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Tuesday, December 2, 2008



(A Discworld Novel)

by Terry Pratchett

(4/5 stars)

In the fictional Discworld, which is carried by four elephants atop a giant turtle floating through space, what we would consider Christmas is known as Hogwatch. The jolly, bearded fat man in the red suit we would associate with Santa Claus is known as the Hogfather and drives a team of four boars instead of eight reindeer. This year, though, something has gone amiss--mainly the Hogfather himself--and so if the Hogfather looks as if he's lost a lot of weight it's because Death is standing in for him.

The plot itself for "Hogfather" sounds like one of those cheesy Christmas specials we used to see more of on television like "The Flintstones Save Christmas" or "Ernest Saves Christmas" or even "The Santa Clause" where some ordinary klutz has to fill in for Santa and bring toys and cheer to the good little boys and girls. But things are never that simple or straightforward in the Discworld. While the Grim Reaper is filling the Hogfather's boots, his "granddaughter" Susan goes in search of the Hogfather, which ultimately involves assassins and The Tooth Fairy. Meanwhile, at Unseen University, the school for wizards, strange things are happening like gods and fairies appearing out of thin air. (It makes slightly more sense when you read the book.)

The story centers not so much on "saving Christmas, er, Hogwatch" as on the nature of belief and how it changes over time. In particular is the concept of old gods serving new purposes. If you look back through history you can compare the roles of old gods like Zeus or Odin with the Christian God (or Jesus) or Hindu gods, and so forth. No matter the society or the religion humans have always had a need for belief in something, even if it's something ridiculous like a jolly fat man and a team of flying hogs.

There's a good moral as well in the story of Death learning to be Santa, er, Hogfather in that Christmas, er, Hogwatch doesn't always mean getting everything you want. Even as children a little disappointment is necessary to help us mature into adults. (You've seen what happens to people who get everything they want growing up with the Paris Hiltons of the world.)

So really what could have in lesser hands been rendered into a cheap, sappy Christmas special has been given far more meaning by Mr. Pratchett. Not to mention the book is hilarious and a breeze to read. Some of the things near the end were a little confusing, but overall this was a great read for the holidays.

I bought the British miniseries of this off the Amazon Black Friday sale; I hear the miniseries sticks pretty close to the book, which would be a good thing. Once it arrives I'll have to find out.

That is all.

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