“The Appointment in Samarra” retold by W. Somerset Maugham (1933)

My girlfriend is currently studying Fiction Writing on her Creative Writing course and the tutor, who I had as well, spoke about the following story. I thought it was a really intriguing story at the time I learnt about it, and with my girlfriend telling me about it to I thought I’d revisit it and post it here.

Just some information, this is from the POV of Death.

There was a merchant in Bagdad who sent his servant to market to buy provisions and in a little while the servant came back, white and trembling, and said, Master, just now when I was in the marketplace I was jostled by a woman in the crowd and when I turned I saw it was Death that jostled me.  She looked at me and made a threatening gesture,  now, lend me your horse, and I will ride away from this city and avoid my fate.  I will go to Samarra and there Death will not find me.  The merchant lent him his horse, and the servant mounted it, and he dug his spurs in its flanks and as fast as the horse could gallop he went.  Then the merchant went down to the marketplace and he saw me standing in the crowd and he came to me and said, Why did you make a threating getsture to my servant when you saw him this morning?  That was not a threatening gesture, I said, it was only a start of surprise.  I was astonished to see him in Bagdad, for I had an appointment with him tonight in Samarra.

The original article can be found here.

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9 thoughts on ““The Appointment in Samarra” retold by W. Somerset Maugham (1933)

  1. Thanks for sharing that. I love finding references that are reused elsewhere.
    Terry Pratchett pays homage to that story in The Colour Of Magic

    It’s actually the exchange that made me first fall in love with the Discworld.

    RINCEWIND? Death said, in tones as deep and heavy as the slamming of leaden doors, far underground.
    ‘Um,’ said Rincewind, trying to back away from that eyeless stare.
    BUT WHY ARE YOU HERE? (Boom, boom went crypt lids, in the worm-haunted fastnesses under old mountains..)
    ‘Um, why not?’ said Rincewind. ‘Anyway, I’m sure you’ve got lots to do, so if you’ll just-‘
    I WAS SURPRISED THAT YOU JOSTLED ME, RINCEWIND, FOR I HAVE AN APPOINTMENT WITH THEE THIS VERY NIGHT.
    ‘Oh no, not-‘
    OF COURSE, WHAT’S SO BLOODY VEXING ABOUT THE WHOLE BUSINESS IS THAT I WAS EXPECTING TO MEET THEE IN PSEPHOPOLOLIS.
    ‘But that’s five hundred miles away!’
    YOU DON’T HAVE TO TELL ME, THE WHOLE SYSTEM’S GOT SCREWED UP AGAIN, I CAN SEE THAT. LOOK, THERE’S NO CHANCE OF YOU-?
    Rincewind backed away, hands spread protectively in front of him. The dried fish salesman on a nearby stall watched this madman with interest.
    ‘Not a chance!’
    I COULD LEND YOU A VERY FAST HORSE.
    ‘No!’
    IT WON’T HURT A BIT.
    ‘No!’ Rincewind turned and ran. Death watched him go, and shrugged bitterly.
    SOD YOU, THEN, Death said. He turned and noticed the fish salesman. With a snarl Death reached out a bony finger and stopped the man’s heart, but he didn’t take much pride in.

  2. That is a lovely exceprt by Terry Pratchett. I LOVE good parody. The Book Thief is a more serious novel by Markus Zusak that is told from Death’s POV. It is an amazing and inspiring and thought-provoking and award-winning. Be warned; it might make you cry, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

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