Death had developed a personality.
To the inexperienced reader of Discworld novels, that statement about the main character in Reaper Man could come close to making his or her head explode.
To the Auditors of the universe, which includes the Discworld, the idea of Death developing a personality was a very bad thing – so bad that they determined Death would have to…well…die.
And a new Death would be installed in his place – one without a personality, like in the good old days.
Until Death’s lifetimer sands ran out then, he decided he would spend his remaining time gathering some experiences he had never experienced before. He would have some new Death experiences that would add to, and hopefully improve, his personality. After all, why not?
His first new experience upon arriving on the Disc was a job interview. Things generally got better after that.
His interviewer and potential employer was Miss Renata Flitworth – a lovely woman. I hope to meet someone like her someday. Come to think of it, I probably already have.
Death’s next addition to his personality was the acquisition of an actual name: He became Bill Door. It took some coaxing by Miss Flitworth, but she eventually got it out of him – mainly because he was making it up as they went along.
During the interview, Bill Door was briefly introduced to the concepts of sleep and dinner. He would attempt to experience both in greater depth later on.
Miss Flitworth had a farm to run. Bill Door learned the meaning of a hard day’s work. Sorta.
He scythed the grass in the field – one blade at a time. This was obviously a reflection on his previous experience with the instrument. He fed Nancy the pig and tried to help the dyslexic Cyril the cockerel. He mended a window. He clothed himself in overalls and a straw hat. Might as well look the part, right? And when you get right down to it, doesn’t the manner in which a man dresses himself say a lot about his personality?
At the tavern in the nearby (unnamed) town, Bill Door added small talk and popularity to his traits. The popularity came both from his generosity – I WILL BUY EVERYONE A DRINK – and from his ability to purposely make mistakes while playing billiards and darts (and later shooting arrows).
At one point, Bill Door realized he’d never really noticed the wind and sunlight before. Add two to his count of new experiences.
On a more metaphysical(?) level, he could also feel time passing. This experience was his least favorite.
Bill Door discovered how things can get on one’s nerves – like the constantly-shifting eyes and the incessant ticking of a clock designed in the shape of an owl.
And then suddenly it was over. An Auditor told him it had been a mistake. Bill Door went back to being Death. Thinking to himself…
Well, it had been an experience. And, he had to admit, one that he didn’t want to relive. He felt as though a huge weight had been removed.
So, even in the process of getting back to “normal”, Death continued to pile up new experiences.
As he was leaving the farm, he realized Miss Flitworth would need someone else to finish the harvest. He experienced regret. A piece of Bill Door was still attached to him.
Actually, there was a very large portion of Bill Door still hanging around because the bit about there being a “mistake” had all been a dream. Chalk up another experience – dreaming.
The monotony of work. Unfortunately, Bill Door joined many people in finding out what this is all about, as he chopped wood for Miss Flitworth.
Bill Door experienced death from two new angles. Being already quite experienced as Death, he somewhat surprisingly took the life of a chicken (somehow). Then he participated in setting out the essence of spikkle mixed with oatmeal to poison the rats, which made him feel like a murderer. As Death, he had taken life but had never killed.
Sometime after this, Bill Door came into close contact with someone who had an attention span of less than three seconds – a young girl named Sal. It was quite unlike anything he had experienced before.
When he met the Death of Rats (long story that doesn’t fit in here), Bill Door added generosity (he gave the Rat some cheese) and companionship to his arsenal of personality traits.
As some of the buildings in the town burned, Bill Door experienced something he certainly could not have as Death – a slap in the “face”. (For details, see the book.)
Bill Door discovered that Sal Lifton was still inside the tavern that was engulfed in flames. Realizing that he had compassion for her (and her family), he rescued her from the fire and the exploding brandy barrels, concocting a lie about hiding in the non-existent cellar as their means of survival.
Later that evening, he went to a forge behind Miss Flitworth’s barn. He tried to sharpen a scythe, but he couldn’t get it as sharp as he wanted. Enter frustration and depression. Miss Flitworth tried to console him. She eventually came to the old adage: Where there’s life, there’s hope. Bill Door grabbed this new emotion of hope. After trying all manner of sharpening instruments – even silk – Bill Door finally discovered he could sharpen the scythe on daylight. Bill Door was happy. His scythe was sharp!
At work the next day, Bill Door showed he understood at least one euphemism. (He’d missed others earlier.) “Apple juice” equalled brandy.
Following an amazing harvesting session in the fields, where he nearly outpaced Ned Simnel’s brand new invention, the Combination Harvester, Bill Door experienced illness (think, “apple juice”) and tiredness. As part of his “illness”, he also experienced a terrible headache. Pain (in general) and misery were included in the package.
A fierce storm approached that would have ruined what Bill Door had harvested, so he and Miss Flitworth attempted to protect the crop. Bill Door took pride in his work and into his personality.
Then Bill Door thought he saw the new Death. “SO THIS IS TERROR,” a tiny voice inside of him said.
Shortly after, he had un-Bill Door thoughts like mischievousness (or something stronger) that led to the removal of a three-eighths Gripley.
When the new Death and the old Death/Bill Door finally meet, Bill Door kills or dismisses or whatever-word-better-fits-here the new Death with “rage and vengeance”. Just in the nick of time, so to speak.
Probably from seeing so much of it earlier in the new Death, Bill Door picked up a strong sense of Drama, which was evidenced in his standing pat in front of an advancing Combination Harvester…up until the point at which it disintegrated for lack of a three-eighths Gripley.
Later, Death – the old (and now only…almost) Death – realized that Bill Door had been curious about things. “Bill Door had gone, but he had left echoes.” Death too was curious…about Miss Flitworth and what was in the three chests she kept on her dresser.
There may be a few other new things that Bill Door (or Death) experienced along the way that I’ve missed. There is, however, one obvious one that appears as Reaper Man draws to a close.
So, now go back and take stock (or stook) of all of Death’s new experiences. Maybe even make a concise list of them for yourself.
Sound like anyone you know?
You can find your copy of Reaper Man at Amazon here.