Hogfather

“Humans need fantasy to be human. To be the place where the falling angel meets the rising ape.”

Terry Pratchett

Hello there, Constant Reader! I have returned from the Book Repository that is the French Farmhouse, where many of my very favourite books are stored. Unfortunately, not only is there no internet at the Book Repository, there’s no telly either, so I have missed the last ever episode of The Town. Also nearly Merlin, but happily that was repeated this evening. A review will be forthcoming soon, but tonight I’m going to review Terry Pratchett’s Hogfather.

Hogfather is the 20th novel in Pratchett’s fantastic (in both senses of the word) Discworld series. Why did I choose Hogfather from the many, many Discworld novels stored in the Book Repository? Well, because, you see, Hogfather is a Christmassy book, in its own way.

OK, starting from first principles for those who haven’t read Terry Pratchett. (You really, really should.) The Discworld series are set on, well, the Discworld, a disc travelling through space on the back of four elephants on the back of a turtle.

Yes, it is as silly as it sounds.

Anyway, on the Discworld Death, and the Hogfather (an analogue of Father Christmas), and the Tooth Fairy, and all the other anthropomorphic personifications we humans believe in, or believed in once, are real. And this Hogswatch (Christmas), the Hogfather has gone missing, and Death steps in to fill the vacancy…

Despite the wonderful cover, and the comedic-sounding premise, Hogfather is not just a farce. It’s funny, yes, with laugh-out-loud scenes and dreadful puns, but there is a point to it. It’s about stories, and humanity, and, incidentally, it’s got one of the very best fantasy plots I’ve read. What I really like about it is that it is derivative, it draws upon tales and characters we all know, but then it subverts them and combines them in new ways. Who else would ever think of making Death a sympathetic character?

It’s also a rather clever novel. Once you know the end, you can see how deftly Pratchett weaves in relevant pieces of information and yet conceals the most important elements until the second half. There are multiple storylines, too, but they all feed into the main plot while providing some amusing cameos such as the Cheerful Fairy, Foul Ole Ron and his thinking-brain dog, and Nobby Nobbs the Watchman, several of whom appear in other Discworld novels. It’s little details like that which make the series so successful.

Hogfather, like most of the Discworld novels, is a comfort read, one of the novels I return to when I’m feeling sad or just bored with whatever “serious” book I’m supposed to be reading. Easy to read, and enjoyable, but with a serious and off-kilter “message” (for want of a better word). That’s how I like my fiction.

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