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Characters / Discworld Death and Company

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What can the harvest hope for, if not for the care of the reaper man?

The Stealer of Souls, Defeater of Empires, Swallower of Oceans, The Ultimate Reality, Harvester of Mankind, "Picker-Up of Unconsidered Trifles", etc. Tall, bony fellow with a black robe and a scythe, talks like this all the time. You'll know him when you see him... and you will. Most people, however, aren't aware that they're doing so, unless they're users of magic, dead/about to die or, for some reason, cats. Has developed a fondness for humans (and cats) over the centuries. He appears in more Discworld books than any other character (all of them except The Wee Free Men and Snuff).

  • Absurdly Sharp Blade:
    • Both his scythe and sword are so sharp, they have a constant glow of air molecules brushing against the edge and splitting.
    • Even the scythe he uses during his retirement as "Bill Door" in Reaper Man becomes this after he sharpens it on sunlight. It's sh/arp enough to c/ut the wo/rds on the pa/ge.
  • All-Powerful Bystander: To keep space and time cohesive, he can't really interfere. However, sometimes he does give things a 'nudge', find a proxy to operate on his behalf, or goes on holiday.
  • Almighty Janitor: Death is (understandably) offended when he's accused of killing people. Death's job as the reaper is more of a public service than outright judge, jury and executioner. People die on their own, Death's role is to usher them into the next world; he's not evil by nature, he's just fulfilling his designated role.
    I? Kill? said Death, obviously offended. Certainly not. People get killed, but that's their business. I just take over from then on. After all, it'd be a bloody stupid world if people got killed without dying, wouldn't it?
  • Always a Bigger Fish: Even The Grim Reaper himself answers to someone even bigger, in this case the Death of Universes. Also inverted where there are Death of Rats, Fleas...
  • Anthropomorphic Personification: Even metaphors have to live. (Poor choice of words there; sorry.)
  • The Anti-Nihilist: More than even Vimes, he knows the infinite universe has no mercy or kindness. That doesn't mean he can't make some of his own. "There is no justice. There is just me."
  • Arch-Enemy: The Auditors of Reality. They hate life (because it is untidy), which he strongly disagrees with. As seen in Hogfather and Thief of Time, they are one of the few things that make Death angry.
  • Ascended Extra: Showed up in The Colour of Magic as a running gag. Is now one of the most major and recognisable characters in the series.
  • Back from the Dead: He can resurrect people by refilling their Death's Hourglass, but he's not allowed to do so. Not normally, at least.
  • Badass Baritone: Always described as having an impossibly deep voice. Maskerade specifies him as a bass. Therefore it shouldn't be a surprise that more than once in adaptations he's been voiced by Christopher Lee.
  • Berserk Button: He takes the long view and doesn't lose his temper over most things. But he can be angered. (You don't want that). Hypocrisy can do it; hubris; obviously interfering with the balance of life and death; less obviously, cruelty to cats. He had a grudge against Rincewind for a while, due to the latter's tendency to not die on schedule, but eventually, he just came to accept that Rincewind was a Cosmic Plaything.
  • Beware the Nice Ones: He may be one of the nicest characters in the series, but the few people who actually manage to get a rise out of him are usually soon informed that this is Death we're talking about. See: Auditors of Reality in wolf form (suspicious lack of) after they pressed his Berserk Button.
  • Black Cloak: As expected from the Grim Reaper.
  • Cannot Tell a Joke: He tries, but often the people he's telling it to don't have a sense of humor, and don't get it.
  • Caps Lock: His lines are written in all caps. It is not to suggest that he is shouting, but rather that he speaks in a deep, ethereal voice.
  • Character Development: Even leaving aside Early Installment Weirdness, Soul Music develops how much he's changed from how he was in Mort, with a time-travelling Susan noting that he's a much more forbidding figure than the grandfather she's come to know. That said, during that conversation, as in Mort itself, his adorkable nature is revealed to be not that far beneath the surface.
  • Characterization Marches On: Death in his first appearance seemed actively malicious, causing deaths rather than merely collecting the souls of the dead. He mellows out a lot in The Light Fantastic, but it's not until Mort that he settles into his established characterization.
  • Chess with Death: Anyone he comes to collect is free to challenge him to any game of skill, with chess being a popular choice. It's a waste of time, because he's not actually capable of losing legitimately, regardless of the fact that he can never remember "how the little horse-shaped ones move". On the other hand, when Granny Weatherwax challenged him to a hand of poker to settle the fate of a newborn child, he conceded the game to her as she had four Queens, whereas all he had is four "ones" (Ace beats Queen in most hand combinations in Poker).
    • One recently deceased challenged him to a game of golf. Which turned out to be a terrible idea, as Death has had a lot of practice with his swing.
  • The Comically Serious: His very serious-minded inability to really get human ideas is somewhere between hilarious, a little tragic, and oddly cute. Often, his cameo appearances consist of him just being in the area, not even having to do something, just speaking in The Voice, while the laughs come from the audience knowing what the characters don't.
  • Cool Horse:
    • A large, white, perfectly normal (for a given value of "normal") horse named... Binky. Like his master, Binky can defy and ignore the laws of reality in order to get where he needs to go. He's also immune to being stolen in Ankh-Morpork. Susan left him unattended for a while, and came back to find Binky surrounded by prone horse-thieves.
    • At a point in the distant past, Death used to have skeleton horses, but they kept falling to bits and took forever to put back together, and fiery horses, but the problem with that quickly became readily apparent.
  • Creative Sterility: Death can't create life, and he can only really copy things. He also doesn't quite understand the purpose of the things he makes or how they work, so he may build pipes but forget they're supposed to be hollow, make towels with no idea they're supposed to be fluffy and absorbent, or make a swing in a tree by removing the trunk, leaving the rest of the tree in place - still growing. note 
  • Dark Is Not Evil: The Discworld is full of these, but he's definitely a standout given the combo of black cloak and compassion.
    Vimes: (whilst treed by werewolves) Are you going to help me?
    Death: Well...yes.
    Vimes: When?
    Death: Er, when the pain is too much to bear. (Beat) Even as I say it, I realise that this isn't the answer you were looking for, however.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Irrational humans tend to set this off the worst.
    Ipslore the Red: And what would humans be without love?
    Death: Rare.
  • Death's Hourglass: Even Death himself has one - it's huge, intangible and completely empty of sand. Another noteworthy hourglass is the one belonging to Rincewind, which has been through so many bizarre magical catastrophes it doesn't look like an hourglass so much as a piece of modern art made out of silicon by a glass-blower with hiccups and schizophrenia. Nobody, not even Death, knows when it's going to run out. He keeps it on his desk.
  • Designated Villain: In-Universe; as the Grim Reaper, humanity has an instinctual fear towards him because they believe he's responsible for killing people and portrayed him as a monster to be feared. Death, however, is actually a benign figure and hates the belief that he kills people. Death isn't responsible for how people die, he just picks up the pieces and helps them reach the appropriate afterlife.
  • Don't Fear the Reaper: In fact, it's Mort's family motto, also Terry Pratchett's now. He has a Duty and sees that it is done, but he's nice about it.
  • Doting Grandparent: He really wanted to be this to Susan when she was little. Unfortunately, Mort and Ysabella wanted their daughter to have a "normal" life so they forbid any contact, apart from one or two visits Susan was too little to remember.
    Albert: Normal girls didn't get a My Little Binky set on their third birthday! Your dad took it away. The Master was very upset about that. He was trying.
  • Early Installment Weirdness:
    • In The Colour of Magic he's pretty cold and menacing, killing some people randomly to blow off steam, and even harming a cat. Mort retooled him into the compassionate Psychopomp we all know and love.
    • Likewise, Colour of Magic and The Light Fantastic make no mention of his very distinctive eyes.
  • Exact Words: He uses this a lot, sometimes deliberately so, such as when he throws a game of Poker against Granny Weatherwax because she had four Queens and all he had was four "ones".
  • A Form You Are Comfortable With:
    • Muggles, like Mort's father, tend to think he's an undertaker because that's the closest thing their weirdness censors allow to the anthromorphic personification of death.
    • In Pyramids, it's mentioned he used to show up as however the person he was meeting saw Death, but that was too much of a hassle, so he sticks to the traditional skeleton in a robe look.
  • God Job: Despite being the anthropomorphic personification of death, the specific entity that is identified as Death in the series is not the only one who can do the job; as his one-time apprentice, Mort observes, Death is whoever does Death's job.
  • God's Hands Are Tied: He has no control over people dying since that's the affairs of humanity, he's just there when it happens. He never really understands this until he goes through human experiences of caring for a daughter and apprentice right up to their ends, socializing with a reluctant but justified granddaughter, and living as a human for a brief span.
  • Good Is Not Nice: Averted...most of the time. While some may argue over his morality, he is most certainly compassionate when he has the luxury. Do not make the mistake of abusing that luxury.
  • Good Is Not Soft: As noted elsewhere, he's usually very affable. However, if you press his Berserk Button, it is very likely the last thing you will ever do.
  • The Grim Reaper: He personifies death for everything that exists with some exceptions, namely universes (that's his boss' domain) and various types of rodents, mainly rats (because he chose to not reabsorb Death of Rats for company).
  • Humanity Is Infectious: Death has developed a fascination with humanity and is shown to have moments of sympathy towards them. His daughter Ysabell has gone on record for saying that Death doesn't feel emotions, rather thinks of emotions and how to act on them.
  • Insistent Terminology:
    • He makes it very clear to Mort that he isn't responsible for the deaths. He only organises their souls and places them in the right afterlife. He specifically mentions that there is a key difference between death and killing.
    • He's also quite clear on clarifying the difference between not being alive and being dead to a zombie at one point. After all, if the man had been dead, they'd have met.
  • Intangible Man: Because from the point of view of eternity, "solid walls" last such a short time they hardly exist at all.
  • Kindhearted Cat Lover: One of his earliest sympathetic moments sees him gathering and adopting the souls of drowned kittens who were stuffed in a sack and thrown into a river.
  • Lampshade Hanging: Death is very good at hanging lampshades. He has one of the most objective standpoints you can have.
  • Literal-Minded: He has difficulty with metaphors and slang and the like, so it takes him a bit of a run-up to understand them.
  • Manipulative Bastard: For someone who doesn't understand humanity very well to begin with, he gets very good at this as time goes by, manipulating Susan in Hogfather to set her on the necessary track to solve the problem of the book - which was rather necessary, since the villain had gone to a place where Death explicitly cannot go. He did it so subtly that the Auditors, who are well practised at Loophole Abuse, realised that they couldn't get him for involving someone else.
  • Names to Run Away from Really Fast: He may be an example of Dark Is Not Evil, but titles like "Harvester of Mankind," "Swallower of Oceans," and so on aren't exactly the most comforting.
  • Near-Death Experience: It's inverted due to Rincewind's and Vimes's constant deadly danger. Death, consequently, is forced to be near them, but he has yet to take them. In the latter case, he brought a lawn chair and a book. He treats Rincewind a bit like an amusing TV show.
  • Never Gets Drunk: Usually, he cannot (hasn't got the right parts, see?), but one at least two occasions, he's tried pretty damn hard, up to and including drinking everything in a bar, including those weird little bottles all bars seem to have but never actually use.
  • Non-Linear Character: He's Death. Time has a very different meaning for him. As does space. The entire continuum really.
  • No Social Skills: A gentle approach of this. Susan says in Hogfather that he would tackle the issue of famine by giving everyone a good meal; while he has the power and the intention to carry it out, being generous like that isn't really as beneficial as enabling people to be self-sufficient.
  • OOC Is Serious Business:
    • Reaper Man gives us one of the few times Death ever uses an exclamation point, when he's berating the New Death for wearing a crown and treating the duty as Hunting the Most Dangerous Game.
    • In Hogfather, Susan is alarmed when he actually speaks in italics, just to emphasise the threat the Auditors pose. At the conclusion we see him go spare. It's simultaneously awesome and terrifying.
  • Painting the Medium: His distinctive method of speech. (Described as sounding "like lead slabs falling on a marble floor.") He also speaks without quotation marks, indicating he is not speaking in the traditional sense.
  • Papa Wolf: Has a soft spot for children, especially his adopted daughter Ysabelle. During his battle with Mort he becomes even more furious when he believes that she has been seduced by Mort.
    • This later extends to his granddaughter, Susan (though she's generally very capable of looking after herself), with it being indicated that his actions/the nature of his intervention in Soul Music were driven by the fact that the Music had upset Susan by killing Imp/Buddy.
  • Pet the Dog: He is sympathetic as he can be to the people he meets at the end of their lives. In the case of Renata Flitworth and Granny Weatherwax, two women of strong will, he gave them the luxury of not telling them they’ve died until sometime after their deaths have already occurred. In The Truth, he counsels and consoles Mr Tulip, a criminal who had no clue of the wickedness he’d been doing. And in Hogfather he takes eagerly to the role of Father Christmas and its duties: socializing with people, giving gifts and setting things straight; he is somewhat regretful about not being able to do it forever.
  • Power of Rock: During Soul Music. Or rather, the inversion (Creative Sterility, remember?). Death can play only one note. Specifically, the empty chord - the silence indicating there will be no more sound.
  • The Problem with Fighting Death: Has an epiphany on this in The Colour of Magic, where after repeatedly trying and failing to claim Rincewind's soul he decides to just wait for Rincewind's fate to end.
  • Psychopomp: He is there when people leave their existence in one realm and ushers them to the other side.
  • Reality-Writing Book: Death has an entire library of books that write themselves as people's lives unfold.
  • Resigned to the Call: He accepts his role as the reaper because it's the role that's integral to the cycle of life. He doesn't take pleasure in the deaths of others or taunt their fate, in fact, he's offended by the idea of him killing people. Death insists that reapers must care for humanity in order to do their jobs.
  • Road Runner vs. Coyote: Gets into this with Rincewind, though on his side he eventually gets worn out and just decides to appear whenever Rincewind is in peril, which is very very often.
  • Santa Claus: He once took on the mantle of the Discworld Santa Claus (The Hogfather) during a period where the real one was unavailable. Doing so let him violate a few of his normal rules to give the Discworld equivalent of The Little Match Girl "the gift of a future" — allowing her more life.
  • Sinister Scythe: Comes as standard for the Grim Reaper, though kings get a Cool Sword instead.
  • Speaks Fluent Animal: He can understand the Death of Rats and vice versa, even without Quoth the Raven. Though this might have something to do with the fact that the Death of Rats was a part of Death prior to the events of Reaper Man.
  • Split Hair: Death's scythe is described as so sharp it can split atoms.
  • The Spock: He knows and represents the one logical certainty in the universe — all things end. The other stuff leaves him a little nonplussed. However, perhaps paradoxically, he evolves into one of the kindest characters in the series.
  • Tin Man: He doesn't feel angry, sad or cheerful because those are things you need glands to feel. He has to think them, and sometimes it takes a run-up. But when he manages it, it's pretty spectacular.
  • Trademark Favorite Food: Curry.
  • Tranquil Fury: Since he doesn't really have glands for emotions as such, his anger - when he does get angry - tends to be of this variety. This is shown most spectacularly at the climax of Hogfather.
  • Try to Fit THAT on a Business Card!: He has a great many titles. To name a few, The Stealer of Souls, Defeater of Empires, Swallower of Oceans, Thief of Years, The Ultimate Reality, Harvester of Mankind, the "Picker-Up of Unconsidered Trifles".
  • Weirdness Censor: As a walking skeleton, most ordinary folk don't see him (because obviously walking skeletons don't exist, do they?). In the event that something makes them see him they get a form they can comprehend without dropping into gibbering madness, either an undertaker or an abnormally skinny tall man who looks vaguely skeletal. Wizards, witches and children are among the few who can see him regularly (wizards and witches by dint of being wizards and witches, and children because they lack a weirdness censor).
    • Some of the Ankh-Morpork Night Watch, Colon and Nobby particularly, are among those immune, on the grounds they've seen far more disturbing things in their line of work. So they just politely refer to him as "Your Lordship".
    • Death's Weirdness Censor protection fails hilariously in Wyrd Sisters. He decides (for a lark) to take the role of Death in a play. He takes the stage in front of several hundred people who expect to see Death, and so they can. This is so disconcerting compared to the way he usually encounters humans that he instantly develops crippling stage fright.

    The Death of Rats

During Reaper Man, Death's forced holiday resulted in the creation of all sorts of little deaths. The big guy subsumed all of them... but one. note  The Death of Rats is something like a sidekick or a pet, and Death allows him it to continue existing independently just because it amuses him. When he isn't off collecting ill-fated rats, gerbils, hamsters, mice, and the odd particularly rodent-like human, he runs some of Death's errands, particularly those regarding harassing Susan. His sidekick/transport is the talking raven Quoth..

  • Black Cloak: The article looks highly amusing on a rat skeleton.
  • Exactly What It Says on the Tin: He's what turns up when small furry creatures meet the ends of their lives.
  • The Grim Reaper: The sole shown new Death during Reaper Man to have the same style of presentation as the Death we are familiar with, hooded robe and scythe included — just at rat size with a rat skeleton.
  • In the Hood: "It's the hood. It's the snout sticking out of the hood that's funny."
  • Know When to Fold Them: The Grim Squeaker's Duty is said to be simpler than Death's - no ghosts, zombies, or related complications to deal with - because small rodents comply with this trope instead of raising a fuss.
  • Non-Human Sidekick: Or maybe the correct term is "Zoomorphic Personification sidekick." He himself has a sidekick in the form of Quoth.
  • Ugly Cute: A rat skeleton shouldn't be cute, even if it's dressed up in a little black robe. Yet, somehow, it is. Terry himself observed that it was something about the way that the snout pokes out of the robe.
  • The Unintelligible: Squeak. Usually has to be translated by Quoth the raven.

    Quoth the Raven 
I'm a raven, aren't I? One of the few birds who speak. The first thing people say is, oh, you're a raven, go on, say the N-word...

A talking raven, who is really the pet of a wizard, but has a job on the side as the Death of Rats's personal sidekick, translator and even occasional transport. Claims quite truthfully to be mainly in it for the eyeballs, and refuses on general principle to say "the N-word." note 

  • Clever Crows: Clever Ravens in this case. Not, as it turns out, the only talking raven on the Disc, but definitely the brightest and most eloquent one (the other talking ravens, who hang around Unseen University, usually limit themselves to simple sentences like "Whatcha doing, mifter?")
  • Creepy Ravens: Averted with his role in the stories (where he's slightly disgusting because of his diet as a raven), but played straight in his role as a wizard's pet, where it's his job to sit on a skull in the wizard's shop, occasionally go "caw" and generally give the place an ominous look.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Exhibit A in the animated adaptation.
    Susan: Skeleton rats do not exist.
    Quoth: Good evening, Miss!
    Susan: Ugh! And neither do talking ravens!
    Quoth: Ooooh, who am I to argue with an expensive education like yours?
  • Demoted to Extra: Plays a large role in Soul Music, a slightly smaller role in Hogfather and a minor role in Thief of Time.
  • Eye Scream: Quoth's openness about his appetite for the eyeballs of carcasses has given Susan many a Squicky reaction.
  • Feather Fingers: Toned-down, but still noticeable in the animated adaptation of Soul Music, where he's always using his wings to gesticulate in very human ways.
  • Never Heard That One Before: His reluctance to say "the N-wordnote " comes from his being named Quoth by a wizard who only thought he was being witty.
  • Polly Wants a Microphone: He has a human-level intelligence and vocabulary.
  • Punny Name: Please tell us we don't have to explain the joke. Please.
  • Scavengers Are Scum: Subverted; although Quoth is quite unashamed about his love of scavenging (eyeballs especially), he's quite helpful and sympathetic beneath his Deadpan Snarker facade. In Hogfather, the Death of Rats locates a dead sheep buried in the snow for Quoth, and it's depicted as a touching holiday gift rather than disgusting.
  • Snarky Nonhuman Sidekick: In fact, he's a sidekick's sidekick — he's the talking Non-Human Sidekick to the Death Of Rats, who is Death's Unintelligible Non-Human Sidekick.
  • Trademark Favorite Food: Eyeballs, naturally. Though he'll take a peck at anything even remotely eyeball-shaped.
  • Translator Buddy: For the Death of Rats. Usually he comes along to translate whenever the Death of Rats needs to tell Susan something.

    Susan Sto Helit

"And then Jack chopped down what was the world's last beanstalk, adding murder and ecological terrorism to the theft, enticement and trespass charges already mentioned and all the giant's children didn't have a daddy any more. But he got away with it and lived happily ever after without so much as a guilty twinge about what he had done. Which proves that you can be excused just about anything if you're a hero, because no one asks inconvenient questions."

Only child of Death's former apprentice Mort and Death's adopted daughter Ysabel, thus making her Death's granddaughter and his first natural-born heir. As a result, she's "inherited" some of Death's talents, like the ability to walk through walls and not be seen when she doesn't want to be. Unfortunately, her parents had hoped to distance her from the supernatural side of the family, and Susan's "logical" mindset makes her resent having to meddle in the occult.

Technically she is the Duchess of Sto Helit but outside of a brief mention in Hogfather, this never really comes up.

  • The Ageless: This is heavily implied, but not quite set in stone. No one really knows whether she's inherited immortality through her genetics, but considering she technically exists outside of time, it's more than likely, especially if she decides she doesn't want to age.
  • Ambiguously Human: Anyone who deals with her on a day-to-day basis realizes this. Way back when she was a student at boarding school (before she received The Call) she made all her teachers very nervous, even when they all ignored the fact that she could make herself invisible and wipe her presence from their memories. By Thief Of Time this almost puts her into a Heroic BSoD as she realises that although she was mostly human to begin with, the more she moves within the realm of the occult the less human she becomes.
  • The Artifact: As noted above she is technically a Duchess because of her backstory (her father was given the title in Mort) a status she presumably still has but never comes up, outside of a brief mention in Hogfather. Since part of Mort's punishment for changing reality was merging the Sto Plains kingdoms as history intended, it's possible that Sto-Helit merged into Keli's Sto-Lat and it's just a courtesy title with no responsibility.
  • Badass Teacher: Suggestion: don't mess with her charges. She'll calculate exactly how to end you. Or, if you're lucky, just give you a very big spanking.
  • Be Careful What You Wish For: In Hogfather, when she goes to the Tooth Fairy's realm, she becomes normal because Death and his powers don't exist there. This leads to the minions of the book's Big Bad getting the drop on her. Though she adjusts to this because normal people have fists.
  • Beware the Nice Ones: She may be a school teacher, and the children may love her, but do not mess with her.
  • Blessed with Suck: The more she uses her powers (which are inherent to her very being and so she really can't stop using them), the more she becomes like her granddad. Indeed, it's heavily implied that if he ever decides to retire permanently, the post of Death will go to her. This is all very unfortunate because she really wants to remain human.
  • Break the Cutie: Happens to her in Soul Music, overlapped with Break the Haughty. She resolves to kill only the evil and let the good live on as a means to improve the world. She learns to her horror and grief that death doesn't choose who is worthy of living/dying, it just happens when people reach the end of their lives, however that happens or whether they deserve it. The ordeal breaks her, and in subsequent stories she keeps her head down and tries to avoid her family as much as possible.
  • Broken Bird: She doesn't generally get what she wants, but what other people need her to have. It's... not a happy thing to have happen to you.
  • The Call Knows Where You Live: And it usually comes via the Death of Rats. Or Binky. Or Quoth, the raven. Or, in the case of Soul Music when her parents died in a fiery carriage accident, all three.
  • Character Development: Her first two books feature her denying Death and her heritage, only reluctantly taking up Duty when realizing she has to get involved. In Thief Of Time, she actually gets involved a bit earlier without her hesitation and outright denial.
  • Compelling Voice: She can talk like her granddad to coerce people into doing things, or intimidate them into backing off, but the power has its limits.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Sarcasm is one of her primary modes of communication and ways of dealing with the weirdness of her life.
  • Expressive Hair: Halfway between this and Prehensile Hair, really. It's self-styling.
  • Fallen Princess: Implied. Her parents were still a duke and duchess when she was sent to boarding school and were regularly doing business travels. When they died, Susan was allowed to finish her education but we see that she became a governess and later a schoolteacher rather than take up her duchess title. It's implied that Mort causing a merged timeline to save Queen Kelli's life had something to do with this.
  • Flat-Earth Atheist: Literally. Her parents raised her as such to try and keep her away from her grandfather - not so much out of dislike towards him, as a desire to give her a normal life, especially after she demonstrated inclinations towards the occult (and since both her parents had seen what a human with Death's mantle could be like - her father, as Death's Apprentice - they were understandably scared witless). In her first appearance in Soul Music she doesn't believe in all this "Death" nonsense despite the events occurring or the fact that her grandfather is Death himself, her father was his apprentice, and her mother is his adoptive daughter. She tries it again rather half-heartedly at the start of Hogfather, in respect to the Death of Rats and Quoth, but stops bothering.
  • Friend to All Children: Despite being a haughty, judgmental and sarcastic Jerkass even at the best of times, she genuinely gets along with any and all children she meets, maybe because they in many ways share her strange and surreal world. It makes her an excellent nanny and a very good schoolteacher.
  • Genetic Memory: She tries hard to forget it, but she can remember both the past and future. She is not happy with her grandfather about this (though it isn't really his fault).
  • Good Is Not Nice: Not quite on Granny Weatherwax's level as an example of this, but definitely up there. Susan is really hard to get along with on a personal level, she seldom bothers to hide her disdain for the world in general, she has a tendency to just take for granted that other people's rules don't apply to her, and she can be very mean, even towards people who don't deserve it. However, she has a very strong moral code and will always step up to protect the world and humanity when needed.
  • Heroic Neutral: She really wants to be left alone... the rest of the Universe just isn't listening. Although sometimes she gets off with just being The Lancer (to whoever steps up to the Hero plate).
  • I Just Want to Be Normal: Mainly in her early appearances. Note that Susan's version of 'normal' is not actually all that normal for the Disc. Also note that the Disc's version of normal is not "normal" either. However, manipulating your boarding school teacher's mind so they can't see you or remember you're there is odd even for a world with the Ramtops and Unseen University in it.
  • Intangible Man: She can move through space and time much like her grandfather. Walls tend to have a rather transitory meaning for her, for example.
  • In the Blood: In the bone, anyway. She has all of Death's abilities, albeit to a lesser extent, though they get stronger as she gets older and uses them more. This also makes her less human, to her displeasure.
  • Irony: Of a curiously tragic sort. While she is more human than her grandfather, she is more cynical and condescending to them in comparison to him. Justified though in that she has a better view of humanity and their dark side, and so would rather not deal with them as much as he has to.
  • It Runs in the Family: All that death business flows down to her from both sides of the family tree.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Susan basically thinks that everyone except her sucks, and she's not shy about letting them know that, but she is firmly on the side of the good guys, and gets along with children surprisingly well.
  • Lamarck Was Right: She has marks on her cheek left by Death when he slapped her father across the face, which Susan inherited.
  • Magical Nanny: In Hogfather. Pratchett calls her "kind of a goth Mary Poppins."
  • Mama Bear: Hurt kids on her watch, or even attempt it, and she will demonstrate her violent tendencies. Her nanny charges can attest to that.
  • Mind Manipulation: Compelling Voice and Bystander Syndrome, mostly.
  • Mundane Utility: Uses the ability to stop time, walk through walls, and manipulate the fabric of reality to grade papers and give the best history lessons EVER.
  • Mundane Solution: How does one kill monsters when one is the granddaughter of Death, who has the power to stop time, manipulate reality and walk through walls? With the nearest handy fireplace poker.
  • Mystical White Hair: Her hair is mostly white, a result of her strange inheritance.
  • Non-Linear Character: Like her granddad, she doesn't really exist inside of time. She can interact with it, and she lives in it most of the... er... time, but when the tick of the universe stops it doesn't affect her at all (except for that walls are now solid, because she can't move through the time when they're not there).
  • Not So Above It All: Despite all her powers, haughtiness and badassery, she definitely has a sweet tooth, and her iron will falters to nothing when she's around a quality chocolate.
  • Not So Stoic: In the animated version of Soul Music, she calls out to her parents when witnessing their deaths and breaks down into tears. She spends most of the scene crying, as she argues with Death that they have the power to save people from dying so young. In fact, her reason to save Buddy and his band is that she's in denial that her parents' deaths were unpreventable.
  • Painting the Medium: On occasion, when she does The Voice, she has punctuation marks, unlike her grandfather, presumably because she's actually got lungs.
  • Prim and Proper Bun: Her hair tends to twist itself into a bun of its own volition. As she works as a school teacher when she's not saving the world, it's rather fitting.
  • Reality Warper: Not of the Game-Breaker variety, but time and space have very fluid definitions to her and she moves around them in a different way than everyone else. Even resident badasses Albert and Nanny Ogg are creeped out and cautious around her. Mostly because sometimes she forgets about doors ...and walls. Of course, in Albert's case, that might have something to do with what happened after her father took on the Duty and became something worse than Death - specifically, what he nearly did to Albert.
  • Rebellious Princess: Rebellious duchess actually, but still wants nothing to do with The Duty that her family is responsible for.
  • Refusal of the Call: She really hates the fact that the Call to Adventure keeps battering down her door when the universe, space, or time is in danger. By Thief Of Time she's become more or less Resigned to the Call but she is still not happy about it (see Blessed with Suck above for why).
  • Royals Who Actually Do Something: Though the something she does has absolutely nothing to do with being nobility.
  • Scars Are Forever: Susan has four pale parallel lines on one cheek, like the marks of a skeletal hand. It's a memento from when Death struck her father.
  • Skunk Stripe: Inverted; her hair is white with a black stripe.
  • Stern Teacher: In Thief of Time. Something of a goth version of Miss Frizzle, actually.
  • Tomato in the Mirror: In Soul Music, when she remembers her granddad and who she really is.
  • Time Stop: One of the powers that she uses most often. Handy for grading papers.
  • Uncanny Valley: She seems to give off this vibe in-universe because she doesn't exist within time like everyone else. It's creepy even to a senior witch like Nanny Ogg, who's more or less Seen It All.

    Albert / Alberto Malich 
It's no good thinking you can appeal to my better nature under this here crusty exterior, 'cos my interior's pretty damn crusty too.

Death's manservant. Death doesn't really need a manservant, of course, but he's willing to accept one, and Albert isn't complaining. He used to be an incredibly powerful wizard, but chose to work for Death so that he wouldn't have to worry about dying any time soon. He likes cats, smokes nasty little Nobby-style cigarettes, and fries more things than a Texan grandmother.

  • Critical Existence Failure: He's under threat of this now that the hourglass that tracks his lifespan was smashed. Time doesn't flow in Death's domain, but if he ever goes into the mortal world he'll instantly die. (Except when helping deliver Hogswatch presents, since time is suspended to let the Hogfather visit every house.)
  • Crouching Moron, Hidden Badass: He seems to be a fairly harmless grumpy Old Retainer, but when he decides to reclaim his magic, he demonstrates that he's a force to be reckoned with - powerful enough, indeed, to take on Death on the mortal plane (whilst in the circle of the Rite of Ashe-Kente), being speculated to be as powerful as a Wizard could be without being a Sourcerer... but only if he'd had his staff. Unfortunately for him, the Librarian had hidden it.
  • Fate Worse than Death: Should he ever actually die, an indescribable fate in the dungeon dimensions awaits.
  • Grumpy Old Man: Crusty, selfish, ill-mannered and other things in his old age.
  • Immortality Seeker: Performed the ritual to summon Death in reverse, working on the theory that it would keep Death away. Didn't occur to Albert that it might summon him to Death instead. It did end up netting him a kind of indefinite suspension from dying, though, which is good enough for him. He's not afraid of death (much less Death) or the afterlife; he's worried about everyone he sent there first and how upset they'll be about it.
  • Instant Dog End: Much like Nobby.
    "Only an expert could get a rollup so thin and yet so soggy."
  • Jerkass: Unpleasant, rude and bitter to a fault.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Deep, deep down, but it's there (see below).
  • Jerk with a Heart of Jerk: As demonstrated by that quote. He seems like your standard curmudgeonly but kindhearted old man, but he really is as mean as he outwardly appears. Despite this, he does usually end up doing the right thing even if he doesn't have to and grumbling about it.
  • Large and in Charge: Though it takes a moment to notice, because he's generally always hunched, but Alfred's actually quite a large person.
  • Lethal Chef: Fries everything except his porridge, and his porridge eats spoons.
  • Oh, Crap!: The one time we see him properly terrified is when Mort turns on him, having taken on Death's aspect while retaining the darker aspects of his humanity, something Albert's internal monologue makes clear is whole new level of terrifying. Death, after all, is not personal. Mort, on the other hand, very much is.
    On your knees, Alberto Malich.
  • Old Retainer: Insomuch as time exists in Death's realm, he's been doing his job for millennia.
  • Retired Badass: He was head wizard back in the days when getting to the top meant vaporizing the guy above you, and then the guy above him... Many speculate that he was the most powerful a wizard could be without being a Sourcerer, and the evidence seems to bear this out: he absolutely terrified the most powerful living wizards on the Disc when he went back to the world.
  • Your Days Are Numbered: He knew his time was running out before he committed the reversed ritual, at the age of seventy-eight, and every visit he takes back into the world for supplies dwindles the timer just a little bit more. During the events of Soul Music, his lack of trust in Susan means his timer gets smashed, leaving him with mere seconds of life left.


Mortimer a.k.a. Mort is the title character of Mort. As a clumsy teenager at the village fair, he's the last one left when Death arrives looking for an apprentice. Yet underneath the black robe, Mort is still a clumsy teenager, and Death apprenticed him in part as a companion for his daughter Ysabell, which leads to complications. Mort appears in his own book, and in a flashback during the sequel, Soul Music.

  • Badass Boast: Gives several over the course of his apprenticeship.
    • I have finished my apprenticeship.
    • There is no justice. There is just us.
  • Badass Normal: Even after he is no longer Death's apprentice, and thus a normal human again, he's the only one who can stand up to him. Albert says that he was the only person who could argue with Death and win, which he did when he tried to minimise Death's input into Susan's upbringing.
  • Badass Abnormal: As Death's Apprentice, even before Death Takes a Holiday, he gets a number of the powers associated with the position, such as walking through walls and being able to speak any language.
  • Becoming the Mask: The universe needs a Death, so when the original Death tries to retire, his powers and personality (most of it) begin to transfer to Mort. The result is one of the few things that actually genuinely scares Albert.
  • Berserk Button: Eventually, being called "boy" or "lad" enrages him.
  • The Cameo: He and Ysabell are referred to in passing as "the new Duke and Duchess of Sto-Helit" and "a nice young couple" in Guards! Guards! after Vimes has been fired, with Sybil Ramkin mentioning that they need a new captain of the guard.
  • Death's Hourglass: Everybody has a "lifetimer" and each is stylized to represent its owner. Late in the story, Mort has a close brush with Death and gets to see his own lifetimer — turns out it's got a lot less sand than he thought. It gets turned upside down at the end, which is implied to give him the same number of years he's already had over again - though that still means that he dies relatively young.
  • Dropped a Bridge on Him: Mort and Ysabell die relatively young in a carriage accident.
  • Everyone Calls Him "Barkeep": Much to his annoyance, everyone calls Mort "boy." It's also a Shout-Out to Charles Dickens's Great Expectations. Nobody uses his actual full name, Mortimer.
  • Homage: The motto he selects for the Sto Helit family is Non Timetus Messor. This is a Shout-Out to the Blue Öyster Cult's classic Don't Fear the Reaper.
  • Humanoid Abomination: Steadily goes from being Ambiguously Human as Death's Apprentice to, as he takes on more and more of Death's aspect, this trope, and even more unsettling than Death himself. Death is by definition not human. Mort, on the other hand, comes off as more... inhuman.
  • Insane Troll Logic: He and Ysabell tried bringing Susan up "sensibly" in the hopes this would protect her from the weird aspects of her life. While this later is described as an approach compared to not teaching someone self-defense so they'll never get attacked, you can see their reasoning - Ysabell never had anything approaching a normal childhood (Death adopted her as a small child, then aged her up into a teenager on the grounds that would be easier to deal with - boy was he wrong about that - and the nature of Death's domain meant she never aged, being stuck at 16 for about 35 years), while Mort had a very frightening experience with how the mantle of Death can alter someone (he became a Humanoid Abomination towards the end of his apprenticeship, thanks to having all Death's power and detachment combined with all the nasty bits of humanity). Therefore, they probably thought that limiting Susan's exposure would keep her safe. It didn't turn out that way, but they died before they found out.
  • Meaningful Name: Mort is Latin (and French too) for death. It's Lampshaded, naturally, when Mort tells Death his name.
  • Oh, Crap!: After he takes on most of Death's powers and aspect, he inspires utter terror in Albert, whose internal monologue notes that Mort isn't just Death now, he's Death with all the dark flavourings of humanity like cruelty, vengefulness, self-righteousness...
  • Pre Ass Kicking One Liner: Delivers a beautifully menacing one to Albert:
    On your knees, Alberto Malich.
  • Royals Who Actually Do Something: As the Duke Mort took an active role in politics — by traveling in the region and talking with other nobles a lot. While this approach was met with some derision, the region did see a significant reduction in the number of military skirmishes.
  • Took a Level in Badass: Takes many throughout his book, from a gawky teenager to someone capable of terrifying Albert (formally the most powerful wizard in history short of a Sourcerer), and willing and able to fight Death one-on-one for an extended period (though it is implied that Death was letting him). It's hinted if he'd stayed Death's apprentice he would have ended up very powerful and very frightening indeed, precisely because he was originally human and thus had a capacity for darkness that Death never did. Even after he loses Death's powers, he remains a competent Duke of Sto Helit and, crucially, the one person capable of arguing with Death and winning.
  • Took a Level in Jerkass: As he starts becoming Death, with all the bad bits of humanity thrown in, he becomes much colder and more imperious, but with a capacity for personal malice that Death doesn't have. The result scares the hell out of Albert, and unnerves Ysabell.
    • After Susan was born, though not without reason. He and Ysabell decided they wanted their daughter to be normal ... which meant cutting off all contact from Death save for a few short visits that Susan barely even remembers. This is implied to be on the grounds that, while Death had the best of intentions, they wanted to give her a normal life (which Ysabell never had) and to keep her away from the influence the position of Death can have on people (which nearly turned Mort into a Humanoid Abomination combining the most terrifying bits of Death and the worst of humanity). Considering that Susan's life becomes increasingly less normal after Death gets involved, and over time she finds it harder and harder to stay human, you can see Mort's point.
    Albert: Normal girls don't get a My Little Binky set on their third birthday! Your dad took it away. The Master was very upset about that. He was trying.
  • Scars Are Forever: A mark Death leaves on Mort's face is inherited by his child. So, yes, Death really did hit Mort so hard his children felt it.

You're whatever I think you are.

Ysabell co-stars with Mort in Mort, but also appeared briefly in The Light Fantastic, and is seen in a flashback during Soul Music. She is Death's daughter by adoption, and her own daughter, Susan, thus inherits some of Death's powers. Even though she reads soppy romance novels and gets overly emotional at times, Ysabell is surprisingly practical and saves Mort's butt several times.

  • Big Beautiful Woman: Mort's first sight of Ysabell mentions her figure has "a slight suggestion of too many chocolates". Other colorful descriptions include that the top of her dress contained "enough puppy fat for two litters of Rotweilers" and when Mort asks Ysabell to put on something more than her nightgown, he says she is "overflowing".
  • Big Ol' Eyebrows: When Mort and Ysabel get into a good-natured insult competition, he likens her eyebrows to a pair of mating caterpillars.
  • Bookends: Death adopts her after rescuing her from a burning wagon. She and her husband die in a burning carriage.
  • Calling the Old Man Out: She points out her adoptive father's hypocrisy and his mistreatment of his apprentice/her love interest at the same time. "You're right; there's no justice. There's just you."
  • Did You Just Punch Out Cthulhu?: She slaps Death, and he was so shocked that he didn't hit her back.
  • Early Installment Weirdness: When Rincewind encounters Ysabell during his astral visit to Death's house, she's described as tall, thin, and attractive, and behaves in a waifishly creepy manner. In Mort, however, she's become a very human, emotional sixteen-year-old, and her figure is described as "a slight suggestion of too many chocolates." Of course, since she doesn't really age normally, this could just be the result of a mixture of comfort eating and a mild case of Bored with Insanity.
  • Older Than They Look: Time doesn't pass normally in Death's house. Ysabell was adopted as a pre-teen, and Death didn't quite know what to do with her, so he let her age up to sixteen, thinking that'd make her easier to deal with, proving just how little Death really knows about humans.
    Ysabell: I'm sixteen. And do you know how long I've been sixteen for?
  • Sweet Tooth: She likes her some chocolate. One of the few times Susan reminisices about her is that her favourite food was a dish titled "Genocide by Chocolate".
  • Thinks Like a Romance Novel: Her only source of entertainment for three decades was reading the autobiographies in Death's library, and so she's been influenced by the tragedies in many of them. She gives Mort advice when she hears about his unrequited love for a princess, such as no suicide, and also about grand romantic gestures.
  • Took a Level in Jerkass: When Susan is born, she and Mort decided they wanted their daughter to be normal... which meant cutting off all contact from Death save for a few short visits, that Susan doesn't even remember. Though as noted above under Mort's tab, her experiences of not having a normal life and Mort's of the influence that Death's power can have on a human, plus the way that a running plot in Susan's books is how she's getting increasingly less human the more she gets reluctantly involved in the occult, you can see her point.
    Albert: Normal girls don't get a My Little Binky set on their third birthday! Your dad took it away. The Master was very upset about that. He was trying.

    The Other Horsemen 

Death's coworkers, if you like, in the four horsemen of the Apocralypse - War, Pestilence and Famine. Due to reasons related to their business being much less common than Death's, they don't tend to show up as much. There's also a fifth member, Kaos, who left before they got famous.

  • Aerith and Bob: War's children, all named after things associated with War... and then there's the youngest, who's called Clancy. Although that still might be meaningful.
  • Anthropomorphic Personification: Just like Death, they embody concepts.
  • Big Eater: Famine contributes to his namesake in his own, unique fashion.
  • Boisterous Bruiser: War used to be one, before the marriage. Mrs. War got rid of the fire pit, and the horde of warriors, and won't even let him have beer (it gives him Trouble, says she).
  • Cool Horse: They also have impressive, reality-defying steeds, but they're not as smart as Binky. They get nicked toward the end of Sourcery, which puts the three out - they're the horsemen, not the one horsemen and three pedestrians of the Apocralypse.
  • Henpecked Husband: War, who is told what to do and think and eat by his Valkyrie wife. Death is mildly intrigued by the concept of keeping one's memory in someone else's head. In Thief of Time, towards the end, he stops being this, politely but firmly telling his wife that he's very clear on what he's thinking.
  • Horsemen of the Apocalypse: Or Apocralypse, in their case (so called because the Disc's religions aren't entirely sure which apocalypse it is, and whether it's apocryphal or not).
  • Humanity Ensues: Like Death, they've all become very human in their attitudes and approach. Possibly even more, in some cases, given their natures mean they were shaped by humans, and when it comes down to it, they decide they rather like humans.
  • Jerkass: While Death ditched his tendencies towards this early on, and War is generally too affable to have this (and mostly gave up on inspiring wars in humans to inspiring them in ants, who're much more martial), the other two can be this.
    • When not helping bring about the end of the world, Pestilence goes around removing signs saying "wash your hands" from sinks, and infecting nurses with flu.
    • Famine is an arrogant jerk.
  • Loophole Abuse: In Thief of Time, they point out to the Auditors that yes, they must ride out... but no one ever said who they should ride out against.
  • Painting the Medium: Early on, Pestilence tended to speak in italics, presumably to represent his infectious nature.
  • The Prima Donna: Famine, who huffily refuses to join in with the world-ending unless it involves something to do with food shortage.
  • The Quiet One: Famine doesn't say as much as the other two, usually on account of stuffing his face.
  • The So-Called Coward: Pestilence's nerves have been shaky with all these new medical science advances cropping up, and he's just generally cowardly anyhow, but in the end he will still roll out to save/doom the world when the situation calls for it.

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