Wednesday, October 19, 2011

REVIEW: Hogfather by Terry Prachett

by Terry Pratchett


(A rather unfortunate caveat for this post: I saw the movie before I read the book, so my view is a bit tainted.)

I wish I had waited to read this book, and not excitedly snatched it off the library shelf right after I watched the movie. It is meant to be read on a cozy chair looking out at the falling snow and contemplating the meaning of Christmas-- I mean Hogswatch-- being jolly and surrounded by mistletoe and holly. And other things ending in olly. 

'Twas the night before Hogswatch and a lot of things are stirring: Ridcully of the Unseen University is trying to break in to an ancient bathroom to have a bath, Susan (the granddaughter of Death and governess) is beating the monster-under-the-bed with a poker before tucking her employer's children into bed, Death himself is on his nightly rounds, and the Auditors (spirits who make sure that gravity works, and that the earth turns, etc) have decided that the world is a bit to messy, and put a hit out on the Hogfather (Discworld's Santa Claus). When the Hogfather disappears, Death takes up his mantle and begins delivering toys, while Susan quests to put a stop to the hired Assassin.   

Terry Pratchett is such a strange writer. He is deceitfully fluffy and silly, and then packs a wallop of TRUTH underneath it all.  The book is a treatise on belief: why we need to believe in things that obviously aren't real,  how beliefs evolve (from winter sacrifice to merry Hogfather), what happens when you stop believing.

While the book follows several groups of characters throughout the evening's adventures, the strongest and most exciting parts of this book were those that followed Susan and Death. Susan was the reason I picked up this book in the first place. She is the adopted granddaughter of Death and has inherited some of his deathly powers along the way, but all she wants is a normal life. She took a job as a governess and takes comfort in such things as bedtime and using doorknobs. She is sensible and no-nonsense: a dark Mary Poppins, though she says herself that " if she did indeed ever find herself dancing on rooftops with chimney sweeps she'd beat herself to death with her own umbrella.”

After Death tells her almost too pointedly NOT TO GET INVOLVED, she takes up her grandfather's sythe (though not literally, she takes his second favorite weapon: a sword), and goes forth to investigate the disappearance of the Hogfather. She seems to get lost in silly fluff during the middle of the book, while we read about the antics of the more ridiculous and one dimensional characters, but she is incredibly strong in the beginning (as the monster-fighting governess) and at the end as she confronts the Assassin (a grinning and psychotic Mr. Teatime).

The most delightful character in this book, however, is Death as he takes on the incongruous role of Hogfather on Hogswatch night. Though unsteady in the beginning, he practices his HO HO HOs and wears the false beard and puts a pillow up his shirt and travels down the chimneys (even though he feels it is much easier to go through the wall). He gamely travels to each house to deliver presents, and in the meantime has an existential crisis. No one usually is glad to see him as Death, and he has a soft spot for humans. He starts to change the rules, giving the children exactly what they want (a real sword: "IT'S EDUCATIONAL.""What if she cuts herself?" "THAT WILL BE A VERY GOOD LESSON"), giving life to the Little Match Girl,  and lamenting "BUT I'M THE HOGFATHER" when he is told he can't give poor people everything they want. He is a heartwarming, and heart-wrenching figure as he struggles between what he feels is right, and what is traditional. And he has the best about-to-kick-your-ass quote at the end of the book.

For me, I wished Terry Pratchett had written the book with a bit more depth and a little less fluff, but then he wouldn't be Terry Pratchett, and we couldn't have that.

If you liked this book, you might like:
Anything by Terry Prachett
American Gods by Neil Gaiman
Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Prachett

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