Hello and welcome to a special holiday edition of Recommended Reading! Today we’ll be talking about our Light Solstice Reading Club selection, Terry Pratchett’s Hogfather. I’m so happy we could share this reading experience together. I didn’t remember much from my prior read, so this was almost like reading it for the first time. And what can I say? Pratchett is almost always good, but when he’s transcendent, he’s transcendent.
Hogfather tells the story of the time
Santa Cl the Hogfather is, for lack of a better term, killed. By the assassin Mr. Teatime, which is of course pronounced the-ah-tim-eh, though everybody mispronounces it immediately, even if they’ve never seen it spelled. Death must step in and deliver the presents. Meanwhile a surplus of belief is sloshing around the Discworld, giving rise to the Oh God of Hangovers, the Eater of Socks, and more. We follow various heroes and villains as they navigate this new reality. In the end, balance is restored, reality’s humorless scolds defeated (for now).
Hogfather hits a real sweet spot for me: I’m a sucker for holiday specials, and like Neil Gaiman I think Death is Pratchett’s best character. This book is a pile of contradictions, a god-riddled argument for secular humanism, a rationalist’s paean to irrational belief, where Death is the only character who seems to understand the meaning of life. And it’s so well-engineered that it actually works. In the hands of a lesser author, so many things could go wrong. But they don’t, because this is Pratchett at the top of his very considerable game. Everything comes together in the end for a denouement that I’m not ashamed to admit made me cry a little. Especially Banjo’s fate.
When I read a paperback I dog-ear the bottom corners for favorite passages. I ended up with a lot for this one, sometimes on facing pages. So much to love in this book. As somebody who’s attended his share of Episcopal, Jewish, and Neo-Pagan solstice celebrations, I think Pratchett does a great job capturing the true meaning of Hogswatch–fire and blood, annoying relatives in paper hats, ancient rituals to chase away the smothering darkness with lights and pretty pictures. And big, stupid myths we tell our children. The tiniest worm in the ocean, a red flame in the crushing black depths, speaks volumes in this story. Its life is so irrational, striving against oblivion, and why?
Because otherwise, the universe is just a bunch of rocks moving in curves. Without our sometimes ridiculous applications of the anthropic principle–personified here as a professor–when the sun rises after the darkest day of the year, it’s just a ball of flaming gas. Without the Hogfather–or that silly, pointlessly red worm–we forget ourselves.
And that is why, at this time of the year, we light things on fire. Happy Hogswatch, everyone! What did you all think? Opening discussion question: what does Death sound like in your head?