Maybe you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but you can find yourself forming a strong opinion about what to expect.
My first copy of Terry Pratchett’s Mort was a paperback that bore, upon its cover, artwork by Josh Kirby. Those Kirby covers are immediately recognisable to all Discworld fans; packed with energy, movement, the figures almost falling over each other, they always promise an adventure that will, above all, make you laugh. And Mort certainly made me do that, but I didn’t take it too seriously. Nobody did, back then.
But time moved on, and there will be no more Pratchett novels, so we have to start cherishing the ones we’ve got. On that understanding the Folio Society has produced a hardback edition of Mort with an introduction by AS Byatt and colour plates by Omar Rayyan. It has a brand new cover and slipcase; black, embossed with silver, with the Great A’Tuin and a skull on the spine. So it has a very different feel from my old battered paperback with the busy cover. It feels like the kind of book one might take down from the shelves of Death’s library. Weighty.
It’s a beautiful book, and it showed me that Mort is as much a fairy tale as a fun read. It sinks deep roots into traditional ground, and this classic hardback version suits the more meaningful aspects of this story very well indeed.
For Mort is a young apprentice, and he has a lot to learn, and challenges to overcome, before he learns some wisdom and finds some happiness. And that makes for a really old kind of story, and a satisfying one, featuring all the recognisable aspects such as love, moral dilemmas, crushing responsibilities, and a race against time. Also, what kind of apprenticeship story would this be without an exacting master? This one has the best – Death himself. Although Death is busy having an identity crisis and could, on occasion, murder a curry.
It’s the surprises I always liked. That curry, those footnotes, the unexpected lists of foods that are served in Ankh-Morpork or the sudden appearance of an orang-utan. But this time around it was Pratchett’s propensity to bring a scene to life in classic style that struck me. He could make it all seem so real before inviting you to laugh at it, and see through it. Here are the delicate and expansive opening sentences of Mort:
This is the bright candlelit room where the lifetimers are stored – shelf upon shelf of them, squat hourglasses, one for every living person, pouring their fine sand from the future into the past. The accumulated hiss of the falling grains make the room roar like the sea.
AS Byatt mentions in her introduction (which is a great mix of personal anecdote and quiet admiration for the writing) that Pratchett himself is the key presence in his novels, and he is vibrant. It’s as if the Discworld was a holiday destination and we’re all on the coach tour, bouncing along dangerous paths while Pratchett points out the good, bad and downright ugly with a deep affection for it all, including for you as the esteemed visitor. When you read one of his novels, Pratchett’s voice is as important as the plot or the characters. But it’s so entertaining that it’s easy to forget there are important life lessons included within the pages. Old ones, for sure. Classic ones. But still important ones.
Looks can be deceiving – Mort tells us.
And – Two different realities can be true at the same time. It’s all about perspective.
Those are good lessons to learn by holding this new and beautiful version of Mort in your hands, with a brilliant illustration by Rayyan on the cover that will remind you of woodcut art from Grimm’s Fairy Tales and the like. Is the Discworld a throwaway paperback kind of experience, or an important-looking hardback with a slipcase and a silver spine kind of experience?
You could buy this Folio Society as a present for a Pratchett fan and they wouldn’t be disappointed, I’m sure. But I think maybe get a copy for yourself and see how a book can be two different realities at the same time. It’s a fun read you can skim through and forget, and it’s a testament to a great talent, and a wonderful creation. It’s both.
Terry Pratchett’s Mort: The Folio Society Edition is available to order here.