You Need to Believe In Things That Aren’t True: A Review of Terry Pratchett’s Hogfather

Ah, December. Bringer of holidays and new weather patterns. Almost everyone celebrates something in December, and as such, everyone has their own holiday traditions. For me, personally, December brings on a Christmas tradition that goes back at least ten years. For me, December means that it’s time to re-read Terry Pratchett’s take on Christmas, Hogfather.

As much as you might not know it, from looking at my contributions here at Speculative Chic, I don’t actually re-read too many things these days. I used to, when I was younger and read faster than I could acquire new material, but that doesn’t really happen so much now. However, I always make an exception for something like Hogfather (and for most of Pratchett’s books, actually).

I have had a long and fulfilling relationship with Terry Pratchett’s work, which started in college. I was a sad little thing when I was stuck at school. I attended a huge university that, in retrospect, was not the best place for me. I found my solace in the ridiculous tales of Discworld.

So Hogfather, which I first read in one of my first holidays home from college, became something of a tradition that I am pleased to carry on to this day. I don’t read it every single year, but I try to revisit it at least every two or three years. The holiday season has never been easy for me, and this is something that always, without fail, makes me feel better. How do you review a favorite novel? It’s definitely difficult to look at it from an objective point of view. I will endeavor to do so.

Hogfather (1996)hogfather-2
Written by: Terry Pratchett
Pages: 416 (Mass Market Paperback)
Series: Book 20 of Discworld
Publisher: Harper

Why I Chose It: This is a favorite book of mine, especially for the late part of the year. It’s Christmas as told by one of the greatest comedic fantasy writers of our time. It’s clever and charming, and again, one of my favorite novels by one of my favorite writers.

The premise:

Who would want to harm Discworld’s most beloved icon? Very few things are held sacred in this twisted, corrupt, heartless — and oddly familiar — universe, but the Hogfather is one of them. Yet here it is, Hogswatchnight, that most joyous and acquisitive of times, and the jolly, old, red-suited gift-giver has vanished without a trace. And there’s something shady going on involving an uncommonly psychotic member of the Assassins’ Guild and certain representatives of Ankh-Morpork’s rather extensive criminal element. Suddenly Discworld’s entire myth system is unraveling at an alarming rate. Drastic measures must be taken, which is why Death himself is taking up the reins of the fat man’s vacated sleigh . . . which, in turn, has Death’s level-headed granddaughter, Susan, racing to unravel the nasty, humbuggian mess before the holiday season goes straight to hell and takes everyone along with it.

There will be no spoilers.


Discussion: First, I must acknowledge that I realize that there are no perfect books. That said, it’s damned hard for me to find flaws with this particular book. They are certainly present; they simply aren’t plentiful. This is, perhaps, one reason why I am able to come back to this novel again and again, always finding something enjoyable.

The premise already tells you that Death (arguably one of Pratchett’s best characters) has taken on the role of the Discworld’s answer to Santa Claus/Father Christmas, the Hogfather. Death’s reasons for doing this are not important for the purpose of this review. What is important is Pratchett’s handling of this seemingly ridiculous scenario: here we have Death, an imposing, frightening figure, traveling the world to bring gifts and joy to children. Readers familiar with Pratchett’s Death are doubtlessly picturing this and chuckling. If you haven’t experienced Pratchett’s take on Death, don’t start with this novel. (See this page for a proper breakdown on the different character sets and accompanying novels in their proper reading order.). If you’ve dipped into Pratchett’s series and haven’t made it to Hogfather yet, what are you waiting for?

Here’s a scene that is completely priceless. Death, as the Hogfather, decides that one of the things that a proper Hogfather must do is appear in a department store to visit with children and listen to their Hogswatch wishes. Death tries very hard to study humans and understand their ways. As such, he tries very hard to be the best possible Hogfather that he can be. (Note for the uninitiated: Death always speaks in only capital letters. Nor does he require quotation marks. He is Death, after all.)

In the Grotto of the Hogfather, a round-eyed child.
HAPPY HOGSWATCH. HO. HO. HO. AND YOUR NAME IS…EUPHRASIA GOAT, CORRECT?
“Go on, dear, answer the nice man.”
“ ’s.”
AND YOU ARE SIX YEARS OLD.
“Go on, dear. They’re all the same at this age, aren’t they…”
“ ‘s.”
AND YOU WANT A PONY—
“ ‘s.” A small hand pulled the Hogfather’s hood down to mouth level. Heavy Uncle Albert heard a ferocious whispering. Then the Hogfather leaned back.
YES, I KNOW. WHAT A NAUGHTY PIG IT WAS, INDEED.*
His shape flickered for a moment, and then a hand went into the sack.
HERE IS A BRIDLE FOR YOUR PONY, AND A SADDLE, AND A RATHER STRANGE HARD HAT AND A PAIR OF THOSE TROUSERS THAT MAKE YOU LOOK AS THOUGH YOU HAVE A LARGE RABBIT IN EACH POCKET.
“But we can’t have a pony, can we, Euffie, because we live on the third floor…”
OH, YES. IT’S IN THE KITCHEN.
“I’m sure you’re making a little joke, Hogfather,” said Mother, sharply.
HO. HO. HO. YES. WHAT A JOLLY FAT MAN I AM. IN THE KITCHEN? WHAT A JOKE. DOLLIES AND SO ON WILL BE DELIVERED LATER AS PER YOUR LETTER.
(page 124).
*The Hogfather travels by sleigh, of course, pulled by four large pigs. When Death arrived at the department store, one of the pigs marked its territory, so to speak.

I mentioned previously that the novel is not without flaws. There is an entire side plot involving the Unseen University (where wizards are educated) that is semi-unnecessary. The novel doesn’t really stand on its own as well as other volumes in the series do; one could read it independent of the rest of the series, but it wouldn’t be nearly as enjoyable, and Susan’s situation would be rather confusing. The humor is of a Certain Type (rather absurd, quite British) that might be lost on some individuals.

Otherwise? This is a wonderful book. The satire on fantasy tropes (a feature of almost all Discworld novels) is too good to resist. The dialogue is priceless. Death interacting with the outside world is always worth reading.

In Conclusion: It is a testament to Pratchett’s talent that so many of his books are so enjoyable on the second, third, tenth time that a reader has dived in. Hogfather does not disappoint, even after many years. If you have read the book, what did you enjoy? What didn’t you enjoy? Try not to spoil it for the others.

Happy Hogswatch!

2 Comments

  • Olya (aka Weasel of Doom) December 8, 2016 at 5:51 pm

    I love Terry Pratchett! My absolute favorite of his is “Small Gods”, but “Hogfather” is made of awesome, too 🙂

    Reply
  • Lane Robins December 8, 2016 at 10:32 pm

    One of my very favorite Pratchett books. There’s just so much good in it, from the frightening bad guy to the way myths are shown to be fluid. Love it so much!

    Reply

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