Only 174 more days to Christmas*! So this seems like the perfect time to continue our ongoing reviews of Terry Pratchett’s work with the Discworld’s most famous Winter Solstice tale, the Hogfather.
The Hogfather himself occupies the same space as our own Father Christmas, charging around the sky on Hogswatchnight on his sled drawn by the angry hairy boars Gouger, Rooter, Tusker and Snouter giving presents to the good children and putting the bad kids in his sack of blood and bones. So far as the auditors of reality are concerned, he’s symptomatic of the chaotic and frivolous thinking that life is prone to, and that is littering the perfect mathematical order of the universe.
Enter Mr. Jonathan Teatime (pronounced Tay-a-tee-may), the only assassin on the disc mad enough to conceive a plan for killing an anthropomorphic personification, and sane enough to pull it off. Of course everyone knows I love a good villain and Teatime is up there with the best. He has an insane arrogance and determination that nothing is impossible, and the idea that he has only one eye with a pinhole-pupil is a fantastic contrast, a narrow view against a broad mind.
Susan Sto Helit takes up the task of finding and restoring the Hogfather to his rightful place so that the sun may truly rise, instead of simply being a bland daily occurrence that benefits no one in any way. In the mean time, her grandfather – Death – sets about doing the Hogfather’s duty in order to keep the spirit alive. He gets a little caught up in it as he often does with such things.
The premise of Hogfather is basically the same as that of Reaper Man, but instead of Life that sloshes around excessively raising all kinds of strange things that ought not to be, there is Belief. As a result of the surplus of credulity left in the absence of the Hogfather, a vast number of other creatures wink into existence with the slightest provocation. In Unseen University mysterious creatures keep popping up to explain daily nuisances like the Eater of Socks, the Hairloss Fairy, and the Verruca Gnome.
Amidst the miscellaneous manifestations is the best character of the book. Spawned by a conversation that simply poses an opposite force to the God of wine, Bibulous, there appears in a snowdrift Bilious, Oh-God of Hangovers. Permanently cursed by nausea, dizziness, headache and the collected regret of every mortals’ “night before”. Existence is pain for Bilious, but it also gives him the opportunity to exact some much needed revenge against his opposed deity, when consuming a hangover cure (to end ALL hangover cures) sends its’ toxic effects to Bibulous who nearly explodes in the middle of his eternal party.
Here is a book that digs deep into the concept of belief, and how mythology and ritual shift and mutate over generations. It shows how belief in itself has a power that is at once vitalizing, dangerous, maddening, and therapeutic. How quickly we fill the shadows with monsters, and attribute inexplicable happenstance to something tangible, and yet what magic this conjures.
Case in point, Hogfather is not only an amazing story, but comes with one of the richest character casts of any other in the series. Easily one of the best Discworld books, and – like any other in the series – well worth the read. It’s also the only book who’s live-action interpretation didn’t make me want to swallow my own teeth in rage.
*Correct at time of publishing. Citation needed, hence the link I put there so you can cite it. It’s a citing site. It’ll let you mentally update the number that I put there without me having to change it daily. Aren’t I nice to you?