Review: Hogfather by Terry Pratchett

‘Take the universe and grind it down to the finest powder and sieve it through the finest sieve and then show me one atom of justice, one molecule of mercy. and yet… and yet you act as if there is some ideal order in the world, as if there is some… some rightness in the universe by which it may be judged.’

Now this is good timing, the final Discworld post on actual Hogswatch eve! Welcome back to the Disc everyone, two reviews in one month for the first time in a while. In my last review of Soul Music, I mentioned that for the first time I had timed my Discworld reading both continuity and season wise. Meaning I finally got to Hogfather, long hailed the Discworld Christmas novel, at Christmas time. And it was joyous.

‘Twas the night before Hogswatch and all through the house…something was missing.

The stockings are hanging ready, the sherry and pies are waiting by the fireplace – but where is the jolly fat man with his sack? It’s not right to find Death creeping down chimneys and trying to say Ho Ho Ho – but someone’s got to bring the little kiddies their presents. Or else they might stop believing. Belief is important in Discworld, particularly on the last night of the year when the time is turning. If the real man in the red suit isn’t found by morning, there won’t be a morning. Ever again…

A festive feast of darkness, jolly robins and tinsel. As they say: ‘You’d better watch out…’

This is my third attempt to read this at Christmas and I was finally successful! I’m so happy about that! Hogfather was one of those unique books in the series where I intended to read it totally outside any continuity anyway because it was so seasonal. But then again, I did do well to read it right after my last read because, well, Susan Sto Helit.

We start off with, of all people, the Assassins Guild. As the Guild leader takes on a seemingly impossible contract from some mysterious figures who are both formless, and able to make money appear in their vaults while still in the office. At the same time, Death wanders his realm considering the smallest creatures that seem even irrelevant and how they still have enemies. While Susan, is also prepping her charges for bed. All of this tying together with the question, where is the Hogfather and why is Death doing his job?

This was a nice wee mystery! I really enjoyed that aspect of the book. Susan, weary and stoic as ever, is just looking for a touch of normality. Hard to do that with Death being your grandad at the best of times but harder when he appears on Hogswatch Eve to bring presents to the children you mind. And all of the book I just kept asking, but why is he actually not asking her outright to just, help? Everything does wrap up perfectly, in true Pratchett fashion but I didn’t expect to outright enjoy it as much as I did.

The characters, both familiar and new, are excellent as ever. Death is only in about a third of the book in small passings for most of it, Susan handling the majority of the work but still joined by old favourites, including Nobby of the Watch, Ridcully and the hapless wizards of Unseen University and of course, our favorite Librarian. New additions that really impressed me included the unsettling assassin Mr Teatime (pronounced TEAH-TIMAH). I know it’s a bit of a trope of the one eyed, calm villain being the one to be really scared of but like he is though. He took the contract given to the guild because he ‘get’s things done’. He has no issue with kids being used in any shape or form. He’s vile, and it works so well!

As well in very Terry Pratchett fashion, this book has a very relevant commentary to be made about the festive season, economic inequality and saviourism. The last one being the most surprising but there is a scene where a poor man is visited by a local lord who tries to force the leftovers from a large Hogswatch feast. Death himself lambasts the man for using this mans poverty to make himself feel better;

‘WERE YOU HERE LAST MONTH? WILL YOU BE HERE NEXT WEEK? NO. BUT TONIGHT YOU WANTED TO FEEL ALL WARM INSIDE. TONIGHT YOU WILL WANT THEM TO SAY; WHAT A GOOD KING HE IS.’

pg 254 of Hogfather, 25th Anniversary Edition

I always enjoy seeing the interrogation that Terry Pratchett brings to these often satirical situations. Same as above, Albert recounts to Death how when he grew up, even if he had got a gift he wanted badly it would have been sold by his father for drinking money. He accuses Death of giving the poor too much hope, that hardship is what they need to keep them humble and in check. This endless attitude sold to the working class and beyond that they might be harder off but they are better people for it. That abuse and inequality makes the best people. Which we as a society now in 2022 are proving makes nothing but more room for the things we want to avoid. Well played Sir Terry, well played.

This is still a delightful read, outside of it’s grimmer message in places. Ridcully is still as loud and bombastic. Ponder Stibbons and Hex are becoming more part of the main story. Nobby still needs a wash. It’s all the best of Discworld and how could I not exit on the speech Death gives Susan;

All right,” said Susan. “I’m not stupid. You’re saying humans need… fantasies to make life bearable.”

REALLY? AS IF IT WAS SOME KIND OF PINK PILL? NO. HUMANS NEED FANTASY TO BE HUMAN. TO BE THE PLACE WHERE THE FALLING ANGEL MEETS THE RISING APE.

“Tooth fairies? Hogfathers? Little—”

YES. AS PRACTICE. YOU HAVE TO START OUT LEARNING TO BELIEVE THE LITTLE LIES.

“So we can believe the big ones?”

YES. JUSTICE. MERCY. DUTY. THAT SORT OF THING.

“They’re not the same at all!”

YOU THINK SO? THEN TAKE THE UNIVERSE AND GRIND IT DOWN TO THE FINEST POWDER AND SIEVE IT THROUGH THE FINEST SIEVE AND THEN SHOW ME ONE ATOM OF JUSTICE, ONE MOLECULE OF MERCY. AND YET—Death waved a hand. AND YET YOU ACT AS IF THERE IS SOME IDEAL ORDER IN THE WORLD, AS IF THERE IS SOME…SOME RIGHTNESS IN THE UNIVERSE BY WHICH IT MAY BE JUDGED.

“Yes, but people have got to believe that, or what’s the point—”

MY POINT EXACTLY.”

pg 407-408, Hogfather, 25th Anniversary Edition

Hogfather will hopefully return in 2022 as a seasonal reread. Thank you so much for tuning in to all the Discworld project reviews this year! I still find this project so rewarding, I can honestly say this is now my favourite series, replacing Harry Potter a long time ago and we still have so much to conquer in the series! Happy Hogswatch eve, have a great and safe new year and happy reading for all!

★★★★.5/5

3 Comments Add yours

  1. Emma says:

    Hogfather is one of my favourites of the Discworld books – and that conversation between Death and Susan is one of the best bits in it for me – I love Pratchett’s humour but always find his social and political commentary is actually what I enjoy more.

    Like

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