My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This is a truly beautiful story about Death’s personal growth. It’s heart-rending and moving. So what a pity its sideline story is a crass dig at shopping malls and involves those bumbling wizards! Perhaps Pratchett meant that side of it to be ironic or surreal, or even absurd – but it’s just awkward.
In spite of that I’m rating this highly – such is the power of Death’s story, the comedy of some of the undead characters, and the shortest- and longest-lived creatures on the Disc.
Listen to the mayflies, ‘which barely make it through twenty-four hours’:
‘You don’t get the kind of sun now that you used to get,’ said one of them.
‘You’re right there. We had proper sun in the good old hours. It were all yellow. None of this red stuff.’
‘It were higher, too.’
‘And nymphs and larvae showed you a bit of respect.’
‘They did. They did,’ said the other mayfly vehemently.
‘I reckon, if mayflies these hours behaved a bit better, we’d still be having proper sun.’
The younger mayflies listened politely.
‘I remember,’ said one of the oldest mayflies, ‘when all this was fields, as far as you could see.’
The younger mayflies looked around.
‘It’s still fields,’ one of them ventured, after a polite interval.
‘I remember when it was better fields,’ said the old mayfly sharply.
‘Yeah,’ said his colleague. ‘And there was a cow.’
‘That’s right! You’re right! I remember the cow! Stood right over there for, oh, forty, fifty minutes. It was brown, as I recall.’
‘You don’t get cows like this these hours.’
‘You don’t get cows at all.’
And this from the Counting Pines who display their age in pale letters at eye level on their trunks (and were felled to extinction by the ornamental house number plate industry):
(The conversation took seventeen years but has been speeded up.)
‘I remember when all this wasn’t fields.’
The pines stared out over a thousand miles of landscape. The sky flickered like a bad special effect from a time travel movie. Snow appeared, stayed for an instant, and melted.
‘What was it, then?’ said the nearest pine.
‘Ice. If you can call it ice. We had proper glaciers in those days. Not like the ice you get now, here one season, gone the next. It hung around for ages.’
‘What happened to it then?’
‘Where things go. Everything’s always rushing off.’
‘Wow. That was a sharp one.’
‘That winter just then.’
‘Call that a winter? When I was a sapling we had winters-‘
Then the tree vanished.
After a shocked pause for a couple of years, one of the clump said: ‘He just went! Just like that! One day he was here, next he was gone!’
‘It happens, lad,’ said one of them, carefully. ‘He’s been taken to a Better Place*, you can be sure of that. He was a good tree.’
The young tree, which was a mere five thousand, one hundred and eleven years old, said: ‘What sort of Better Place?’
‘We’re not sure,’ said one of the clump. It trembled uneasily in a week-long gale. ‘But we think it involves…sawdust.’
Since the trees were unable even to sense any event that took place in less than a day, they never heard the sound of axes.
*In this case, three better places. The front gates of Nos 31, 7, and 34 Elm Street, Ankh-Morpork.
Besides, Pratchett includes one of my favourite lines of all time:
‘I’m just going out,’ he said. ‘I may be some time.’
It’s meaningless unless you happen to love the story it comes from like I do 😉