Now seems as good a time as any to bring up the legendary force in fantasy that was and is Sir Terry Pratchett. He may no longer be with us but his stories are eternal. I think it’s time I discuss something fantastical which is not science fiction. Don’t you?
I have decided to review a Terry Pratchett audiobook for two main reasons. Firstly it is (somewhat) topical as Amazon will be releasing an adaptation at the end of the month for the hilarious Good Omens co-written by Pratchett and Neil Gaiman who is also an extremely talented writer and one who I have a good deal of respect for. Secondly however the book being discussed today Mort was my introduction to the great man. I have a rather distinct memory of taking a copy of this book into KGS – on one of those days schools made the children read books – and laughing so loudly and uproariously that I was actively told to be quiet! As such even though I can think of other Pratchett novels I enjoy immensely Mort will probably always be my favourite.
Now let us discuss the basics of the plot and the audiobook. Mort is a rather gangly child as well as one who is slightly too curious for his own good. He’s also no use on the family farm. It definitely doesn’t help that his Grandmother taught him how to read! Trying to find him a master so he can be apprenticed his father takes him to the local market. At the stroke of midnight a shadowy figure approaches. One who talks like this. The mysterious figure of the Death of the Discworld (An Anthropomorphic Personification) as his apprentice. But things won’t exactly go to plan. Especially when a certain Princess gets involved.
I acknowledge that’s the extreme basics as those of you who’ve read the original novel or are familiar with Pratchett in general will be fully aware of. But there’s a simple reason for that. So much of the charm, in fact I’d go so far as to say 99% of the appeal comes in Pratchett’s writing or his little asides. Be it his ability to turn a relatively pedestrian fantasy set up in the coming of age story on its head, managing to make the embodiment of Death sympathetic or the bizarre people of the Disc – a personal favourite being the family of Klatchian traders, worshipers of the great crocodile God Offler Mort encounters for one brief scene. So much of the appeal of Pratchett comes from mixing the unusual, the odd and the strange with the human condition. Taking things you never thought would be connected and interlinking them and just every so often letting out that pearl of wisdom. The kind of thing most people know but either don’t realise or refuse to admit.
When it comes to specifically the audio version however I’m unsure how to start to be completely honest with you as my readers. The unabridged audio version I’m used to is narrated by Nigel Planer. He had narration duties on most of the early Discworld audiobooks and to be fair to him he definitely does a good job with the majority of voices in most cases. For Mort specifically his Mort, Cutwell and Death are particularly well done. You can definitely believe that Mort is an overly nosy teenager who is curious about everything and how the world works. Especially when he shouldn’t be. While his Death certainly seems appropriately beyond human. After all “There’s no justice. There’s just me.” When it comes to female characters however like the aforementioned Princess he does seem to struggle in my personal opinion with maintaining the voice and keeping it consistent. However you can definitely tell he is giving the audio his best effort. Especially in terms of trying to match the tone of Pratchett’s original novel.
My main criticism however isn’t the fault of either Pratchett or Planer but the audiobook’s publisher. From the information I was able to find online this recording comes from 2001 courtesy of Isis Audiobooks. I’m not sure if it is some kind of error in the original master recording or if they lost the original recording but the version commonly available sounds very muffled at points. Muffled or echoey. The way I described it to a friend of mine was as though they had taken a recording of a recording and made that available instead of the original master.
I personally don’t mind too much as it’s still an unabridged audiobook of Mort and I can still understand what is being said. However for those of you who have difficulty with your hearing or audiophiles for whom audio quality is a must have, you might want to keep that in mind. Whenever you listen to this recording make sure to listen to the sample beforehand to make sure it is something you can work with.
Overall I would still recommend the audiobook as Pratchett and Planer between them are firing on all cylinders be it original author or narrator and this is a story for which I have quite a soft spot. There’s a reason that a lot of Pratchett fans say this is the story where he really hit his stride.
I hope some of you do give either the original story or the audio version a chance. Despite its flaws there’s clearly a good amount of effort being put into it and it is a recording from 18 years ago so there has to be some leeway. Next time I think I should tell a story of what has been. Shall we say…1979…Operation Argo?