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Reaper Man is a Discworld novel by Terry Pratchett. Published in 1991, it is the 11th Discworld novel and the second to focus on Death. Pratchett said that the title is a reference to Alex Cox's 1984 cult movie Repo Man which was itself is a pun on 'reaper man', a very ancient name for Death.

The Auditors of Reality are beings who watch the Discworld to ensure everything obeys The Rules. As Death starts developing a personality the Auditors feel that he does not perform his Duty in the right way. They send him to live like everyone else. Assuming the name "Bill Door", he works as a farm hand for the elderly Miss Flitworth.

While every other species creates a new Death for themselves, humans need more time for their Death to be completed. As a result, the life force of dead humans starts to build up; this results in poltergeist activity, ghosts, and other paranormal phenomena. Most notable is the return of the recently deceased wizard Windle Poons, who was really looking forward to reincarnation. After several misadventures, including being accosted by his oldest friends, he finds himself attending the Fresh Start club, an undead-rights group led by Reg Shoe. The Fresh Start club and the wizards of Unseen University discover the city of Ankh-Morpork is being invaded by a parasitic lifeform that feeds on cities and hatches from eggs that resemble snow globes. Tracking its middle form, shopping carts, the Fresh Start club and the wizards invade and destroy the third form, a shopping mall.

When humankind finally thinks of a New Death, one with a crown and without any humanity or human face, it goes to take Bill Door. Death/Door, having planned for this moment for some time, outwits and destroys it. Having defeated the New Death, Death absorbs the other Deaths back into him, with the exception of the Death of Rats (and ultimately, the Death of Fleas). Death confronts Azrael, the Death of the Universe, and states that the Deaths have to care or they do not exist and there is nothing but Oblivion, which must also end some time.

Death asks for and receives some time. He meets up with Miss Flitworth again and offers her unlimited dreams. She asks to go to the local Harvest Dance. They prepare and join the townspeople for a full night of dancing.

As the sun is coming up, Miss Flitworth realizes she had died hours before the dance even started. Death escorts her through history to her old fiancé. Returning to the city of Ankh Morpork he meets up with Windle Poons, finally taking him to his just reward, whatever it is. At the end there is also a discussion between Death and the Death of Rats over what the Death of rats should "ride", Death suggests a dog while the Death of Rats suggests a cat.

Popular References and Annotations[]

The title Reaper Man parodies Alex Cox's 1984 cult movie Repo Man, which is itself a pun on 'reaper man', a very ancient name for Death (compare also e.g. 'the grim reaper'). Pratchett said that his 'Reaper Man' was indeed meant as a pun on the movie-title (much to the chagrin of his publishers, who would have probably preferred it if he had called it Mort II).

Page 7 - "It is danced under blue skies to celebrate the quickening of the soil..." This is a reference to the English folk dancing tradition of Morris dancing, the first recorded reference being from 1448. The name was derived from Moorish and it was associated with Spring ("As fit as [...] a morris for May Day" -- Shakespeare's Alls Well That Ends Well). Nowadays many Morris teams begin their dancing season with a May Day performance. See the ...and Dance section of Chapter 5 for more on Morris dancing.

Page 7 - "It is danced innocently by raggedy-bearded young mathematicians [...]" The Morris used to be a peasants' dance, but these days Morris dancers often are, for some reason, scientists, mathematicians, or, yes, librarians.

Page 9 - Azrael is a references to the Islamic Angel of Death, supposedly the very last creature to die. In legend, Azrael is bound in chains thousands of miles long, and possesses millions of eyes: one for every person that has ever lived or will ever live. When a person dies, the eye in question closes forever, and when Azrael goes blind it will be the end of the human race. Gargamel's cat in the Smurf cartoons also takes his name from this Angel of Death.

Page 14 - "The front gates of Nos 31, 7 and 34 Elm Street, Ankh Morpork." This is a minor inconsistency in the narrative, since the conversation between the pines lasts seventeen years, so when the old one finally gets chopped down, its age should have been 31751 years, not still 31734.

Page 16 - "The pendulum is a blade that would have made Edgar Allan Poe give it all up and start again as a stand-up comedian [...]" This is a reference to Edgar Allen Poe's famous story The Pit and the Pendulum in which a victim of the inquisition is tied up beneath a giant descending, sweeping, razor-sharp pendulum.

Page 24 - "'What I could do with right now is one of Mr Dibbler's famous meat pies --' And then he died." The attributed last words of William Pitt the younger were: "I think I could eat one of Bellamy's veal pies."

Page 25 - "There was no shape, no sound. It was void, without form. The spirit of Windle Poons moved on the face of the darkness." This is a reference to the creation of the universe as described in the Bible (Genesis 1:2): "And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters."

Page 30] - "'Did you see his eyes? Like gimlets!' [...] 'You mean like that Dwarf who runs the delicatessen on Cable Street?'" A Gimlet Eye is a piercing stare or squint. See also the annotation for p. 27 of Soul Music .

Page 30] - "'Anyway, you can't trust those voodoo gods. Never trust a god who grins all the time and wears a top hat, that's my motto.'" The voodoo god in question is Baron Samedi (French for Saturday), the most important (and best-known) voodoo god or loa. He is the God of the Dead, and is traditionally associated with cross-roads. See the annotation for page 157 of Witches Abroad.

Page 35 - "'Yes, but they drink blood,' said the Senior Wrangler." A wrangler is an cowboy who rounds up cattle or horses, so one could believe that a Senior Wrangler is like the chargehand or foreman of cowboys. But Pratchett is likely referring to term 'Senior Wrangler' as the title given to the top 12 Mathematics graduates at Cambridge University. In Maths, those who get firsts are called Wranglers, seconds are senior optimes, and thirds are junior optimes.

Page 53 - "'Celery,' said the Bursar." The choice of vegetable might be based on an episode of the BBC Goon Show radio comedy programme (starring Peter Sellars) , where a sketch goes in part:

Sheriff of Nottingham: "What? Tie him to a stake?"
Bluebottle: "No, do not tie me to a steak" (pause) "I'm a vegetarian!"
Prince John: "Then tie him to a stick of celery."

Page 55 - The address of the Fresh Start Club: 668 Elm Street. This line connects a reference to the Nightmare on Elm Street series of horror movies with the tentative title for a Good Omens sequel: 668 -- The Neighbour of the Beast (see the Good Omens annotation on that subject).

Page 60 - Ridcully's uncle disappeared under mysterious circumstances after eating a charcoal biscuit on top of a meal spiced up by half a pint of Wow-Wow Sauce. Since the ingredients of Discworld's sauce contain sulphur and saltpetre, and they along with charcoal are the basic ingredients of gunpowder, he likely blew up - not quite so mysterious. There was a condiment called Wow-Wow Sauce, (or Bow Wow Sauce) which was popular during the 1800s but it contained no saltpetre or sulphur, only port, wine vinegar, parsley, pickled cucumbers or pickled walnuts, English mustard and mushroom ketchup in a base of beef stock, flour and butter. It was served with beef. More information can be found in the Discworld Companion, and an actual recipe is given in Nanny Ogg's Cookbook.

Page 65 - "Many songs have been written about the bustling metropolis, [...]" The song, 'Ankh-Morpork! Ankh-Morpork! So good they named it Ankh-Morpork!' comes from 'New York, New York' (see also the annotation for p. 130 of Johnny and the Dead ), 'Carry Me Away From Old Ankh-Morpork' is 'Carry Me Back To Old Virginia', and 'Ankh-Morpork Malady' is from 'Broadway melody'. 'I Fear I'm Going Back to Ankh-Morpork' is a spoof of the Bee Gees song 'Massachusetts', which starts out "Feel I'm goin' back to Massachussetts".

Page 69 - "'Did it take long to get it looking like that?' 'About five hundred years, I think.'" Or, as Pratchett explains more poignantly in a Sourcery footnote (on p. 21/22): "You mows it and you rolls it for five hundred years and then a bunch of bastards walks across it." Pratchett added, "The lawns line was I believe a comment made by a University gardener to an American tourist years and years ago; it turns up from time to time." The line is also used by René Goscinny in a scene in one of the Asterix comics, a case of two authors both using the same, older source.

Page 69 - "'Isn't that one off Treacle Mine Road?'" See also page 155 where One-Man-Bucket was run over by a cart on Treacle Street. Treacle is often used synonymously for molasses but it is really a slightly sweeter, less bitter byproduct of sugar production. Historically, treacle was used as a medicine, often used to treat snakebites. This application gives the syrup its name, with the word treacle stemming from the ancient Greek thēriakē, which means 'antidote against venom'. Treacle mining has been a joke in British humour since the mid-19th century and a variation on the theme is used in Alice in Wonderland's Mad Hatter's Tea Party . The Dormouse tells the story of Elsie, Lacie, and Tillie, who live at the bottom of a well. This confuses Alice, who interrupts to ask what they ate for sustenance. "The Dormouse takes a minute or two to think about it, and then says, 'It was a treacle-well.'" This is an allusion to the so-called "treacle well", the curative St Margaret's Well at Binsey, Oxfordshire. "Treacle mining" itself likely stems from 1853, shortly before Lewis Carroll wrote Alice in Wonderland, when 8,000 British Army soldiers were camped on Chobham Common. The camp included storehouses containing barrels. When the soldiers left for the Crimean War and the site was dismantled, they buried the barrels to avoid having to remove them. Some of the barrels contained thick black treacle which makes the idea of mining the coal coloured substance plausible. Chobham villagers who discovered and removed the barrels were called "treacle miners" as a joke. Local folklore about treacle mining was retroactively extended back in history to Roman Britain. The subject purports to be serious and was used to test the credulity of new boys at Ottershaw School in Surrey, who were encouraged to wait outside the Main gate for the coach that would take them on an outing to the Chobham Treacle Mines on their first Sunday off. Pratchett joked, "Treacle mining is a lost British tradition. There used to be treacle mines in Bisham (near Marlow, on the Thames) and in several northern towns, I believe. But the natural treacle was too sharp and coarse for modern tastes and the industry was finally killed off by the bulk import of cheap white sugar in the last century." "I know the Bisham treacle was very crudely melted into moulds and sold in slabs. Shops used to smash the slabs up and sell the solid treacle as sweets. It's quite a different stuff to the crude 'golden syrup' treacle still occasionally sold."

Page 72 - "'A couple of 'em had a bit of a tiff or something? Messing around with golden apples or something?'" In Greek mythology it was a golden apple that indirectly led to the Trojan war and to the accompanying complete division of the divine pantheon into two opposing camps. The story of the "Apple of Discord" and Eris, the Goddess of Discord's part in creating discontent can be read here - https://www.wboro.org/cms/lib/NY01914047/Centricity/Domain/1006/Story%20of%20Trojan%20War.pdf.

Page 79 - "[...] honorary vestigial virgining [..]" This is a pun on the Vestal virgins (priestesses of the goddess Vesta) in ancient Rome. 'Vestigial' of course means "remaining or surviving in a degenerate or imperfect condition or form", a far cry from a Vestal virgin.

Page 87 - "Who is he going to call! We're the wizards around here." This is a reference to the line "Who ya gonna call?!" from the 1984 movie Ghostbusters.

Page 88 - "Mr so-called Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents!'" This line is a take-off on the legend of The Pied Piper of Hamelin popularized in the Robert Browning poem. This line is later turned into Pratchett's novel The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents.

Page 89 "'[...] it puts a bloody RSVP on it!' 'Oh Good. I like sherry,' said the Bursar." This is a play on the acronym 'VSOP', meaning Very Superior Old Pale, which indicates a type of cognac, not sherry and RSVP which stands for "Respondez s'il vous plait" meaning please reply [to this invitation].) However, there was evidently a cheap British-made sherry (from grapes grown elsewhere) that was called R.S.V.P., Very Superior Vine Product, so the Bursar's association makes perfect sense.

Page 94 - "'Don't stand in the doorway, friend. Don't block up the hall.'" This line is a paraphrase of a line from Bob Dylan's 'The Times They Are A Changin'.

“Come senators, congressmen
Please heed the call
Don't stand in the doorway
Don't block up the hall
For he that gets hurt
Will be he who has stalled
There's a battle outside ragin'.
It'll soon shake your windows
And rattle your walls
For the times they are a-changin'.”

Page 94 - "Or sporting a Glad To Be Grey badge" 'Glad To Be Gay' was the well-known slogan of the Gay Liberation movement, a decade or so ago (as well as the title of an excellent Tom Robinson song). In the late 80s, 'Glad To Be Grey' badges were actually commercially available.

Page 95 - The names of the Fresh Start Club members. Count Notfaroutoe is a play on "Not Far Out" and Count Nosferatu, the vampire from Friedrich Murnau's classic 1922 movie Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens (remade in 1979 by Werner Herzog, starring Klaus Kinski). 'Lupus' is Latin for wolf, so 'Lupine' means 'wolfish', Finally, ixiolite is a mineral which contains tantalum, one of the elements used in electronic components. Note, by the way, that banshees are traditionally supposed to be female creatures. Pratchett said that Reg Shoe was not consciously based on Reg, the leader of the Judean Peoples' Front in Monty Python's Life of Brian He added "As with other 'real world' Discworld names, like Susan, Victor, Albert, etc, I picked the name because of... er... associational harmonics. Albert is an 'old' name. Reg is a good working class name and has a post-war feel to it. It's hard to explain it further, but all popular names carry a burden of associations. The best examples in the last decade have been Sharon and Tracy; whatever the truth, the perception is that these are working-class, Essex bimbo names, although twenty or thirty years ago they'd have been considered glamorous (which is why, the myth runs, the kids got given them). Any Brit would probably associate a type or age with names like, say, Victoria, Emma, Kylie, Sid, Wayne and Darron. Reg is a good name for a dependable guy, the sort who runs the skittles league (I know this, 'cos my Uncle Reg did...)" See also the annotation for p. 132 of Equal Rites .

Page 97 - "Every full moon I turn into a wolfman. The rest of the time I'm just a ... wolf." This reversal on the werewolf theme is used in other fiction, such as 'What Good is a Glass Dagger' by Larry Niven.

Page 100 - "'[...] songs like 'The Streets of Ankh-Morpork' [...]'" This is a reference to the classic Ralph McTell song 'The Streets of London'.

Page 120 "I EXPECT, he said, THAT YOU COULD MURDER A PIECE OF CHEESE?" This line echoes page 24 of Mort, where Death says to Mort: "I DON'T KNOW ABOUT YOU, BUT I COULD MURDER A CURRY". The line about 'murdering something' is British slang for wanting to devour something.

Page 129 - "LAST YEAR SOMEONE GOT THREE STREETS AND ALL THE UTILITIES." Death is of course referring to Discworld's equivalent of Monopoly, 'Exclusive Possessions'. This game forms a central theme in Making Money.

Page 131 - "When he turned the blade, it made a noise like whommmm. The fires of the forge were barely alive now, but the blade glowed with razor light." This description evokes images of the light sabers in the Star Wars movies.

Page 132 - "On the fabled hidden continent of Xxxx, somewhere near the rim, there is a lost colony of wizards who wear corks around their pointy hats and live on nothing but prawns." The Roundworld equivalent of Xxxx is Australia or as it is known colloquially - Oz. Therefore these wizards are the Wizards of Oz, The name Xxxx or Four Ex comes from the brand of beer called 'XXXX' produced by the Castlemaine Tooheys brewery, which comes from the number of marks used by Castlemaine to indicate alcoholic strength. Most European beers today are of 4X strength, with some being 3X or even 5X.)

The corks around the pointy hats refer to the supposedly traditional headwear of the Australian Swagmen's Akubra hats with pieces of cork dangling on strings around the wide rim in order to keep the flies off the wearer's face. However the reality is somewhat more prosaic - hats with a bug net attached to the brim that tucks in at the neck. Monty Python's 'Philosophers' sketch is a good send-up of the stereotype. The stereotype has been reinforced by a series of Australian Tourism Commission ads promoting Australia in the US and Britain on 1980s television, which featured Paul 'Crocodile Dundee' Hogan saying, "C'mon. Come and say g'day. I'll slip an extra shrimp on the barbie for ya." The original ads can be found on YouTube.

Page 133 - "'Everyone thought you were to do with taxes.' NO. NOT TAXES." This is a reference to the Benjamin Franklin line: In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.

Page 136 - "'I don't hold with all that stuff with cards and trumpets and Oo-jar boards, mind you.'" An Ouija board is a well-known "means of communicating with the dead". It is a board with letters and symbols on it, and the spirits supposedly move a glass over it and spell out messages. The name 'Ouija' derives from 'oui' and 'ja', two words meaning 'yes', one of the symbols on the board.

Page 138 - "[...] especially if they do let the younger wizards build whatever that blasted thing is they keep wanting to build in the squash court." This is a reference to the fact that the first nuclear reactor, built by Enrico Fermi, was indeed erected under a squash court. An interesting bit of related trivia is that for a long time Russian physicists, misled by a poor translation, believed that Fermi's work was done in a 'pumpkin field'.

Page 147 - "'Ah... many a slip 'twixt dress and drawers,' said Duke." Pratchett, through the Duke, is making a word play on the Roundworld expression "There's many a slip 'tween the cup and the lip". He is using the other meaning of the word slip (petticoat); the clothing worn between a dress and underwear (drawers). Pratchett previously used uses this pun on page 189 of Wyrd Sisters.

Page 153 = "Behind him, the kettle boiled over and put the fire out. Simnel fought his way through the steam." The joke here is that Ned Simnel is trying to think of a new, better way to power his Combination Harvester, when he is interrupted by the "pointless distraction" of his kettle boiling over. This refers to our world's anecdote about James Watt, who supposedly got his idea for improving the steam engine when he watched the condensing steam from a kettle on the boil. (Note that contrary to popular belief, Watt didn't invent the steam engine itself: what he did was have revolutionary new ideas (e.g. the use of a condenser) on how to make the steam engine viable (cost efficient, practical, efficient and portable.) Ned Simnel's son Dick appears in Raising Steam where he refines his father's work and invents the steam locomotive. For more information on steam engines, see also the annotation for page 186 of Small Gods .

Page 157 - "Mustrum Ridcully trotted into his study and took his wizard's staff from its rack over the fireplace. He licked his finger and gingerly touched the top of his staff." Gary Cooper does this a few times in the 1941 movie Sergeant York. According to my source, Cooper's explanation in the movie was "It cuts down the haze a mite" -- or something along those lines.

Page 160 - "'It's from the Dungeon Dimensions!' said the Dean. 'Cream the basket!'" "Basket" is a British euphemism for "bastard". In this case it also applies to the shopping trolley (or basket).

Page 164] - "'No, Not "with milk"', said Windle." See the annotation for p. 243.

Page 168 - The harvesting battle between Death and the Combined Harvester has echoes of various similar contests in American folklore and Pratchett uses the idea of man racing technology in other novels, notably Going Postal (annotation page 282) when Moist von Lipwig races the clacks (telegraph) on a horse to deliver a message. The American folk song 'John Henry' describes a contest in which John Henry beats the new steam-driven pile-driver as he drives in the spikes to build the railway and then dies of the effort. In one of the legends of the American lumberjack Paul Bunyan, Paul loses to the Lumber cutting Machine and, realising that the age of the great lumberjacks was over, wandered off with his steed Babe the Blue Ox, never to be seen again. In a send up of "John Henry", the American folk trio the Limelighters pit street sweeper Max Goolis against an automatic garbage truck.

Page 176 - "Stripfettle's Believe-It-Or-Not Grimoire" Ripley's Believe It Or Not! was more or less the forerunner of today's tabloids of the '500 pound baby' variety. However, his items were supposedly true and he had a standing offer to provide notarised proof if you didn't believe him. Typical items included potatoes that looked like President Eisenhower, dogs that could hold a dozen tennis balls in their mouths, and a fireplace that cast a shadow that looked like the profile of the owner of the house, but would only cast the shadow at the exact time of the owner's death.

Page 179 - "Remember -- wild, uncontrolled bursts..." This and a number of other lines in this sections are references to the movies Alien/Aliens: "Remember -- short, controlled bursts...". "Yeah, but secreted from what?", "No one touch anything", "It's coming from everywhere!", and "We are going" are only a few examples, and of course there is the matter of the Queen... There are also other action-movie references such as Sylvester Stalone's line from the Rocky movie series 'Yo!'.

Page 191 - "The raven cleared its throat. Reg Shoe spun around. 'You say one word,' he said, 'just one bloody word...'" Pratchett uses various references to Edgar Allen Poe's works throughout the Discworld series, from The Pit and the Pendulum to, in this case, Poe's most famous poem, The Raven, which is all about death, doom and gloom. In the poem, the ominous raven in question constantly repeats just a single word: Nevermore. So Reg Shoe's line becomes both a statement of fact and also a threat.

Page 204 - "Windle snapped his fingers in front of the Dean's pale eyes. There was no response. 'He's not dead,' said Reg. 'Just resting,' said Windle." This is a reference to Monty Python's famous Parrot Sketch.

Page 204 - "'I used to know a golem looked like him, [...] You just have to write a special holy word on 'em to start 'em up.'" For those needing a refresher course in Jewish magic, a golem is indeed a clay automaton. The special holy word is either the name of God, or the Hebrew word for truth, 'emet' (aleph-mem-tav). To turn the golem off, you erase the name, or, if you used 'emet', the initial aleph, which changes the word to 'met' (mem-tav), meaning dead.

Page 206 - "'Artor! Nobblyesse obligay!'" From the phrase noblesse oblige, meaning "rank imposes certain obligations" - not something one would normally associate with Nobby Nobbs.

Starting with Feet of Clay, golems will become an important group of Ankh-Morpork inhabitants.

- The 'Bill Door' sections of this novel have many parallels with classic Westerns, e.g. High Plains Drifter.

- If you liked the idea of the trolley life-form, you may also want to check out a short story by Avram Davidson called Or All The Sea With Oysters. It's all about the life cycle of bicycles and their larval stages: paperclips and coat hangers.


  • Reaper Man (1991) by Terry Pratchett also appeared as:
    • Translation: Maaierstijd Maaierstijd ("Reaping-Time", possibly also a pun on "Majesteit (Majesty)")[Dutch] (1995)
    • Translation: Le Faucheur [French] (1998)
    • Translation: Alles Sense! [German] (1998) (literal "Everything Scythe", meaning "Everything ceases")
    • Translation: A Kaszás [Hungarian] (2015)
    • Translation: Жътварят (Bulgarian)
    • Translation: Sekáč ("The Reaper" or "The Fop") (Czech)
    • Translation: Vikatimees (Estonian)
    • Translation: Viikatemies (Finnish)
    • Translation: איש הקציר ("The Harvester" or "Man of the Harvest") (Hebrew)
    • Translation: Mannen med ljåen (The Man With the Scythe) (Norwegian)
    • Translation: Kosiarz (Polish)
    • Translation: Жнець (Ukrainian)
    • Translation: O Senhor da Foice (The Lord of the Scythe) (Portuguese)
    • Translation: Мрачный жнец (The Gloomy Reaper) (Russian)
    • Translation: El Segador (Spanish)
    • Translation: Kosač (Serbian)
    • Translation: Döden ligger lågt (Death lies low) (Swedish)
    • Translation: 刈り入れ (harvest) (Japanese)


A fragment of this book was adapted in 1996 into a short animated movie entitled Welcome to the Discworld, featuring Christopher Lee as Death.


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