1996; 354 pages. Book #20 (out of 41) in the Discworld series; Book # 4 (out of 4, I think) in the Discworld Death series. New Author? : No. Genre : Comedic Fantasy. Laurels : 137th in The Big Read; British Fantasy Award nominee in 1997. Overall Rating : 9*/10.
It’s Hogswatchnight Eve on Discworld, and something seems just a bit awry with the Hogfather. No, it’s not the four giant, flying hogs – Tusker, Snouter, Gouger, and Rooter - that pull his sleigh while he delivers toys on this night; they’re the same as always.
Instead, its the Hogfather himself. He seems ...well... different. His face is narrower, darker, and bonier. And although his girth is plump as always, it appears he’s actually a skinny guy with a pillow strapped around his stomach.
Then of course, there’s that scythe he’s carrying. That definitely is not a standard piece of Hogfather paraphernalia.
What’s To Like...
The book’s cover lets you know immediately who is being parodied here; so I chose this as my 2015 “Christmas read”. Published in 1996, this is at the creative height of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld wit and storytelling. Hogfather is also one of four Discworld books that spotlights Death and some of his associates, including his granddaughter, Susan; and his rodent counterpart, The Grim Squeaker.
This is a classic Discworld story, with its usual structure – lots of hilarious footnotes, no chapter divisions, a great supporting cast that includes both familiar faces: the Wizards (with their computer called “Hex”), Corporal Nobbs, and my favorite, The Librarian; and some refreshingly new ones: Banjo, Violet Bottler (the Tooth Fairy), Bilious (the “Oh God” of Hangovers), and the enormously cute and charming galoot, Banjo.
There are a bunch of plot threads (I counted at least five of them) that Pratchett skillfully weaves together at the end. But make no mistake about it: Death is the star here, and that’s a big plus. Pratchett cleverly uses him, as he makes his rounds with Albert, his pixie assistant, to discuss the true meaning of Hogswatchnight/Christmas. His conclusions may surprise you.
The other major theme here concerns the merits of Belief itself, particularly those involving the god or gods of your personal choice. Terry Pratchett was an avowed humanist, so his thoughts on this were enlightening. OTOH, if you prefer your themes a bit less serious, you’ll delight in the Campaign for Equal Heights. Or the ability of Belief to conjure up all sorts of pesky mini-gods.
Kewlest New Word ...
Profligacy (n.) : the state or quality of wasting something, usually money, but here the wasting of life.
“Well, I mean, dammit, it’s human nature, isn’t it?” said Ridcully hotly. “Things go wrong, things get lost, it’s natural to invent little creatures that – All right, all right, I’ll be careful. I’m just saying man is naturally a mythopoeic creature.”
“What’s that mean?” said the Senior Wrangler.
“Means we make things up as we go along,” said the Dean, not looking up. (pg. 191)
Violet’s lips moved silently. Part of Bilious thought: I’m attracted to a girl who actually has to shut down all other brain functions in order to think about the order of the letters of the alphabet. On the other hand, she’s attracted to someone who’s wearing a toga that looks as though a family of weasels have had a party in it, so maybe I’ll stop this thought right here. (pg. 286)
Death was hereditary. You got it from your ancestors. (pg. 203 )
Hogfather is another fine Discworld tale, but there are a couple caveats. For starters, the storyline at times slips into a darker tone. There's a psychopathic assassin, a cold-blooded murder or two, and several horror scenes that Dean Koontz could take pointers from. If you like your Christmas reads full of snow bunnies, cocoa, and warm, blazing fireplaces, this probably isn’t your kind of book.
Also, if you’re not reading this series in order (and I’m not), some of the threads and characters may get confusing. I never did figure out the role and goal of the Auditors; apparently they’re carryovers from an earlier story featuring Death. But you can still read this as a standalone novel; just be prepared for one or two minor info gaps.
9 Stars. I expected Hogfather to be a fascinating read, and it did not disappoint. Subtract 1 Star if you were hoping for something along the lines of A Charlie Brown Christmas.