Mort is the fourth volume in the Discworld series by Terry Pratchett. The books do not need to be read in order, as each one is a standalone adventure. There are however, recurring characters who grow more complex and interesting as the series develops, and there are certain oddities about the way the Disc is made and exists which are explained very clearly in the early books of the series, and which, if you are new to the concept of Discworld, or the fantasy genre altogether, will help you understand what is going on. This is why my son and I are diligently working our way through the books in order. He finished reading Mort to me yesterday.
I sometimes idly wonder as I listen to children read to me, how important the layout of a book is to their ability to read and understand it. I mean, I know that it is incredibly important for children who have dyslexia for example, but how much does it affect the average child reader?
Well, judging by this book, quite a lot.
I used to own all the Discworld books, and at one point, in a fit of ruthless downsizing in one of our many house moves, I got rid of all of them except a handful of my favourites, reasoning that I probably wouldn’t have time to read them again.
Spool forward to this summer when I started reading them with Oscar, and thought despairingly of my younger self.
I have been gradually re-buying all the books. I am not, as you can imagine, terribly keen to buy all forty odd volumes at current book prices, so have been trawling charity shop shelves and buying lots of second hand copies. My copy of Mort is a very early paperback in the Corgi imprint.
It has proved challenging for my son to read. The main reason he has struggled with it is that the font is smaller than the more modern versions we have of the earlier three books, and the lines are closer together. It is the lines being closer together in particular that he has found most taxing. He has kept losing track of where he is on the page and quite often misses a line or re-reads a line, which he finds really frustrating, and which has upset the rhythm of his reading to the extent where he has read a paragraph and then simply not understood it until we have gone back and looked at it again together.
Once he does this he loses confidence in himself and thinks he can’t understand anything, and he has required a lot more support in reading this than the previous three books, despite the fact that the content and complexity is on a par with its predecessors.
As we finished the book yesterday, we were talking about his experience of it, and he told me that he had enjoyed it less because he found it more hard work to read, physically as opposed to struggling with comprehension etc.
It has been interesting. We talked about the fact that grown up books in particular vary very much in terms of layout, font size etc, and one of the things about learning to read grown up books is learning to tackle this issue as much as whether a book is understandable or not. It has helped him to feel that it is alright for him to not ‘get it’ the first time around, and that it is a challenge that grown ups face too. He is feeling less embarrassed about having struggled with the book, but I think it will take a while before he is confident enough to tackle anything else with very small print and a lot of dense copy on a page.
With regard to the content, it tells the story of the character of Death, who is very much a tangible presence on the Disc. Death decides he needs an apprentice and young Mort, a handicap on his father’s farm where his clumsiness, curiosity and interest in everything and anything has caused his father to take him to the apprentice’s fair in the hope of getting shot of him. Mort is the only one left when Death appears and Death takes him on mainly because he is weary of the responsibility for so many souls and would like a few days off.
Mort learns what it is to be the Grim Reaper. Death learns what it is to be human. Neither of them do a particularly good job of it, but they both learn a lot, as do we.
This book is much more thoughtful than the earlier volumes, although they all have pretty interesting things to say. Many fans of Pratchett identify Mort as being the start of the true Discworld novels, in which the fantasy elements begin to play second fiddle to the more satirical, thoughtful elements of Pratchett’s work.
On re-reading it, I think it is significantly darker and the humour, as surely befits a book about death, is black and rather tinged with sadness in places. It has never been one of my favourites, I have to say, and for different reasons I think Oscar and I will be very glad to move onto the next book.
As with all the Pratchett novels, this is really suitable for a teen/Ya audience.