Thursday, 22 December 2011

The Discworld: The Hogfather and Christmas

Many of the Discworld books mirror (or parody) our world (if you’re not familiar with the Discworld see here and here). The Last Continent, for example, is laugh at Australia and some of our history, food and traditions. But that’s OK because we Aussies are so laid-back we’re horizontal and quite capable of having a laugh at ourselves. Anyway, a lot of it is true and there’s no denying the truth, right?

The Hogfather is the Discworld’s answer to Christmas. You might have seen it listed in the 12 Blogs of Christmas: Books. I could also have listed it in 12 Blogsof Christmas: Favourite Holiday Movies because they made a TV movie, but I chose not to, for variety. 

The Hogfather is a big, fat man in a red suit who delivers toys in a sleigh pulled by four hogs. Sound familiar? OK, except for the hogs. Unlike Santa, the Hogfather harks back to more primitive times, when Hogswatch was a sun festival, and he still has some of those trappings. 
Susan, Death's granddaughter

The Hogfather, like Death, is an anthropomorphic personality. That is, people’s belief in him has generated an actual corporeal representation of what is otherwise a natural force. In the Hogfather’s case, it’s the belief of children that keep him alive.  We know from Small Gods, where the great god Om was reduced to a powerless tortoise because he had but one believer, what happens when belief fades. When people stop believing, gods die…

When the Hogfather dies, the consequences are more terrible than disappointed children. 

If the Hogfather dies, the sun will not rise.

In The Hogfather, the Guild of Assassins has been engaged by the Auditors of Reality (kind of self-explanatory really – you could see how the Discworld’s existence might annoy them a tad!) to eliminate the Hogfather. This task is assigned to Mr Teatime, of whom Lord Downey, head of the assassins says:
“We took pity on him because he'd lost both parents at an early age. I think that, on reflection, we should have wondered a bit more about that.”

Mr Teatime’s cunning plan is to kill the Hogfather by preventing children believing in him. This he does by breaking into the Tooth Fairy’s domain and seizing the stash of teeth, which he uses to control all the children. This is a reference to many old beliefs that witches and the like can use a part of you, a tooth, some hair, nail clippings and so forth, to work their will on you. 

And it works. As belief in the Hogfather wanes, spare belief starts flapping around, to the point where even the mention of something, like an eater of Socks or Verucca Gnome, causes a glingleglingleglingle sound signalling the creation of that creature – because someone believes in it, and as we know, belief gives life. And we all believe in the Eater of Socks, right? That’s the reason we can only ever find one sock from a pair. Where does the other one go? We never find it. It must have been the Eater of Socks!

Death as the Hogfather
In an attempt to make children believe in the Hogfather, despite Mr Teatime, Death delivers the Hogfather’s presents, being sure to be seen in a long red cloak and a white beard. Imagine, a skeleton with a beard… I’m not sure it would have the desired effect! The role isn’t precisely one that comes naturally to him:
"ER...HO. HO. HO."
 I suspect that the cheerful ‘Ho Ho Ho’ lacks a little something when delivered in a leaden voice that sounds like crypt doors slamming. Even on paper it comes across as a little grim. 

It falls to Susan, Death’s granddaughter (who wishes she was anything but and would like to be left to live a normal life) to find the real Hogfather. At the Castle of Bones (wow, I think I like the North Pole better!) she meets the Oh God of Hangovers, also created by the excess belief floating around. His name is Bilious and he gets the hangover every time the God of Wine gets drunk. No wonder he runs around saying ‘oh me!’ so much (think about it for a minute if you don’t get it). Poor chap, I have to say I can’t help but laugh at his predicament. He is one of my favourites in this book.  

Bilious, Oh God of Hangovers
While probably not one of my favourite Discworld books, The Hogfather is, like all of them, entertaining and hilariously funny. Susan is an interesting practical figure who takes no nonsense from monsters (Death’s granddaughter, remember?) and Death is always worth a laugh for his awkward attempts to be something he’s not. The Wizards of Unseen University make an appearance with Hex, their ‘computer’, which is always guaranteed a laugh. Kind of like watching a bunch of people who really don’t understand the first thing about computers try and make one work. 

I’d give this four stars out of five. Now I wonder where I packed it… it is Christmas and I should read it!

This will be my last post of the year. Tomorrow we are moving into the house we just built (which if you are interested you can see here). I have the internet organised, but with the holiday season, who knows when it will be connected. 
So have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year and hopefully I will see you all after January 1!


Sher A Hart said...

Terry Pratchett is one of my favorite authors, discovered very late compared to my other faves. I saw this movie and wasn't impressed with how the parody and sarcasm came out, but I'm sure I would love the book.  Merry Christmas and happy moving, if such a thing as the latter is even possible.

Ciara Ballintyne said...

The book is definitely better. The books have always been better, for every TV adaptation of anything Discworld I have ever seen. But I did like Susan's appearance in the movie, and Death was reasonably well-done, even down to the blue sparks in his eyes...erm... eye sockets. I was less impressed with the tooth fairy parts of it, but to be honest I never liked that particular part of the book either. Maybe a little too creepy?

Jenny said...

I put this in my netflix thing to watch but I'm not entirely sure I wanna bother. Kinda looks boring and I've seen bits of it on tv before and wasn't entirely impressed.

Amberr Meadows said...

You know, I'm late but I want to still see the movie anyway. I hope you got all moved and settled in. What an unfortunate time a year to do something so big. Ready for you to come blog again, too. Happy New Year!

Ciara Ballintyne said...

Thanks Amberr! The move is complete but the unpacking not so much... I am hoping to be back on the blogging circuit later this week.

Ciara Ballintyne said...

The book is a lot better than the movie.Some of Terry Pratchett's wit does not convert well visually. If you were at all interested in reading Discworld novels, though, there are others I would suggest starting with before The Hogfather. 

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