The Discworld Homework Files
Book 4: Mort
Mort the book is a story about Mort the character, who is plucked from his family to serve as Death's apprentice and live with Death's daughter Ysabell and servant Albert. Mort does all sorts of jobs for Death, and is finally rewarded with being sent out on The Duty, to make sure that the souls of Princess Keli and Abbott Lobsang reach their destinations after their bodies are no longer needed.
While out on the duty, Mort, in an impulsive action that mirrors his basic uncertainty with how to deal with his freedom of choice, aborts Princess Keli's death. He believes that he has fallen in love instantly, and his choices in the story from this point are influenced by Mort's conscious imposition onto his unconscious of the narrative of instant love. From now on this faux-phenomonological account of Mort's time as Death's apprentice shows how Mort's impulsive behaviour is firmly grounded in his own existential sense of groundlessness. Two realities now exist, one in which Princess Keli is alive and one in which she is dead; the reality created in Mort's mind when he "fell in love" is temporarily extended into the 'real' world. Mort now acts authentically in the face of an ever encroaching interface to the dead reality to try to save Princess Keli by making sure that the reality in which she is alive wins out over the reality in which she is dead.
In pursuit of this, Mort enlists the help of both Ysabell and Albert, who turns out to be a wizard. In a perfect example of how the book uses metaphors to illustrate existential issues, Mort and Ysabell must ride across the world to perform that night's duty against a deadline which is almost impossible to meet, much as our own sense of finiteness and death imposes a deadline which we must struggle against. During their ride, the existential omnipresence of death is used to counterpoint the surrealism of the underlying metaphor - that they are struggling against a deadline imposed by death, while the anthropomorphic personification of Death is not aware of what is happening and is happily working as a cook until Albert informs him of what Mort has done.
The resulting fight between Death and Mort for Princess Keli's life can be seen as reflecting Mort's wish to snatch life from the jaws of inexorable death; he is fighting an anthropomorphic personification of that which is hurting him most through taking away his love. The outcome of the fight is practically certain; Death, the devourer of worlds, does not allow for exceptions. Existentially, the position of Death as an inexorable universal reality is maintained. However, Mort is not predestined to lose; in a vindication of existential choice he knows that the situation is still free and anything could happen.
In the final throes of the fight, Mort's decision to repudiate his love for Princess Keli as an impulsive artefact imposed on his subconscious social expectations, and his decision to accept his existential freedom and marry Ysabell, whom he truly loves, shows that Mort has finally come of age. Death's final decision after he has defeated Mort to allow Mort and Ysabell to live back in what passes for "normal" reality as the Duke and Duchess of Sto Helit shows that although death is an existential reality that no-one can escape, fantasy still has a large part to play in our attempts to come to terms with our realities.
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