Fantasy Review: ‘Small Gods’ by Terry Pratchett

Part 13 of The Complete Discworld Reread

I. ‘ SMALL GODS’ IS THE STORY OF BRUTHA, LAST OF THE PROPHETS TO THE GREAT GOD OM.  IT IS CONSIDERED BY MANY TO BE THE BEST BOOK BY PRATCHETT FOR GOOD REASON.  IT SHOULD BE THE ONLY BOOK A PERSON EVER NEEDS TO READ.

It is true that ‘Small Gods’ is a hell of a book, and is probably my favorite of the author’s vast catalog.  I don’t know how many times I have read it in my life, but over a dozen is a safe bet.  It tells the story of Brutha, an illiterate novice in the Church of Om.  Tending the garden he hears the voice of his god coming from a small turtle.  Turns out that in the middle of the temple dedicated exclusively to Om, filled with statues in his image and an inquisition designed to keep everyone on the true path, Om can only find one actual believer.  And for gods on Discworld, belief is the sole way to power.

II. EVERYONE MUST KNOW THE STORY OF OM AND BRUTHA.  THE TRAVELS THEY TOOK TOGETHER.  BRUTHA’S RISE.  THE NEED TO ALWAYS BE KIND TO TURTLES.

Brutha never had a single doubt about his god, but once he gets proof the rest of his beliefs go up in flames.  The church itself is going through some harsh measures to enforce its beliefs.  The inquisition enforces the rules of prophet after prophet, rules that the great god Om claims to know nothing about.  A resistance is growing, starting with the simple verifiable fact that globe Omians claim the world to be a globe is false, every traveler knows it is a disc sitting on a turtle.  With the cry of “the turtle moves” flowing through the church Vorbis, high deacon of the inquisition, decides it best to stamp out the heresy at the source.  A trip to the philosophers’ city of sin is planned, and Brutha is dragged along.

III. VORBIS IS A COMPLETE ASSHOLE.

Ya, he really is, but he is a wonderful villain character.  Ice cold doesn’t even begin to describe him.  It is pointed out that some people in the inquisition truly enjoy hurting people, making them merely terrible humans.  Vorbis truly thinks people deserve it, making him a true monster.  Terrible as he is Vorbis makes the perfect counterpoint to the saint like Brutha.  Even after he shows his worse Brutha is there time and time again to right his path, right up to the perfect ending.

IV. DESPITE BEING WRONG IN THE PAST BE ASSURED THAT THE CURRENT CHURCH OF OM CAN NEVER BE WRONG.

Writing a book that mocks religion, or aspects of religion, can be tricky.  Many authors would be content to just be mean; have everyone in power shown to be a buffoon and make fun of the funny little rituals and contradictions in text.  Pratchett took a different tact.  While the institutions of the church had major problems the solution was a reformation rather than a dismantling.  It is a more respectful tone that is one of the reasons I find the book so readable.  The fact that we know from the start that God exists changes everything.  People living in fear find themselves believing in fear more than the god.    A favorite passage comes from an outsider to the church remarking on a stoning he watched; every person present was absolutely certain of one thing, that they were not the person being stoned.

V. THE GREAT GOD OM DEMANDS THAT REVIEWERS OF HIS BOOK GUSH A BIT MORE.  THERE IS NEVER ENOUGH PRAISE!

I can’t really gush enough about Small Gods.  There is no way I can give it a fair review, and it took me a week to write this silly thing up.  I never realized how hard it is to explain why one of your favorite things is so good.  But damn, it is hard.  This is the best I can do.  Please read Small Gods if you have not, it is one of the best.  As a plus it is a standalone within a series and requires no knowledge of the rest of the series to read.

5 stars.

VI. THE END!

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