of looking up and suggesting Mr. Sky?).
- There's also One-Man-Bucket, short for One-Man-Pouring-A-Bucket-Of-Water-Over-Two-Dogs. This was a tribal tradition in One-Man-Bucket's tribe - children are named for the first thing their mother sees outside the tent after their birth. His elder twin brother, named ten seconds earlier, wasn't so lucky...
Windle: Let me guess. Two-Dogs-Fighting?
One-Man-Bucket: Two-Dogs-Fighting? Two-Dogs-Fighting? Wow, he would have given his right arm to be called Two-Dogs-Fighting.
- Literal Metaphor:
- The overabundance of life after Death is fired means that it infuses what was only a metaphor - the idea of shopping malls as parasitic predators that suck the life out of inner city shops - and makes it real.
- Also, after Bill Door saves her from the fire, Sally the innkeeper's daughter is Living on Borrowed Time... borrowed, in this case, from Bill Door's life-timer.
- Mathematician's Answer: Death answers some questions this way.
Flitworth: You've got to be Bill or a Tom or a Bruce or one of those names.
- Obstructive Bureaucrat: Auditors. Enjoy the fact that one showing any sign of personality goes up in smoke... or is that sad?
- Only Mostly Dead: Sal, after Bill Door starts sharing his time with her.
- Painting the Medium: Besides Mr. Bill Door's distinctive text style, the scythe that Bill Door creates to fight the new Death becomes so sharp that it starts/ cutt/ing up the dial/ogue.
- A mugger caught by Lupine and subjected to a Neck Lift not only speaks aloud in half-strangled mumbles, but actually thinks in them too.
- Pinball Projectile: Bill Door invokes this when pretending to be comically bad at pool and darts.
- Powers That Be: Azrael, the Death of Universes, is one of the eight Old High Ones.
- Predatory Business: The mall is a literal one.
- Running Gag: The dyslexic cockerel can never get its crow right.
- Zombie Windle has eyes like gimlets.
"You mean like that Dwarf who runs the delicatessen on Cable Street?'"
- Sanity Slippage: This is the book where the Bursar starts to become unglued.
- Sibling Rivalry: Archchancellor Mustrum Ridcully's brother Hughnon is the High Priest of Blind Io and therefore the leader of Ankh-Morpork's clerics. They get on pretty well, but drop continuous cracks about each other's vocation:
Mustrum: How's things in the godbothering business?
Hughnon: Not bad. How's the tinkering with things men was not meant to understand?
Mustrum: Pretty fair. Pretty fair.
- Staring Kid: Sally Lifton, the little girl who won't stop talking about the "skellington with all bones on." She's seeing exactly what's there, unlike the adults, and poor Death is at a complete loss trying to deal with her.
- Strange Minds Think Alike: After seeing a man chasing his animated suit shouting that he paid seven dollars for it, who is then followed by a pair of walking trousers, both Ridcully and his brother wonder if anyone got a look at the label since that's a good deal.
- That's No Moon!: The vast plain of ridges and valleys seen when the Auditors speak to Azrael at the start of the novel? It's one of Azrael's fingertips.
- "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Death vs New Death is filled with these both ways.
Renata: "What is it?"
Death: It was the combination harvester.
Renata: Was? What is it now?
Death: A poor loser.
- Time Abyss: Azrael is as old as the universe (and note his namesake from Islamic theology is said to be the last being in all the universe to die at the end of time). He's also responsible for the Ultimate Clock, which is actually the opposite of a clock - rather than telling what you what the time is, it tells Time what it is.
- Death notes, too, that unlike other clocks, this Clock only goes around once. And, at the end of the book, Azrael states "I remember when all of this will be again."
- The Unsmile: "Ludmilla gave [Poons] the bright, crystalline smile perfected by people who had long ago learned not to let their feelings show."
- Vehicular Sabotage / Out-Gambitted: At the end, when the New Death's spirit has possessed the Combination Harvester to go One-Winged Angel, Death calmly reaches into his robe and removes a small part - one integral to its frame - that he had removed earlier. The machine collapses inches before reaching him.
- Werewolf: Ludmilla Cake, who is normal three weeks out of the month, turns into a half-wolf-half-woman at the full moon; fellow Fresh Start Club member Lupine is the opposite, a wolf that turns into a wolfman every full moon. Poons arranges for them to meet. Another character points out the Fridge Logic involved.
- At the end, we get this passage that makes it pretty clear what happens between them:
There'd be two figures running across the high moorland under the moon. Not entirely wolves, but not entirely human. With any luck, they'd have the best of both worlds. Not just feeling... but knowing. Always best to have both worlds.
- Making Money points out that the relationship is still going on years later.
- What Measure Is a Non-Human?: Reg Shoe is frequently going on about the shabby treatment the undead get in Ankh-Morpork, but that's largely him being a Soapbox Sadie.
- When the Clock Strikes Twelve: This is when the new Death will turn up. The new Death deliberately chose this time in order to heighten what Death dismissively refers to as "drama".
- Womb Level: The predatory mall becomes this once Windle and company get the Queen's attention.
- World's Shortest Book: The Librarian may not be an expert on guerilla warfare but, as he reminds the Dean, what he doesn't know about orangutan warfare could be written on the squashed-up remains of a smart-ass wizard.
- Zombie Advocate: Spoofed with Reg Shoe and his "Fresh Start Club".