I’ve been reading the Discworld novels one at a time by publication order. I was going to read the sixth books, Wyrd Sisters but I thought it’d be fun to skip ahead to book twenty, Hogfather because it’s a Christmas book. There were a few problems with doing this because skipping over a dozen books meant that I missed out on books two and three of the Death series (Reaper Man and Soul Music). The biggest problem with that was not knowing who Susan Sto Helit is but you eventually find out while reading this book. She’s Death’s granddaughter. In the grand scheme of things that’s pretty minor and so I’m pleased with my decision to squeeze in a festive book in my reading list for the month.
I said this is a Christmas book and it is but the holiday isn’t quite the same in Discworld. There, they call it Hogswatch and it is celebrated on the last day of the year, December 32nd. They have a Santa Clause like fellow who go around in his sleigh pull by four boars (Gouger, Rooter, Tusker, and Snouter). He also goes down chimney ands to give gifts to the good girls and boys. Instead of leaving our milk and cookies he’s expected to find sherry and a meat pie. For the most part, he’s rather similar but Santa Clause and Hogfather’s origins could are quite different but I won’t say how because that would spoilt a big part of the book.
In many was Hogfather delivered what I’ve come to expect from Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels. There was humour abound, much philosophizing and satirizing as well. The structure of the story was different though. The book is made up of four storylines that are all, at best, loosely connected at first. Those storyline are:
1-The Guild of Assassins is hired to murder Hogfather. In turn they hire the services of Mr. Teatime (pronounced the-ah-tim-eh) to do the deed. He accomplishes it successfully in the very beginning of the book but how he did it isn’t revealed until the end of the book. It’s the mystery that ties the other storylines together.
2-Susan Sto Helit , granddaughter of Death and governess to two children (in a very Merry Poppins way but funnier), is trying to find out what happened to Hogfather. Along the way she is aided by the Death of Rats, a rude raven, and the “Oh God” of Hangovers.
3-In Unseen University, the school of wizards, Archchancellor Ridcully is trying to find out why so many new gods (or anthropomorphic personifications), such as the Verruca Gnome, the Hair Loss Fairy and others, are sprouting up all over.
4-Since the Hogfather is dead, Death has taken his place in order to fill the void. His main goal is to restore believe in Hogfather in order to bring him back.
As the story progresses some of the storylines cross path and they eventually all crash together for a big finish. It’s probably one of the most satisfying conclusions for a Discworld novel that I’ve read so far. The entire book might be the best so far, actually. While we know who hired the Guild of Assassins we do not know why until the very end. When we do learn why it’s a thematic punch to the face as Pratchett delivers and incredible amount of big ideas that are tied to humanity’s very existence and thriving nature on Discworld which echoes are own existence in the real world in a rather stirring way.
I won’t spoil it here but Pratchett deals with the notion of why believing in fantasies such as Hogfather or the Tooth Fairy prepares us for believing some of the larger ideas of the universe. It’s form of mental exercise, basically. Stories and fantasies also act as a way for us to explain the world around us when we’re unable to explain it any other way. Learning and understanding how the stories and fantasies evolve throughout the ages also helps to better understand ourselves.
Hogfather delivers on some of the great elements of all Discworld novels. Pratchett has populated his world with dozens of interesting characters. Best of all he knows how to make them interact in ways that feel real but are also zany, completely unusual, and delightfully entertaining. That’s not to mention how witty he is with his narration. Hogfather provides additional proof (as if any was needed) that Pratchett is the king of satire. His observations are accurate and they betray his wise and uncompromising understanding of people and the world we live in. They’re also hilarious as anything you’re likely to come by. The best of all, his humour isn’t one-note. His mastery of all things gut-busting can be found on every single page and it appears in the form that is best suited to the particular scene being told. It includes situational comedy, wordplay, witticism, clever dialogue, comedy of manners, gallows humour, philosophical jokes, etc. You name it and he’s done it. Even multiple times and millions of fans around the world have enjoyed it. You’d be hard pressed to find a better book to give to a book loving friend in order to pass along some holiday cheer. Happy Hogswatch!