Classic Review: Hogfather
As it is the season to be jolly and whatnot, I have decided to discuss one of my favourite books by one of my favourite authors. The Discworld books overall, are a bit hit and miss. Pratchett’s tendency to pontificate and wander off topic make for amusing reading but not always a very coherent experience. They are books that not only fail to draw you in but delight in holding you at arm’s length. No doubt a part of this is rooted in them beginning their lives as satire of the fantasy genre, it was necessary for them to hold themselves apart so that they could point out the inherent flaws, if you were immersed then you would simply accept the ridiculous as a part of the world, as you do with every other fantasy book.
So why am I praising this book if it has no immersion for the reader? Because that same lack of immersion in the story actually allows you to do some very interesting things indeed. It lets you make silly jokes and references to history and mythology that the readers will be aware of, yet the characters, in their separate world, never can be. The other interesting thing that it does, is allows the author to address concepts that most books never even get to touch on directly, as Pratchett does with the subject of faith and belief in Hogfather.
When it comes to belief, there is no subject more ripe for interpretation than Santa Claus. A modern mythical character who’s benevolence relies entirely on your belief in him is a perfect fit for Pratchett’s exploration of the connection between belief and existence within the Discworld. It has been mentioned in previous books that the gods of the Discworld exist solely because of their believers, that new gods spring into being when they receive enough worship and that the relative power of the gods is tied directly to how many worshippers they have. It is touched on again in my personal favourite of all the Discworld books; Monstrous Regiment, but within Hogfather we get to see the other side of the same coin, the way in which deliberately stripping belief away can destroy these powerful figures. The brief interludes in which the pagan ancestry of the modern “Father Christmas” is addressed just add another layer of intrigue, where the personalities of these mythical figures changes based on what is known of them, what is believed of them and what is remembered.
There is comedy involved in the book of course, every Discworld book breathes in air and breaths out laughter. Most of the comical interludes revolve around the character of Death, who is attempting to maintain faith in the Hogfather by fulfilling his traditional duties and failing in various amusing manners. Meanwhile it is Death’s granddaughter Susan who is left with the rather thankless task of trying to prevent the old god from falling to his enemies.
To discuss the mechanisms by which the gods can be murdered is to spoil far too much of this book, but needless to say it is clever, inventive and bone-chilling in the way that only good comedy can be.
If you can’t be bothered to leave out a pork pie for the Hogfather this year, then at least read this story about him. It stands alone perfectly well.