Speculative Chic Book Club: Hogfather

Welcome to the Speculative Chic Book Club! Each month, we invite you to join us in reading a book that is voted on by YOU, our readers. We’re still experimenting with the format, so just like last month, this month we’re just doing a review followed by your discussion in the comments!

Hogfather (1996)the-greatest-lines-of-terry-pratchett-14
Written by: Terry Pratchett
Pages: 421 (Kindle)
Series: Discworld
Publisher: HarperCollins

Why I nominated this for book club: ‘Tis the season, right? When the weather turns bitterly cold and families gather around their warm fireplaces, it’s the time for Hogswatchnight and a visit from the Hogfather. Surely.

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.

This book club post assumes that you have read the book, which means there will be spoilers in the write up and the comments section.


Discussion: Look, you are either the kind of person who enjoys Terry Pratchett, or you aren’t, and I am 1000% the kind of person that enjoys him. Especially Discworld, the world that actually is a flat earth on the backs of four elephants who in turn are on the back of a large turtle floating through space. It’s utterly ridiculous, and I absolutely love it.

But that’s because honestly, underneath the ridiculous, the Death of Rats (SQUEAK), Death’s granddaughter Susan, crows that can talk and are endlessly looking for a squishy eyeball to eat, there’s just something more. It’s not just ridiculous. Pratchett does an admirable job of making these characters seem human, of relating their problems to problems anyone might face, if slightly more ridiculous, and introducing a philosophy and religion that I just find incredibly interesting.

I’ve mentioned before on this website my fascination with the intersection of religion and speculative fiction. I’ve always loved Terry Pratchett’s take on the notion of belief, which is that believing in something makes it real. It’s also a notion shared by one of his friends and one-time co-author, Neil Gaiman, who made it the basis for American Gods, which saw the rise of new gods of Internet and such and a war with the old gods who might be more familiar. (That’s not a spoiler, by the way, don’t worry.) Although American Gods is a lot grittier than Discworld. Like, by miles.

It’s not even a story that’s entirely unknown to Christmas movies, if Miracle on 34th Street is anything to go by, or Santa’s busted sleigh in Will Ferrell’s Elf. I hadn’t read Hogfather before, though I have read others of the Discworld series, and I was really excited to find out this belief played such a large part of the plot, especially since Pratchett puts such a hilarious spin on it like only he can. Death visiting children as the Hogfather was every bit out of place as Jack Skellington taking over Santa Claus’ role. The pony in the bedroom? The hogs that peed all over The Maul? I was in hysterics.

And in the category of something more, I still ended up getting a little misty-eyed at the end, especially in the conversation that Susan has with Death after she frees the Hogfather.

HUMANS NEED FANTASY TO BE HUMAN. TO BE THE PLACE WHERE THE FALLING ANGEL MEETS THE RISING APE.

“Tooth fairies? Hogfathers? Little — ”

YES. AS PRACTICE. YOU HAVE TO START OUT LEARNING TO BELIEVE LITTLE LIES.

“So we can believe the big ones?”

YES. JUSTICE. MERCY. DUTY. THAT SORT OF THING.

“They’re not the same at all!”

YOU THINK SO? THEN TAKE THE UNIVERSE AND GRIND IT DOWN TO THE FINEST POWDER AND SIEVE IT THROUGH THE FINEST SIEVE AND THEN SHOW ME ONE ATOM OF JUSTICE, ONE MOLECULE OF MERCY. AND YET — Death waved a hand. AND YET YOU ACT AS IF THERE IS SOME IDEAL ORDER IN THE WORLD, AS IF THERE IS SOME….SOME RIGHTNESS IN THE UNIVERSE BY WHICH IT MAY BE JUDGED.

“Yes, but people have got to believe that, or what’s the point — ”

MY POINT EXACTLY (pg. 380).

Terry Pratchett’s books often remind me of what it’s like to just be human. To have despair and frivolity walk hand-in-hand on the same pages, and to move forward anyway. His humor isn’t hollow, and his despair isn’t without some kernel of hope.

In conclusion: This entire series is a trip, and I can’t believe I haven’t read more of them. That’s going to be a challenge to myself one day, to actually finish this entire series in order. Until then, taking occasional dips into the series is still just as enjoyable. That said, I don’t think this one would be a good one to read as your first Discworld, as it assumes familiarity with too much of the world. But it’s a fun addition to the Discworld universe!

6 Comments

  • Casey Price December 23, 2017 at 2:16 pm

    I cannot have reasonable discourse about this novel, because I love it too much. The parts in the Maul were my favorite, I think. The girl with the pony never fails to make me giggle. Because putting a pony in the kitchen WOULD be ridiculous, when you get down to it. And Nobby getting his gift was too amusing.

    The part that you quoted is a great example of Pratchett tossing in thought-provoking concepts in the middle of ridiculous scenarios. I love those moments when something that seems silly is suddenly revealed to be a serious, deep idea.

    I wonder what people thought about the side plots involving the Oh God of Hangovers and the wizards. I feel like I’m in the minority, but I’m fond of the wizards and the university. And Susan is probably my favorite Discworld character of all of them.

    This wasn’t my first Discworld book way back when – I tried going in order and found myself stumbling over some of the earlier books. Mort was where things really started taking off for me.

    Reply
    • Merrin December 25, 2017 at 2:09 pm

      Thief of Time was my first Pratchett so Death has always been a favorite of mine, and Susan is flipping great. I loved how literal Death was with his presents, especially the pony haha

      I was a fan of the side plot with the wizards and the Oh God of Hangovers, laughed a lot about that!

      Reply
  • Kelly McCarty December 26, 2017 at 10:21 pm

    This was my first Pratchett book. I found it amusing and enjoyable, but it’s probably not the ideal book to start with. I’m not sure where one is supposed to begin with these novels because there does seem to be about fifty of them. My favorites were the raven and the Death of Rats.

    Reply
    • Merrin December 27, 2017 at 1:36 am

      Death of Rats is always a good time!

      Reply
    • Shara White December 27, 2017 at 10:08 am

      If you want to read more by him to get a better sense, Casey shared this handy chart with me once upon a time ago to help readers figure out where to start with different books in the world.

      https://io9.gizmodo.com/how-to-read-terry-pratchetts-discworld-series-in-one-h-1567312812

      Reply
    • Casey Price January 1, 2018 at 10:20 am

      If you liked the Death of Rats and the raven, start with MORT and then read the other “Death” novels: REAPER MAN, SOUL MUSIC, HOGFATHER (again, if you are so inclined), and THIEF OF TIME (which was especially brilliant and lovely). You can also go to this page for other suggested reading orders: https://www.terrypratchettbooks.com/types/discworld-by-character/
      There’s no wrong way to go about reading Discworld, but it is generally suggested to avoid strict chronological order, and NOT start with THE COLOR OF MAGIC. However, I will say that going in chronological order gives you a bit of background on things such as why the University librarian is an orangutan, and why the Burser has gone senile. I am in the minority, in that I adored THE COLOR OF MAGIC and the second chronological book, THE LIGHT FANTASTIC. I am very fond of Rincewind the wizard and the Luggage.

      Reply

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