Fantasy Review: ‘Hogfather’ by Terry Pratchett

Hogfather (Discworld, #20)Part 20 of The Complete Discworld Re-read

Find a group of five people who, like me, have read the entire Discworld series.  Ask them to name their top five books in the series.  Two will show up on every list, Small Gods and Night Watch.  Two will differ greatly depending on which sub series is a personal favorite; at this moment I would say Feet of Clay and Wyrd Sisters.  And on four out of five lists you will see Hogfather.  I am that fifth person who never figured out why.

I read nineteen Discworld books in the first fifteen months of this blog.  It took me three months and all my will power to get through Hogfather, finishing up mid-March something I thought I would have read by Christmas.  The fact is I just didn’t care.  Wastrel is slowly catching up to me and will no doubt tell me everything I missed in quite a lot of detail but I saw this as one of Pratchett’s weaker outings.  Not in a ‘too many easy jokes’ way like Soul Music was plagued by, but I didn’t find it all that interesting of a story.

The Auditors of reality hate life, and even more so they hate things that don’t fit into their logic and mathematical algorisms (it would be so much simpler if they could just calculate orbits of dead rocks and so on).  Their target this time is a children’s story, a man called the Hogfather who goes around one night a year and drops off presents.  And they mean business this time, hiring out Assassins to take down someone who shouldn’t exists.  Enter Teatime (Te-ah-tim-eh) to do the impossible, an assassin so far past crzy he comes around the other side.  Death stalls the disappearance by putting on a suit and a beard and eventually his granddaughter Susan (with the help of a minor god of hangovers) has to find a way to reverse this tragedy.

Start with the good.  Toward the end of the book we get to watch a full history timeline of the creation and shaping of a modern myth through Susan’s eyes.  I can’t begin to explain how awesome it was, and the parallels to Santa were obviously deliberate and still worked great.  It is only a couple pages long but is among the best imagery Pratchett ever provides.  Wonderful.

Susan continues to infuriate me as a main protagonist.  I may have mentioned this before but I absolutely adore her.  She is strong and capable and funny gets to threaten the raven and bicker with the Death of Rats.  She is the best governess ever, and no monster in the closet is a match for Susan with a fireplace poker.  Her grandfather is Death, and because he sometimes gets invested in humanity it is up to her to keep things going.  Maybe she outshines everything else though, because the novels that surround her do her no justice.

There is the typical humor, and again it can be laughing out loud type of stuff, jokes that you don’t want to read at the restaurant while drinking a soda.  Things that should be a bit silly, and might be, but are still hilarious.  A fairy flying around trying to cheer up wizards, whether they want cheered up or not; and then the shift as the wizards pretend to be having fun just to keep her cheered.  A giant, self building computer that has been a running joke in the series clutching on to a teddy bear and refusing to run without it.  Death himself showing a surprising amount of human intuition when he plays a small joke on his butler Alfred toward the end.

And Pratchett also gives me some of the depth that people often miss when they write him off as just a humor writer.  He is dealing with the Santa tale here and remembers the little things.  Alfred explaining to him why the kids can’t get everything they ask for despite the apparent injustice of it (and pointing out that to a kid ‘it’s the thought that count’ doesn’t make up for not getting the toy they long for).  What happens when someone with a huge meal decides to just share it with a poorer neighbor; who’s mind does it ease?  Little awesome things.

So I am giving a whole lot of good in this book I started out by blasting, what’s up with that?  Because this book, like Reaper Man a few back, has about three storylines too many is a giant bloody mess.  I love the wizards because they are funny and their banter is second to none.  But they were a side plot, a diversion, and I grew tired of it.  For every deep thought Pratchett through at us he also did one easy Christmas allusion that only counts as a joke in a bad parody movie.  Teatime was a treat at first; and an interesting character study (in that he is a person who sees people as objects, and all the implications of that).  But I was sick and tired of him by the end, and his little band.  I get it; he is amazing, an evil Gary Stu, and always one step ahead.  But in the end he was a brilliant plan and a few jokes about pronouncing his name right, not worth the page time given.

The fact is if I had just picked this one up, taken it to work, and read it my thoughts would be the same but I could have gotten through it in a day.  It is short and has plenty of good going.  But trying to figure out why some of the storylines were there at all, and the inability of Pratchett to get to the point, made me continually put off finishing it.  Usually by the last third of one of his titles I put down everything else and finish it.  This one just didn’t catch me the same way.

3 Stars

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