There is a scene in which Death enters the toy store (shopkeeper played by Terry Pratchett himself) and buys a wooden horse, outbidding whoever ordered it.

That boy outside in the frost with his nose stuck to the window staring at that toy is presumably Albert in younger form. Was Death's purchase meant for him?--Anyway:

So my question is, which took place first chronologically?

  • Earlier in the story as presented, Death and Albert are sitting at a table chatting. Albert shares how many years ago, in his childhood, he wanted a toy horse he saw but didn't get it, and coped with disappointment. Instead, later, his dad carved him one homemade, if I remember correctly. Later, Death decides to go "back in time" to the toy shop and intervene--can he even do that?

  • OR: By the time the two are sitting at the table chatting as old men, Death already knows about it, as that was him at the toy store many years earlier buying the horse, but does not comment nor acknowledge this to Albert. No time travel is performed. The scene later with Death at the store is merely a flashback to an earlier time.

Either way I am confused about Death's intentions, or how/if he wanted to help the boy Albert.

4 Answers 4


Death is consistently portrayed as a nice guy (well, animate anthromorphic personification), but somewhat befuddled by human relations.

I've always read the scene as one of time travel{*} and assumed that he meant to give the horse to Albert in his roll as the servant in "proper time" (whatever that means). In short he wants to make Albert happy and thinks that the horse will do it, but doesn't get that giving old Albert the horse won't quite cut it.

There may or may not be a paradox here, as young Albert wouldn't have gotten the horse either way: it was a bespoke gift produced for some young lordling in the first place, Death gets it by simply outbidding the commissioner.

{*} We know that death can do that, as he discusses the implications with Mort and Susan in other books, and

he takes Ms. Flintworth back in time to meet up with her swain

at the end of Reaper Man. More evidence for the power of Death over time can be found

in Susan's ability to function after the clock strikes

in Thief of Time


To DEATH time functions differently. He is consistently shown (in the books at least) to move around freely in time. As long as there is something, anything, dying in the universe he will be there. Only when the last organism in the universe dies will he "lock up and hand over the keys". To a mortal observer, this does indeed look like time travel. A series of chronological steps. But to DEATH, he has always been there.

And the toy horse was indeed meant for Albert as a Hogswatch/Christmas gift (though it was never made clear when he actually gave it to him). DEATH, as mentioned many times before, is essentially a very nice guy and is very fond of humans and human culture and mannerisms, even though he does not entirely understand them. He does know that this action is considered to be the nice thing to do for Albert so he does it, even if he doesn't completely understand why it's considered nice.

  • There is a sequence in Eric that address the "lock up and hand over the keys" bit in a surprising way. Apr 25, 2012 at 19:55
  • @dmckee - Really? I don't recall Eric that well, because it's probably my least favorite DW book. I'll need to give it a re-read I guess. Apr 25, 2012 at 20:10
  • 1
    @SystemDown You should. It involves a paperclip.
    – user867
    Jun 12, 2015 at 0:50

I actually thought of it as Death buying it for Albert "now", and the scene with the shop was simply repeating history - no time travel or prescience required (although, Death does have a rather unique memory).

It's just a different shop, with a different wooden horse in the window, and a different boy stuck to the window.

  • That was my first interpretation as well (film only), but like with some other threads in the storyline I left it at ambiguous.
    – Marcos
    Apr 26, 2012 at 12:29
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    Though it hadn't occurred to me, I like this interpretation. Apr 26, 2012 at 16:49

Death is known to have a non linear view of time. In particular, he can remember the future. That means he wouldn't have to travel back in time, he would have known when the horse was made that Albert would later tell him the story.

It is not made clear what he does with it, but I like to think he gave it to Albert after the events of Hogfather.

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