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Mort is a Discworld novel by Terry Pratchett and also the name of its main character. Published in 1987, it is the fourth Discworld novel and the first to focus on the Death of the Discworld, who only appeared as a side character in the previous novels.

In a 2003 BBC contest called "the Big Read", Mort was among the Top 100 and chosen as the most popular of Pratchett's novels.

Publisher's Summary[]

Death comes to us all. When he came to Mort, he offered him a job. After being assured that being dead was not compulsory, Mort accepted. However, he soon found that romantic longings did not mix easily with the responsibilities of being Death's apprentice...

Plot summary[]

As a teenager, Mort has a personality and temperament that makes him unsuited to the family farming business. Mort's father Lezek takes him to a local hiring fair in the hope that Mort will land an apprenticeship; not only would this provide a job for his son, but it would also make his son's propensity for thinking someone else's problem. Just before the last stroke of midnight, Death arrives and takes Mort on as an apprentice (though his father thinks he has been apprenticed to an undertaker). Death takes Mort to his domain, where he meets Death's elderly manservant Albert, and his adopted daughter Ysabell. Mort later accompanies Death as he travels to collect the soul of a king, who is due to be assassinated by the scheming Duke of Sto Helit. After Mort unsuccessfully tries to prevent the assassination, Death warns him that all deaths are predetermined, and that he cannot interfere with fate.

Later on, Death assigns Mort to collect the soul of Princess Keli, daughter of the murdered king, but he instead kills the assassin the Duke of Sto Helit (Keli's uncle) had sent after her. Keli lives, but shortly after the assassin's death, people begin acting as if something had happened without knowing why, such as a solemn song being played. She soon finds that the rest of the world no longer acknowledges her existence at all unless she confronts them and even then only in a confused manner which is forgotten immediately after. She subsequently employs the wizard Igneous Cutwell, who is able to see her as he is trained to see things that are invisible to normal people (like death) to make her existence clear to the public. Mort eventually discovers that his actions have created an alternate reality in which Keli lives, but he also learns that it is being overridden by the original reality and this alternate reality will eventually cease to exist, killing Keli. While consulting Cutwell, Mort sees a picture of Unseen University's founder, Alberto Malich, noting that he bears a striking resemblance to Albert, Death's manservant. To complicate things further, although the Duke is an evil man, his planned program of reform during his reign will bring peace and prosperity to the world - the argument in favour of the ends justifying the means.

Mort and Ysabell travel into the Stack, a library in Death's domain that holds the biographies of everyone who has ever lived, in order to investigate Albert, eventually discovering that he is indeed Malich. They further learn that Malich had feared monsters waiting for him in the afterlife, and performed a reversed version of the Rite of AshkEnte in the hope of keeping Death away from him. However, the spell backfired and sent him to Death's side, where he has remained in order to put off his demise. During this time, Death, yearning to relish what being human is like, travels to Ankh-Morpork to indulge in new experiences, including getting drunk, dancing, gambling and finding a job. Mort in turn starts to become more like Death, adopting his mannerisms and aspects of his personality (including the use of all capital letters when speaking), while his own is slowly overridden.

Death's absence forces Mort to collect the next two souls, who are both located on separate parts of the Disc, and due to die on the same night that the alternate reality will be destroyed. Before he and Ysabell leave to collect the souls, Mort uses the part of Death within him to force Albert to provide a spell that will slow down the alternate reality's destruction. After Mort and Ysabell leave, Albert returns to Unseen University, under the identity of Malich. His eagerness to live on the Disc is reinvigorated during this time, and he has the wizards perform the Rite of AshkEnte in the hope of finally escaping Death's grasp. The ritual summons both Death and the part of Death that had been taking Mort over, restoring him to normal. Unaware of Albert's treachery, Death takes him back into his service, the Librarian preventing the wizard's escape.

Mort and Ysabell travel to Keli's palace, where the princess and Cutwell have organised a hasty coronation ceremony in the hope that Keli can be crowned queen before the alternate reality is destroyed. With the reality now too small for Albert's spell, Mort and Ysabell save Keli and Cutwell from being destroyed with the alternate reality. They all return to Death's domain to find a furious Death waiting for them, the latter having learned of Mort's actions from Albert. Death dismisses Mort and attempts to take the souls of Keli and Cutwell, but Mort challenges him to a duel for them. Though Death eventually wins the duel, he spares Mort's life by rotating his hourglass so that it is full again and sends him back to the Disc.

Death convinces the gods to change the original reality so that Keli rules in place of the Duke, who was inadvertently killed during Death and Mort's duel, when his hourglass was smashed. Mort and Ysabell – who have fallen in love over the course of the story – get married, and are made Duke and Duchess of Sto Helit by Keli, while Cutwell is made the Master of the Queen's Bedchamber. Death attends Mort and Ysabell's reception, where he warns Mort that he will have to make sure that the original Duke's destiny is fulfilled, and presents him with the alternate reality he created, now shrunk to the size of a large pearl, before the two part on amicable terms.

Ideas and Themes[]

The title of the book Mort comes from the French word for "death," which in turn is derived from the Latin word, "mortuus", which also means "dead". The two words serve as the root of several English words (for example mortal and post mortem).

Pratchett explores the theme which he uses in the Long Earth series he wrote with Stephen Baxter regarding parallel universes and their relationship to the original world - how that can warp reality or irrevocably change it either for the better or worse.

Popular References and Annotations[]

All page numbers in bold and brackets refer to the Corgi paperback edition.

(Page 14) - "Mort was getting interested in the rock. It had curly shells in it, relics of the days when the Creator had made creatures out of stone, no-one knew why." In Roundworld, ammonites are a fossilize mollusc which fits this description. In medieval times they were believed to be petrified coiled snakes and were known as serpent stones. They were associated with St. Patrick who got rid of the snakes in Ireland.

(Page 16) - "Usually Mort liked visiting the town, with its cosmopolitan atmosphere and different dialects from villages as far away as five, even ten miles...." In the days before the industrial revolution, it was not uncommon for people to never leave their village so each village could develop a distinct dialect. This is still true in some agrarian counties.

(Page 19) - the clockwork men "swinging their hammers ...as if they were afflicted with robotic arthritis" resonate with various town square clocks in Europe, notably the astronomical clock in Prague.

Page 16 (Page 20) - "It's not midnight until the last stroke (of the bell)" The tolling of the bell is associated with Death so it is not surprising that he waits to put in an appearance until the last strokes of the bell. Traditionally the first stroke indicates that someone is about to die, the second stroke indicates the death itself and the third stroke is the lych bell or funeral knell which is rung at the funeral. Dicken's in A Christmas Carol has Scrooge's third spirit who resembles Death arrive at the final stroke of midnight.

Page 16 (Page 20) - Page Death rides a white horse who we later find out is named Binky. In the Roundworld, the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse are as follows: The first horseman, a conqueror with a bow and crown, rides a white horse, which scholars sometimes interpret to symbolize Christ or the Antichrist; the second horseman is given a great sword and rides a red horse, symbolizing war and bloodshed; the third carries a balance scale, rides a black horse, and symbolizes famine; and the fourth horseman rides a pale horse and is identified as Death.

Page 17 (Page 21) - "'They call me Mort.' WHAT A COINCIDENCE, [...]" As stated, not only does 'Mort' mean 'death' in French, but in The Light Fantastic (p. 95), Pratchett says that Death's own (nick)name is Mort.

Page 24 (Page 29) -Death says, "I COULD MURDER A CURRY" which is British slang for wanting to devour something.

Page 24 (Page 29) - "The only thing known to go faster than ordinary light is monarchy, [...]" In Roundworld nothing locally travels faster than the speed of light. However, because the universe is expanding, distant objects recede from us faster than the speed of light. This line is the opening of the popular (on the net, at least) 'kingons and queons' footnote, which parodies a postulate of J. Sarfatti based on Bell's theorem on quantum physics. Bell proves that in order for quantum theory to be valid, there has to exist a way to transfer information between subatomic particles that is faster than light. Sarfatti then theorised that this so called 'superluminar' communication could be modulated and used to send messages.

During a discussion on a.f.p., Terry had this to add to the subject: "I've a strong suspicion that the smaller the country, the more powerful the monarch as an emitter of kingons. Surely the size of the king in proportion to the size of his country is the important factor. If you're king of a country of ten people there must be quite a high kingon flux. As to where kingons come from in the first place, they come from God. God is invoked in the coronation service. God wants fat red-haired girls and clothes horses who can't keep their mobile phone conversations private. God likes people with lots of front teeth. God must have a hand in all this, otherwise we'd have slaughtered all kings years ago."

(Page 30) - "a city with a million inhabitants and no sewers is rather robust for poets who prefer daffodils and no wonder" - The romantic poet Wordsworth wrote the poem I Wander Lonely as a Cloud in which he refers to a "host of golden daffodils." Other poets, from Bliss Carmen to Emily Dickinson has also been inspired by them. See also note for (Page 82)

Page 30 (Page 35) "'How do you get all those coins?' asked Mort. IN PAIRS." Death's reply is a reference to the old Eastern European practice of covering a dead person's eyes with coins. In the Greek version of this custom, a single coin or obulus was put under the tongue of a deceased person. This was done so that the departed loved one would have some change handy to pay Charon, the ferryman who transported departed souls over the river Styx towards the afterlife.

Page 31 "The answer flowed into his mind with all the inevitability of a tax demand." This is a reference to the old line by Benjamin Franklin that "nothing is certain but death and taxes" . There is a variation on this line in Reaper Man on page 133.

(Page 38) - "the kind of interesting but impractical long dress that tends to be worn by tragic heroines who clasp single roses to their bosom while gazing soulfully at the moon. Mort had never heard the phrase 'pre-Raphaelite', which was a pity.....such girls tend to be on the translucent, consumptive side, whereas this one had a slight suggestion of too many chocolates.

The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood (later known as the Pre-Raphaelites) was a group of English painters, poets, and art critics, founded in 1848 by William Holman Hunt, John Everett Millais, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, William Michael Rossetti, James Collinson, Frederic George Stephens and Thomas Woolner. The Pre-Raphaelites rejected all of the established Renaissance conventions and favored a return to the ‘imagined’ purity of medieval art and a painting style which closely observed nature, capturing its every facet, using bright colors and most importantly, paintings that would tell a story. Their aim was threefold: to revive British art; to make it as dynamic, powerful and creative as the late medieval and early Renaissance works created before the time of the Italian artist Raphael; and to find ways of expressing both nature and true emotions in art. Later followers of the principles of the Brotherhood included Edward Burne-Jones, William Morris and John William Waterhouse. Dante Gabriel Rossetti was the link between the two types of Pre-Raphaelite painting (Nature and Romance) he was know for painting versions of femme fatales using models like Jane Morris, in paintings such as Proserpine, The Blue Silk Dress, and La Pia de' Tolomei. Some other well known pre-Raphaelite paintings of the tragic heroine in long white dress theme are Millais Ophelia and The Lady of Challot, Dante Gabriel Rosetti's Lady Lilith, Holman Hunt's The Awakening Conscience and Waterhouse's Undine and Miranda. The model for Ophelia was Elizabeth Siddall who had consumption or tuberculosis as it is now called. She was an icon for her generation much like the first supermodel Gia Carangi was in creating "heroin chic" for her followers. Fashion-conscious, healthy women starved themselves and chemically whitened their skin to mimic the ‘consumptive’ look of blood loss and loss of iron. During the 18th and 19th century, 1/4 of the deaths in Europe and 1/3 in London alone were attributed to consumption. It arose because of the unsanitary conditions, congestion and smog of the major centres created by the Industrial Revolution, but at the time there was a pervasive belief that the illness was more common if one had the tender and sensitive constitution of the artist. Given the number of literary titans killed by it, it is an understandable assumption: John Keats, the poster child of youthful artists with lives stolen, was joined by Anton Chekhov, Honoré de Balzac, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Franz Kafka, Robert Louis Stevenson, Katherine Mansfield, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, and the Bronte family, Anne, Emily, Charlotte and brother Branwell to name but a few. Consumption became known as the 'poet's disease'. So as in visual art, the consumptive heroine became a common theme in music (in opera - La Traviata and later La Boheme) and in literature; Dostoyevsky's Katerina Ivanovna in Crime and Punishment and and Ippolit in The Idiot, The heroine was often depicted coughing into a blood soaked handkerchief, the red rose a symbol of the blood and the disease. The pale moon and the rose also symbolized lovesickness; ie wasting away for love.

In contrast Renaissance paintings depicted women who "had a slight suggestion of too many chocolates" (the plump style a symbol of wealth). This style is most famously shown in Baroque painter, Peter Paul Ruben's works (1577-1640) which led to the term "Rubenesque".

Page 33 (Page 39) - "'I shall call you Boy', she said." This line resonates with Charles Dickens' Great Expectations where Estelle insists on calling Pip 'Boy' all the time just as Ysabell does to Mort.

Page 34 (Page 40) - Albert's stove has 'The Little Moloch (Ptntd)' embossed on its door which is likely a play on the Roundworld woodburning stove called 'The Little Wenlock'. Originally believed to be a god of the Ammonites [Phoenicians], Moloch is one of Satan's most important fallen angels in Milton's Paradise Lost. Now Moloch is not seen as a particular god that one sacrifices children to, so much as any influence which demands that we the sacrifice that which we hold most dear. The name also foreshadows Albert's real name "Alberto Malich" founder of the Unseen University.

Page 40 (Page 46) - Mort says, "I expect it will turn out for the best, My father always says things generally do" This line resonates with the novel Candide by Voltaire and its line about this being "the best of all possible worlds".

Page 40 (Page 46) - Death says to Mort "YOU HAVEN'T HEARD OF THE BAY OF MANTE HAVE YOU" Mante is a dumpling popular in the Caucasus, Balkans, Sentral Asia and Afghanistan. Nantes is a town on the Loire River near the Bay of Biscay in France. Pratchett is likely playing with one or both of these words.


Mort replies, "Well I think it was because you were up to your knees in horseshit".

The whole section on Mort's training, resonates with the TV series Kung Fu and other martial arts style films like The Karate Kid, or The Empire Strikes Back, where a young student is given many menial tasks to perform, which are supposed to be integral to his education. Pratchett uses the Kung Fu analogy in his novel Pyramids. These kinds of menial tasks were often performed at the beginning of any Roundworld apprentice's training as well. Mort's reply pokes fun at the concept of the menial work providing some important insight into his training - the practical rather than the profound.

[p. 47] (Page 55) - "[...] the city of Sto Lat [...]"

'Sto lat' is the title of a Polish party song, more or less equivalent to 'For he's a jolly good fellow'. 'Sto lat' means 'hundred years', and the lyrics to the song are as follows:

Sto lat, sto lat, niech zyje, zyje nam.

Sto lat, sto lat, niech zyje, zyje nam.

Jeszcze raz, jeszcze raz -- niech zyje, zyje nam.

Niech zyje nam!

Which loosely translates to:

Hundred years, hundred years, let him live for us,

Hundred years, hundred years, let him live for us,

Once again, once again, let him live for us!

[p. 47] (Page 55) - Death says, "WOULD YOU BELIEVE THERE COULD BE A HORSE AT THE TOP OF THIS TOWER" to which Mort replies "Oh I see. People don't want to see what can't possibly exist.'

This whole sequence regarding what constitutes belief is a common theme in Pratchett's work and forms the basis of the Hogfather.

(Page 59) - Death says, "PAY ATTENTION, YOU MAY BE ASKED QUESTIONS AFTERWARDS". The common comment by teachers and professors around the world, "This part is important, there may be a quiz on this later".

(Page 62) -- After murdering the king, the assassin escapes but Death points out that they will meet again in the morning because the Duke had packed the assassin a bag lunch - a reference to the Duke's expertise as a poisoner.

(Page 63) - "It was the sort of smile that lies on sandbanks waiting for incautious swimmers" . The reference is to the expression "crocodile smile"

(Page 63) - Death says, "IT'S THE MORPHOGENETIC FIELD WEAKENING". Pratchett regularly plays with morphogenetic principles in the Discworld canon. The concept of the morphogenetic field was fundamental in the early twentieth century to the study of embryological development, In developmental biology a morphogenetic field is a group of cells able to respond to discrete, localized biochemical signals leading to the development of specific morphological structures or organs.

(Page 65) - Death says, "WHO ARE YOU TO JUDGE WHO SHOULD LIVE AND WHO SHOULD DIE." This quote resonates with the Bible which says that it will be Christ who judges the living and the dead. But it also has a close tie to Charles Dicken's Christmas Carol when the second spirit says to Scrooge, "Will you decide what men shall live, what men shall die?"

(Page 70) - "I could point you in the direction of a great brothel" "I've already had lunch." said Mort. Pratchett combines two puns in one here. Firstly, Mort thinks the stall holder means "broth" or soup for lunch when uses the word brothel. Secondly and whether this was intention, "Dining at the "Y" means to perform cunnilingus - something that would definitely happen in a brothel.

(Page 70) - Mort says, "I want a very fast horse." This line is used in westerns but originally was attributed to Henry Ford who supposedly said, "If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”

(Page 72) - in reference to the Ankh River, Pratchett says, "Even an agnostic could have walked across". This is a reference to Jesus walking across the water in the Gospels (Matthew 14:22-33 and also in Mark 6:45-52 and John 6:16-21). The fact that the Ankh is so thick with crud that a non-believer could walk on it is telling.


Death is quoting from Our God, Our Help in Ages Past, by English poet and theologian, Isaac Watts. The verse in full is:

Time like an ever-rolling stream

Bears all its sons away

They fly forgotten as a dream

Dies at the opening day.

(Page 81) - "Not a patch on the demons in the old country" - A variation on the old cliche that immigrants are supposed to say about their new home vs their old one (ie the old world was better) which obviously ignores the fact that they left the old world behind for a better life because it was lacking.

(Page 82) - Cabbages, unlike daffodils "have never been a sight to inspire the poet's muse". The romantic poet Wordsworth wrote the poem I Wander Lonely as a Cloud in which he refers to a "host of golden daffodils." Other poets, from Bliss Carmen to Emily Dickinson has also been inspired by them.

Page 71 (Page 84 - "[...] the abode of Igneous Cutwell, DM(Unseen), [...]"

DM(Unseen) means that Cutwell holds a Doctorate in Magic from Unseen University. It's the usual way of writing an academic qualification in Britain (e.g. DD for Doctor of Divinity, or PhD for Doctor of Philosophy) -- though the University name ought to be "invisibilis", written in Latin.

(Page 89) - "Granny Weatherwax's Ramrub Invigorate and Passions Philtre" has obvious love potion connotations.

(Page 91) - "men were not meant to wot of" wot (v.) "to know" (archaic), from Old English wat, first and third person singular present indicative of witan "to know" (see wit (v.).

(Page 93) - there was a low beamed room, its ceiling at trepanning height. Trepanning is a surgical intervention in which a hole is drilled or scraped into the human skull as a means of relieving pressure build up beneath the surface.

Page 84 (Page 99) - "[...] just like a Cheshire cat only much more erotic." This refers to the Cheshire cat in Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, a beast famous for slowly vanishing until only its grin remains. The Cheshire cat reference is repeated on page 142 of Wyrd Sisters .

(Page 100) - What the religious sect the Listeners are trying to find is patterned after Roundworld physicists and astronomers who search for background radiation left from the Big Bang. The sect itself is clearly based on Tibetan Buddhism whose monks were based in remote monasteries in the Himalayan mountains.

Page 88 (Page 103) - Mort says to the Abbot "Die a lot, do you?" This and other remarks in this section such as the Abbot saying "Where's the usual guy?" are obvious references to the Buddhist belief in reincarnation. Clearly this Abbot has done it before. Pratchett brings up the drawbacks with this belief in the Abbot's comment "Imagine toilet training fifty times.

(Page 103) - Mort tells the Abbot that he has to come with him, the Abbot replies "I wish I could. Perhaps one day. Now if you could just give me a lift as far as the nearest village, I imagine I am being conceived about now. This refers to the belief that their supreme leaders, such as the Dali Lama and the Panchen Lama are reincarnations of the previous one. The Buddhists also believe that when you reach enlightment (that state of oneness with the universe) you will not have to reincarnate, coming back to this world, because you will have gotten it right.

(Page 106) -Page 90 "Princess Keli awoke." Pratchett plays with names typical 'dumb blondes', in this case Kelly, along the lines of Ptraci and Ksandra? See the annotation for p. 45 of Pyramids .

(Page 106) Page 90 - "Forget peas and mattresses - sheer natural selection had established that those royal families that survived the longest were the ones who could distinguish an assassin..." This is a reference to the Scandinavian fairy tale recorded by Hans Christian Anderson, The Princess and the Pea, in which the princess establishes that she is in fact a real princess because she can feel one pea through a stack of 20 mattresses.

Page 93 (Page 109) "[...] if Mort ever compared a girl to a summer's day, it would be followed by a thoughtful explanation of what day he had in mind and whether it was raining at the time." Pratchett references Shakespeare in many of his works and reuses (both inadvertently and deliberately) his jokes throughout the series, not surprising given the number of novels he has written and the number of jokes and puns in each one of those novels. This particular Shakespeare-inspired joke is repeated two books later in Wyrd Sisters on page 213 of that book. It comes from Sonnet 18.

(Page 110) - Albert says to Mort "the princesses were so beautiful and noble they could pee through a dozen mattresses. This pun harkens back to the previous mention of peas and mattresses on Page 106 with an obvious scatalogical twist - it was vegetables not urination in the original Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale The Princess and the Pea.

(Page 114) Mort "felt like he had been shipwrecked on the Titanic but in the nick of time had been rescued. By the Lusitania". It is a common misconception that they were sisterships. They did share the same fate. The two vessels were owned by rival companies White Star Lines and Cunard Lines respectively and both sunk - the Titanic by an iceberg, the Lusitania by a German U-Boat in WWI.

(Page 117) - Albert tells Mort that it is not right ogling the poor dead wimmen and that "it probably turns you blind." Pratchett uses variations on the masturbation makes you go blind canard regularly in his novels.

(Page 128) - The footnote about the relationship between Discworld and a pizza involving the addition of mountains and oceans plus one small bay leaf is reminiscent about the debate about whether a pizza should include pineapple. The man popularly credited with giving the world the ham and pineapple pizza was neither Hawaiian, nor in fact Italian. Sam Panopoulos was a Greek immigrant to Canada who ran a restaurant with his brothers in the city of Chatham, Ontario. In the 1960s, he decided to expand on the traditional tomato sauce and chesse plus mushroom and pepperoni toppings and looked south of the border for inspiration, hitting on ham and pineapple. The battle between ham-and-pineapple lovers and haters has raged ever since, even sparked a not-entirely-serious diplomatic dispute. In 2017, the president of Iceland, Guðni Thorlacius Jóhannesson, told an audience of school children that he was so fundamentally opposed to pineapple on pizza that he would ban it in his country if he could. No less a figure than Canada's prime minister Justin Trudeau chimed in on Twitter, saying: "I stand behind this delicious Southwestern Ontario creation." Jóhannesson later softened his stance, admitting in 2018 that he "went a step too far". Proof in both cases that not all world leaders take themselves too seriously.

Page 110 (Page 129) - Caroc cards and the Ching Aling are obvious references to Roundworld's Tarot cards and I Ching. Both plus the fact that Keli has no lifeline (another fortune teller practice along with reading tea leaves is palmistry), point to her being "dead". Ching-a-ling is a Roundworld expression meaning lots of money. It is also the title of a 1984 David Bowie song.

(Page 133) - flagrant lèse-majesté , Lese-majesty is an offence against the dignity of a ruling head of state. In many monarchies it is not permitted to touch the royal personage which patting Keli's hand does. Nowadays that would be considered a social faux pas but in previous times it was a safety precaution because you did not want someone to get so close to the king or queen that they could stick a knife in them.

(Page 135) - The poem quoted about Keli's ancestors in the yurts on the steppes resonates with countless epic poems, songs and odes told by bards from Scotland to Scandinavia to the steppes of Russia and Asia in cultures where the oral tradition was strong There are many examples, from Beowolf, to the Epic of Gilgamesh, to the Norse edda. All are extremely longwinded.

(Page 136) - "An industry where a senior technician is called a best boy could call it anything." Pratchett is referring to the film industry in Roundworld.

Page 118 (Page 139) - When DEATH takes up fishing as a pastime he says, "I SHALL CALL IT -- DEATH'S GLORY." In the fishing world, a popular dry fly is called Greenwell's Glory, named after its inventor, a 19th century parson.

(Page 143) - Mort says he sees Death as "more of an organ type" not surprising given that funeral music is usually played on the organ rather than the banjo.

(Page 146) "the family kept hardy mountain tharga beasts". Tharga beasts are a domestic draught animal in the Ramtops.

(Page 146) - Ysabell says, "I don't normally get to talk with people father works with" - for the obvious reason that he only sees people at their death.

Page 126 (Page 148) - "Ysabell said to Mort, 'There's some really lovely stories. There' was this girl drank poison when her young man had died, and there was one who jumped off a cliff when her father insisted she marry this old man, and another one drowned herself rather than submit to... and then she thought he was dead, and she killed herself, and then he woke up and so he did kill himself..." Ysabell is referred to the various tragic romances such as Shakespeare's tragedy Romeo and Juliet (drinking poison) which in turn draws from Ovid's Pyramus and Thisbe .

Page 127 (Page 149) - "'-- swam the river every night, but one night there was this storm and when he didn't arrive she --'"

This is the Greek myth of Hero and Leander. Leander swam the Hellespont each night to be with Hero who was a virgin in the service of Aphrodite. One night a storm comes up blowing out the candle she used as a beacon. The Gods couldn't hear his prayers over the noise of the storm and drowned. Hero finds his body the next morning and drowned herself as well. Christopher Marlowe's unfinished poem Hero and Leander popularized the legend.

(Page 150) - "the misplaced stroke of Mort's scythe had cut history into two separate realities" Pratchett plays with the concept of parallel universes and realties in his Long Earth series co-written with Stephen Baxter.

(Page 156) - "Why lord, we drink scrumble". For non-British Pratchett fans, this is a reference to the apple cider made in the west country of England called "scrumpy". It is a harsh, rough cider in contrast to the smoother and sweeter, mass produced brands. It is also strong - 9 to 15%.

(Page 167) - pea and thimble men - The shell game (also known as thimblerig, three shells and a pea, the old army game) is often portrayed as a gambling game, but in reality, when a wager for money is made, it is almost always a confidence trick used to perpetrate fraud. In confidence trick slang, this swindle is referred to as a short-con because it is quick and easy to pull off. The shell game is related to the cups and balls conjuring trick, which is performed purely for entertainment purposes without any purported gambling element. In the shell game, three or more identical containers (which may be cups, shells, bottle caps, or anything else) are placed face-down on a surface. A small ball is placed beneath one of these containers so that it cannot be seen, and they are then shuffled by the operator in plain view. One or more players are invited to bet on which container holds the ball – typically, the operator offers to double the player's stake if they guess right. Where the game is played honestly, the operator can win if he shuffles the containers in a way which the player cannot follow. In practice, however, the shell game is notorious for its use by confidence tricksters who will typically rig the game using sleight of hand to move or hide the ball during play and replace it as required. Fraudulent shell games are also known for the use of psychological tricks to convince potential players of the legitimacy of the game – for example, by using shills or by allowing a player to win a few times before beginning the scam. Fear of jail and the need to find new "flats" (victims) kept these "sharps" (shell men or "operators") traveling from one town to the next, never staying in one place very long.

(Page 173) "two hundred jugs of hares" Pratchett is playing with the idea of "jugged hare" which is actually a process of marinating a whole animal such as a hare for long periods of time in a pot or jug.

(Page 178) "Many a young wizard has tried to read a grimoire that is too strong for him." A grimoire is a book of spells. This line resonates with the saga of Rincewind in the Colour of Magic when the spell from the Octavio is lodged in his head.

Page 154 (Page 180) - Alberto Malich (founder or Unseen Univerity and now Death's manservant) was rumoured to have disappeared when trying to perform the Rite of AshkEnte backwards. The Rite is used to summon Death, so Alberto likely thought logically that saying it backwards might drive Death away from you, which was probably Alberto's plan since it is clear throughout the various novels he does not want to die. However, equally likely, instead of summoning Death to you, saying it backwards could summon you to Death, which seems to have been the real result.

Page 154 (Page 180) -There are two villages called Ash in Kent, UK. It is unknown if there is a deliberate connection but it seems likely.

(Page 182) "that form of democracy known as One Man One Vote. The Patrician was the Man; He had the vote." The phrase expresses the principle of equal representation in voting and became popular in English-language usage around 1880, thanks in part to British trade unionist George Howell who used the phrase "one man, one vote" in political pamphlets. It has been used around the world wherever groups strove for democracy. The song "One (Hu)man, One Vote by South African multi-racial band of Johnny Clegg and Savuka became an anti-apartheid anthem against the repressive regime in South Africa .

(Page 183) - In the Roundworld, the serpent dance is a traditional Cornish folk dance where young men and women join hands and weave in and out in a long line around the village. This version bears a strong resemblance to the other British folk dance, the 'hokey pokey" (popularized in song in the late 1940s) which Pratchett references in Thud! as well.

(Page 186) "No draughts anywhere? No slight leaking feelings" The crossbow bolt has clearly passed through Mort which, considering that Mort did not have to die to become Death's apprentice , coupled with Death walking into, rather than through, a wall later on, is evidence that the two are switching roles and essences.

(Page 187) "On who? said Keli. Her voice could have kept milk fresh for a month." Clearly her words are frosty.

Page 161 (Page 188) - Keli says, "I shall die nobly, like Queen Ezeriel" This scene refers to Roundworld's Cleopatra who also used to bathe in asses' milk, and who eventually committed honourable suicide by clutching a venomous snake (an asp, to be precise) to her bosom.

(Page 195) - "beer, which looked like maiden's water and tasted like battery acid" Maiden's water in slang for menstrual fluid.

(Page 197 - 200) - The various liquor bottles that Death samples in the Mended Drum have their counterparts in Roundworld. The green bottle resonates with both Chartreuse and Absynthe but its properties suggest the latter. The yellow with the wasp inside is reminiscent of Tequila with the worm (both insects) although the Japanese liquor Shouchuu is soaked in the bodies of giant wasps as a folk remedy. The blue one with gold flakes resembles Goldschläger, a Swiss cinnamon schnapps. The amanita liquor relates to the liquor Amaretto, but Pratchett is making it likely to be a very deadly blend since its name comes from a deadly poisonous mushroom.

(Page 202) - Ysabell says, "A real princess? You mean she can feel a pea under twelve mattresses" to which Mort replies "Oh. Yes. I thought Albert had got it wrong." This is a reference back to Albert's comment about princesses being able to pee through a dozen mattresses.

(Page 204) - Mort says, "I must say, you are a real brick" to which Ysabell replies, "You mean pink, square and dumpy?" Pratchett is poking fun at the British expression meaning the person is a great guy when the literal words are not really very flattering. The expression is said to have originated with King Lycurgus of Sparta, who was questioned about the absence of defensive walls around his city. 'There are Sparta's walls,' he replied, pointing at his soldiers, 'and every man is a brick.'"[1]

(Page 205) -"right back to the first people that the gods had baked out of mud, or whatever" The creation of life from clay is a miraculous birth theme that appears throughout world religions and mythologies on every continent. The Book of Genesis 2:7 states, "And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul" The word adam may refer to that this being was an “earthling” formed from the red-hued clay of the earth (in Hebrew, adom means “red,” adamah means “earth”. The Qur'an (Qur'an 23:12), states, "Man We did create from a quintessence of clay". In Jewish folklore, a golem (Hebrew: גולם) is an animated anthropomorphic being that is created entirely from inanimate matter, usually clay or mud. Pratchett uses golems in his later Discworld novel, Going Postal. In Europe and the Middle East, man being created out of clay or earth appears in Sumerian, Babylonian, Egyptian, Greek and Norse mythology. It also is a common theme in Polynesia, Africa, Asia and North and South America.

(Page 207) - Ysabell says, "Mort there's a whole shelf" Not surprising Albert's biography in the library would take up a shelf rather than a book, since he as lived for many lifetimes. And it is also not surprising that, by being quiet, they are able to find the right book, since anyone who was born in that particular section of the library at the time Albert was born would be long dead and the writing would have stopped - no more scratching sound of the pen except for his.

(Page 207-208) - "He couldn't think of any other pleasures of the flesh, or rather he could.....Besides humans seemed to leave off doing them as they got older" Clearly Pratchett is talking about sex before the invention of Viagra.

Page 183 (Page 213) - "'Do not meddle in the affairs of wizards because a refusal often offends, I read somewhere.'" This line is a mix of a line that Gildor Inglorion, the High Elf says in Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings (The Fellowship of the Ring, Book One, Chapter III)[2] "Do not meddle in the affairs of wizards because they are subtle and quick to anger". and the signs often seen in stores and pubs around the English-speaking world: "Do not ask for credit, because a refusal often offends". There is also a line seen on the internet in people's signatures which goes: "Do not meddle in the affairs of cats, for they are subtle and will piss on your computer". While Death and Pratchett would both approve, it is unknown if the latter was thinking of this too. A similar line is used on page 264 of Lords and Ladies .

(Page 213) - Mort felt how nice it would be to stretch out on a nice stone slab and sleep for ever. This is not something he can do as Death's apprentice but as a human, when he dies, he will of course be stretched out on a nice stone slab and will sleep for ever.

(Page 214) - Death says he has "A CERTAIN AMOUNT OF EXPERTISE WITH AGRICULTURAL IMPLEMENTS" Pratchett is of course referring to the fact that Death uses a scythe. The scythe was used for cutting hay and grain before modern combines and mowers. It was also used as a weapon in peasant's revolts, a role which lends itself to the purpose for which Death uses it.

Page 186 (Page 217) "BEGONE, YOU BLACK AND MIDNIGHT HAG, he said."

Death is alluding to Shakespeare's Macbeth, act 4, scene 1, where Macbeth says to the witches: "How now, you secret, black, and midnight hags!"

(Page 222) - Albert says to Mort "That's just part ofit. I meant the whole universe of time and space and life and death and day and night and everything." This sequence resonates with Douglas Adam's Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and the universal question of the meaning of life, the universe and everything, the answer of which is of course is 42.

Page 192 (Page 224) - "'Sodomy non sapiens,' said Albert under his breath."

"Sodomy non sapiens" - This is a nice play on words since it is mock Latin for "buggered if I know" which is what Albert replies when Mort asks him the meaning. The word "sodomy" and "buggery" are words which both mean anal sexual intercourse. The former originates from the biblical story of Sodom and Gomorrah which were two cities destroyed by God for their wickedness, featured frequently in Genesis in the old Testiment. The modern English word "bugger" is derived from the French term bougre which evolved from the Latin Bulgarus or "Bulgarian". The word was used to describe members of the Bogomils, a heretical sect originating in 10th century Bulgaria, as well as the related French Albigenses. The first use of the word "buggery" appears in Middle English in 1330 where it is associated with "abominable heresy"; though the sexual sense of "bugger" was not recorded until the time of Henry VIII's 1533 Buggery Act.

Page 193 (Page 225) - The philosopher Catroaster is a play on Zoroaster the Iranian prophet who founded Zoroastrianism

Page 193 (Page 225) - "'When a man is tired of Ankh-Morpork, he is tired of ankle-deep slurry.'"

The original quote here dates back to 1777, and is by English poet, playwright, essayist, moralist, critic, biographer, editor and lexicographer, Samuel Johnson: "When a man is tired of London he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford." The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography calls him "arguably the most distinguished man of letters in English history. Douglas Adams parodied Johnson's quote as well In The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy when he wrote (in Chapter 4 of The Restaurant at the End of the Universe): "[...] when a recent edition of Playbeing magazine headlined an article with the words 'When you are tired of Ursa Minor Beta you are tired of life', the suicide rate there quadrupled overnight."

(Page 226) - Harga's House of Ribs is an eatery in Ankh-Morpork run by Sham Harga. In keeping with the greasy spoon aspect of the place, Pratchett describes what is simply eggs, sausage, bacon and fried bread by its actual structure and components which would turn anyone off the meal.

Page 195 (Page 227) - "'Alligator sandwich,' he said. 'And make it sna--'" This line refers to an old one-liner: "give me an alligator sandwich and make it snappy!"

Page 196 (Page 228 - "It looked like the standard sort of tower for imprisoning princesses in - a reference to the many fairy tale such as Rapunzel.

Page 197 (Page 230) - "'Fireworks?' Cutwell had said." The line about wizards knowing all about fireworks is a reference to Tolkien's The Hobbit, where the great Wizard Gandalf was famed (in times of peace) for entertaining everybody with fireworks.

(Page 231) - "The Monster Fun Grimoire" is a takeoff on the Roundworld children's book "The Monster Book for Tinies" published in 1947. A grimoire is a book of spells. The word likely comes from the French "grammaire" meaning a grammar book written in Latin. Later on the term grimoire developed into a figure of speech amongst the French indicating something that was hard to understand. In the 19th century, with the increasing interest in occultism it became associated with magic.

(Page 235) - "it really was amazing what could be done with several ounces of heavy metal, some irritated molluscs, a few dead rodents and thread wound out of insects' bottoms" Clearly the dress has gold and pearls and is made out of silk with beaver trim although rat fur is being used to mimic cashmere.

(Page 237) - "I think it's an industrial disease" which of course it is since a human can't walk through walls but someone who is transforming into Death can. Mort is also increasingly speaking in capital letters and stalking like Death. It is his job as Death's apprentice that is causing the "disease".

Page 212 (Page 246) - "In the Disc model, Ankh-Morpork was a carbuncle." A carbuncle is (1) a red semiprecious gem, and (2) a festering sore like a boil. No one would call Ankh-Morpork the former.

(Page 250) - Agatean Empire is part of the Counterweight Continent and its crust is composed mostly of gold, octiron and other heavy metals. It is modeled on feudal Japan and China. It has a wall built around it like the Great Wall of China.

(Page 253) - "The Sun Emperor was sitting crosslegged....with is cloak of vermine and feathers" This is a play on ermine (the skin of the weasel when in its winter coat of white) and vermin (such as rats and mice).

(Page 253) - Squishi is a play on "sushi", "squid". and "squishy" The battle between the Vizier and the Sun Emperor to give the other the squishi plays out like a tennis match.

page 221 (Page 257) - "Alberto Malich, Founder of This University."

Albert's name resonates slightly with Roundworld's Albertus Magnus (also known as Albert the Great). Albertus Magnus (born in 1193 in Laufingen in Donau, Germany), became known as 'the Magician' and was probably the most famous priest, philosopher and scientist of his time. Amongst other things he taught at the University of Paris, was Bishop of Regensburg, and at the age of 84 he again undertook the long journey from Cologne to Paris to defend the scientific work of his greatest student, Thomas Aquinas, against attacks and misunderstandings.

Page 224 (Page 261) - "I don't even remember walking under a mirror."

This is a combination of two superstitions which say that walking under a ladder is unlucky and breaking a mirror brings seven years of bad luck. So in Discworld, walking under mirror must be particularly unlucky.

(Page 262) - "The Pyramids of Tsort by moonlight!", breathed Ysabell, "How romantic!" - Mort's response foreshadows the events of the novel Pyramids.

Page 226 (Page 263) - "[...] purposes considerably more dire than, say, keeping a razor blade nice and sharp." Pyramidology, the supposed mystical power of pyramids was a popular new age concept in Roundworld in the 1970s. "Pyramid power" is the belief that the ancient Egyptian pyramids and objects of similar shape can confer a variety of benefits: including the ability to preserve foods, sharpen or maintain the sharpness of razor blades, improve health, and trigger sexual urges. See the annotation for page 8 in Pyramids and page 35 in The Light Fantastic .

(Page 264) - The reference to Lord Nelson climbing down from his column and buying shot gun shells for the pigeons is a comment on Nelson's Column in Trafalgar Square which was covered in pigeon droppings.

(Page 270) - The girl in the tomb says that she will be a concubine in the afterlife - up until now she has only been a handmaiden. Pratchett uses the handmaiden joke throughout the series of novels - Ptraci in Pyramids begins as a handmaiden. He never making it completely clear what a handmaiden does beyond a vague sexual inference but in this passage it seems that she only performs one specific sexual act.

(Page 288) - In regard to the Duke of Sto Helit, Cutwell says to Keli, "This isn't the kind of man who ties you up in the cellar with just enough time for the mice to eat your ropes before the floodwaters rise". This is a reference to all those silent movies where, instead of simply shooting the maiden, the villain ties her to the railway tracks with the train in sight in the distance or to the buzz saw which then advances toward her. It resonates with Edgar Allen Poe's The Pit and the Pendulum as well.

Page 240] (Page 279) - "He remembered being summoned into reluctant existence at the moment the first creature lived, in the certain knowledge that he would outlive life until the last being in the universe passed to its reward, when it would then be his job, figuratively speaking, to put the chairs on the tables and turn all the lights off."

Three years later, in 1990, Neil Gaiman's Death says, in the story 'Facade':

"When the first living thing existed, I was there, waiting. When the last living thing dies, my job will be finished. I'll put the chairs on the tables, turn out the lights and lock the universe behind me when I leave."


A reference to Helen of Troy (or Tsort, in Discworld), over whom the Trojan War was started. The exact original quote, from Christopher Marlowe's The Tragical History of Dr Faustus, goes:

Was this the face that launched a thousand ships

And burnt the topless towers of Ilium?

Sweet Helen, make me immortal with a kiss!

Ilium is the Latin name for Troy.

(Page 309) - "an eminence grease" - Pratchett is playing with the phrase éminence grise (French for of Gray eminence). Grise is pronounced similarly to grease. This is a person who exercises power or influence in a certain sphere without holding an official position. This phrase originally referred to François Leclerc du Tremblay, the right-hand man of Cardinal Richelieu who was a Capuchin friar renowned for his beige robe attire, as beige was termed "grey" in that era.

(Page 311) - When Mort and Death are discussing marriage, Mort says, "Just because you rescue a princess you shouldn't rush into things." This pokes fun at the common fairy tale ending where the hero always marries the princess and they live happily ever after. Author and children's writer Robert Munsch pokes fun at this in The Paper Bag Princess (which incidentally was banned in some states because a girl was the hero and the ending was not the traditional fairy tale ending).


Page 271 (Page 315) -' "Only Ysabell said that since you turned the glass over that means I shall die when I'm--' YOU HAVE SUFFICIENT, said Death coldly. MATHEMATICS ISN'T ALL IT'S CRACKED UP TO BE." This line foreshadows the events detailed in Soul Music and imply that Ysabell was right in this case ("After that, it was a matter of math. And the Duty.")...



Minor Characters[]




Mort, Isabell and Death reappear in Soul Music, which introduces Mort and Isabell's daughter (Death's granddaughter) Susan Sto Helit, She is the central character in Soul Music, Hogfather and Thief of Time.


  • Mort (1987) by Terry Pratchett also appeared as:
    • Translation: Gevatter Tod (lit.' Godfather Death')[German] (1990)
    • Translation: Mort [Swedish] (1991)
    • Translation: Dunne Hein [Dutch] (1992)
    • Translation: Mort [Portuguese] (1992)
    • Translation: Mortimer [French] (1994)
    • Translation: Mort, a Halál kisinasa (lit. Mort, the apprentice of Death) (Hungarian) (1998)
    • Translation: Mort [Spanish] (2020)
    • Translation: Морт (Bulgarian)
    • Translation: 死神学徒 (Sǐshén xuétú, "Death's Apprentice") (Chinese mainland)
    • Translation: Dødens lærling (lit. Death's Apprentice') (Danish)
    • Translation: Magere Hein (lit.Grim Reaper') (Dutch)
    • Translation: תרועת מוות (Tru'at Mavet, lit. Cry of Death) (Hebrew)
    • Translation: Θανατηφόρος Βοηθός (Thanatiforos Voithos, "Death's Assistant") (Greek)
    • Translation: Morty l'apprendista (lit.' Morty the Apprentice') (Italian)
    • Translation: Dødens læregutt (lit. Death's Apprentice') (Norwegian)
    • Translation: O aprendiz de Morte (lit. Death's Apprentice') (Portuguese-Brazil)
    • Translation: Мор, ученик Смерти (Mor, uchenik Smerti: Mort, Death's Apprentice') (Russian)
    • Translation: Mort (Croatian, Czech, Estonian, Finnish, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Serbian, Slovak, Turkish)


The novel has been adapted by Robin Brooks for BBC Radio Four. Narrated by Anton Lesser, with Geoffrey Whitehead as Death, Carl Prekopp as Mort, Clare Corbett as Ysabel and Alice Hart as Princess Keli, the programme was first broadcast in four parts in mid-2004 and has been repeated frequently, most recently on BBC7.

On December 15, 2007, a German language stage musical adaptation premiered in Hamburg, Germany.

A brand new English musical adaptation of Mort will premiere in Guildford, Surrey, UK in August 2008. The adaptation is by Jenifer Toksvig, sister of broadcaster and novelist Sandi Toksvig, and composer Dominic Haslam.

An adaptation by Disney was abandoned due to rights issues, and the filmmakers created Moana instead.


  1. Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins by Robert Hendrickson (Facts on File, New York, 1997)..  
  2. RJJ Tolkien The Lord of the Rings The Fellowship of the Ring, Book One, Chapter III)


Gevatter Tod (Grim Reaper - German)

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