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Review: “Hogfather (1996)” by Terry Pratchett (5 Stars)

Densely wrapped satire cleverly tucked in around a holiday plot loaf of good cheer, and baked with a robust premise which is both refreshingly poignant and wildly genius—it’s an important Hogswatch on the Disc this season—mind the bells—Glingleglingleglingle!!!

Do you believe in the Hogfather?! It’s rather important. Belief is the foundation of this carefully woven satire with an in-world holiday that closely resembles a common tradition on our own world. Pratchett pulls out all the stops in this layered tale that explores both the importance and meaning of belief.

The story is strong right out of the gate. Within very few pages I found myself laughing out loud, pulling my head out of the book, and wondering how on the Disc he could cover so much ground so quickly. That’s Pratchett for you.

Death personified plays a strong part in this book stepping into an unusual role when some bothersome forces have decided to finance a rather dark conspiracy for this season’s holiday. These meddlesome figures have ordered the end of the Hogfather and have the money to make this seemingly impossible task happen. In earth-speak, there’s a hit out on Santa Claus.

As in other yarns told by this master storyteller characters abound on the page and stack up at a steady pace. He jumps from heroes to villains, from foibles to set pieces and back again. The point of view shifts continuously and all without the benefit of chapter breaks (which is nothing new for a Discworld book). Never too worry, you’re in good hands and the narrative progresses expertly and always forward. It’s all part of the fun with a Pratchett novel. You get so many unique and distinct voices that it’s nearly impossible to get caught up in the chaos which the characters themselves are embroiled. All the thread lines of plot work in parallel and compliment each other keeping you well invested with the trials and tribulations of the chief protagonist (Susan) who’s investigating why her grandfather (Death – no less) has taken it upon himself to play the role of the Hogfather this year. Something’s gone all too wrong.

We get a better appreciation for what’s at stake on the greater Disc by chumming along with the bumbling wizards of the Unseen University as their preparations for the holiday turn into misadventures and existential explorations, which lead to the invention of a true-to-life artificial contraption in the form of the Disc’s first computer: Hex (another fun character).

Pratchett also has us following the baddies as they go about their business of mucking things up for everyone (intentionally and not so intentionally). We get a range of interesting characters here from the indolent bruiser, Banjo, and his overly clever brother, Medium Dave, to the straight up psychopathic killer, Teatime. Their journey is fascinating and you can’t help but feel curious to see where they’ll end up. Pratchett manages to tread some very interesting notes with these antagonists by deftly committing wonderful comedy for the reader, while at the same time intruding with real and actual disturbing acts that remind us that these chaps are playing for keeps and it’s not all fun and games. Yet, the author holds that line never managing to descend into pointless violence and depravity for its own purpose—whatever the motives of the characters. The other side of the coin is always lurking there on the backside to reveal the absurdity of things.

Death’s granddaughter (who’s a sort Merry Poppins character on steroids) reminds us that there is much good left on the Disc—especially for those kind-hearted folks who just want a bit of normal now and again, and when the chips are down, by gosh, they’re ready to fight for it! Her cunning and persistence lead the way as she explores the unraveling mystery which is threatening the general order of things on the Disc (whatever order means on a flat Disc-shaped planet). She knows something isn’t right and it has to do with the supernatural. Her inner conflict with this is oddly humanist. She’s related to Death himself and just wants to be left alone (everyone has a relative of some sort that sometimes they’d rather not see), but she won’t give in to isolationism when it gets right down to it. So, she becomes a sort of sleuth and adventurer looking for the clues that will help her discover what has really gone wrong.

All the while that things are getting upended—the characters have to wonder what’s behind the curtain of belief. Even, Susan, the protagonist who’s related to Death and knows he is real, has trouble believing that something like the Hogfather is real and what role he could possibly have on the Disc besides living in the hearts and minds of children.

Well, Pratchett gets to the center of all this nonsense in his sort of philosophical and satirical way and leaves you with those thoughts you usually get when you read something particularly good. And, of course, the story underscores this all. Perhaps it’s the sort of thing you might expect from a fantasy writer, but perhaps it’s more than that—or, exactly that? Pratchett’s wisdom seems to cut right to the core of life and what it means to be alive. This novel really gets at that.

Podcast: If you enjoy my review (or this topic) this book and the movie based on it were further discussed/debated in a lively discussion on my podcast: “No Deodorant In Outer Space”. The podcast is available on Apple Podcast, Spotify, Tune-In Radio, Stitcher, Google Play Music, YouTube or our website (www.nodeodorant.com).

Episode Link: https://nodeodorantinouterspace.wordpress.com/2019/12/17/review-hogfather-terry-pratchett

 
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Posted by on December 17, 2019 in Book Reviews

 

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