Book Review: ‘Reaper Man’ by Terry Pratchett

reaper man terry pratchett

Light and Ready to Go

A light read is good for the soul from time to time. My brain gets overworked, and can get caught up in this or that, but it still craves stories. If I go too long without one, it is a withdrawal of sorts. For such occasions, when I don’t feel like putting in the effort to understand some of Žižek’s ramblings, or parsing out just what the hell Adorno was going on about, or putting up with the serious beauty of Mishima, or even the brilliantly exhausting stories of Dostoevsky, something like Reaper Man by Terry Pratchett is the ticket. There is humor (even some wit), an overall optimism, and it is utterly mad. It is the story of a wizard named Windle Poons failing to properly die, and of Death getting sacked.

You Had Me at ‘Death’

I have a fascination with death incarnate, and death in general for that matter. And to come across a story that is focused on the bony fellow himself losing his job was a pleasant find. While no representation of death can beat out Adventure Time’s musical lord of the underworld (perfectlyu voiced by Miguel Ferrer), this wheat-harvesting version did right by me.

A Slew of Puns and Cheer

The humor is at times sharp (much like Death’s scythe, a wonderfully honed tool which can even manage to cut sounds as people utter them), and the results of it ranged from a cracked smile to actual chuckles while surrounded by frowning grandmothers on the Moscow metro. But, Pratchett has a bit too much of a love for puns, for my taste. A play on words here and there can be refreshing, but one every couple pages soon grows stale. Even moldy. But it is hard to get disgruntled with the work overall. Pratchett’s writing is veined with kindness and optimism. Even in a story about death (or the lack thereof), he portrays people as having kernel’s of goodness within them (mostly) and whose better sides can be brought out in times of need regardless of their station, even if they are undead or a slacking city guard (a small distinction).

An Unexpected Association

Though the narrative structure, themes, and styles are entirely different, I found myself thinking of Hayao Miyazaki while reading this short romp of madness. They both share a warmth in their work, one that is revealed by differing characters and plots and distinct themes, but in a common sense of wonder and love for the fantastical. Admittedly, Pratchett’s can feel a bit droll and over-the-top at times, but the two men both create tales that are otherworldly, that taunt the imagination and can make the audience feel a sense of childlike possibility again. One is funneled through a no-holds-barred narrative, the other through an attention to detail and care. They both have their charms (of course, Miyazaki’s tales will, I suspect, always be the high water mark of storytelling).

Reaper Man was fun, and at a time when I was in sore need of some pure goofing. I welcomed it. And while I cannot say I’ve become an avid fan of the late Pratchett, I now know where to turn when I need to shave off a layer or two of austerity.

Rating: 3 out of 5