Travis_J_Smith’s #CBR5 Review #08: Hogfather by Terry Pratchett


Last Saturday was my birthday, and I spent it in Pittsburgh mostly attempting, unsuccessfully, to do a whole number of things. Remember my netbook charger, which my father was luckily able to drop off at the bus stop minutes before my bus arrived. Avoid falling ill on said bus. Pay the fare for my bus into Oakland. Locate my friends’ apartment, the place I’d be sleeping and showering at until the buses back home started running once more on Monday morning, in time for me to make it back for my four o’clock shift at work. Adhere to the rules imposed upon me by one of those friends for the birthday dinner to which she’d invited a man I’d heard much about, yet never met, the man she’d long been harboring a secret, borderline unhealthy crush on.

Connect to Starbucks’ wireless as I ate breakfast on the morning of my birthday. Find anything at all worth purchasing at Caliban, the book store I’d previously bought a collector’s edition of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy from. Get very far into Under the Dome without beginning to doze off. Manage to take a nap, not just a lie-down that involved my jacket and book-bag, which served as pillows, lining my face and one of my arms with awkward indentations. Reach the point ofRobot Chicken at which it became the show I’d sometimes stay up late to watch, despite having class early in the morning, the first season like those unfunny and random mash-ups that are all the rage channeled into a television series.

Discover outlets besides the ones out of reach of where I’m sitting, making my netbook with its old, prone-to-rapid-death battery of little assistance. Not arrive in Squirrel Hill over an hour before it was time for the midnight movie showing this whole trip was for. Yell out that it was Ken Kesey who wrote the book upon which Milos Forman’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest was based and receive my prize of a free ticket.

When it came time for me to leave, though, things started looking up. Thanks to the service being down, I lucked out of having to pay for my bus downtown. Then it came to my attention that there was a Barnes & Noble in the area I could stop by and still be in time to catch my bus back to Butler. Caliban had failed me, but I doubted Barnes & Noble would do the same, and it didn’t. Sure, Sedaris was conspicuously absent from the shelves, as was anything by King that I hadn’t already read or didn’t already own, but what they did have was a sizable selection of Pratchett, at least compared to the two the Pitt bookstore only ever had (Making Money and Feet of Clay).

Did I mention that this Barnes & Noble pulled double duty as both a Barnes & Noble and as the Duquesne campus bookstore, or that this made me a smidgen jealous? As I was saying, though, I had my pick of at least a half dozen of Pratchett’s books from which to choose, eventually settling on Hogfather, a sticker on the cover reminding me it had been adapted into a TV movie. Scratch that, a “major TV movie.” It seemed peculiar that they placed such importance on a TV movie, but a movie was a movie, and I’d need to read the book before seeing it or else it’d likely be years before said movie was a vague enough memory that I could bring myself to delve into the source material.

So I bought myself another birthday present to go along with Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective AgencyThe Long Dark Tea Time of the Soul, a $14 bus ride to Pittsburgh and back, and a ticket to a midnight showing of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. I was worried it would prove an unwise investment, like my first foray into Pratchett’s Discworld series, Feet of Clay, but what I got was a book similar in spirit to The Nightmare Before Christmas. Playing the role of Jack Skellington is Death who, due to the Hogfather (Discworld’s version of Santa Clause) being, for lack of a better word, “gone,” has to be the one go around spreading Hogswatch cheer.

Along the way, readers get to see more gods, some familiar, such as the Toothfairy, and some creations of Pratchett and the characters alike, such as the “Oh God” of Hangovers, those gods as surprised by their existence as everyone else. I wish Pratchett had played more with the idea of gods being believed into existence, but that’s not what’s behind the downturn Hogfather takes as it reaches its rather inevitable conclusion. No, it’s how Pratchett struggles to weave together the various storylines which, up until that point, had seemed almost entirely separate. It was a brilliant mess he made, or rather an amusing one, but a mess nonetheless.

Still, for the first three quarters or so, Pratchett presents a lovably skewed look at our faiths and traditions, using Death to provide a critical slant on the whole matter with Death’s Hogfather being naive, yet also well-intentioned and able to look at things with a certain childish clarity which none of the others can. It’s his story, and that of the unexpected gods, that carry Hogfather, and it’s partly their relative absence towards the end that accounts for the aforementioned drop in quality. Susan and the Auditors serve as the backbone of the story, one could argue, but they’re best left as that, the backbone, with Death and the others providing the meat instead of the other way around like it becomes in the end.

This is a line of thinking only furthered by suffering through the aforementioned TV movie. Though I argue nothing in it worked, Death came the closest, whereas Susan missed that mark entirely. Except no one failed as gloriously as Teatime who, for some unknown reason, was channeling Johnny Depp’s horrid Willy Wonka and doing a remarkably miserable job of it. Death, on the other hand, appears to be the only character they couldn’t ruin, not completely, which speaks volumes of how strong a character Death really is. Pratchett seems to realize that, given how big a role Death plays in the general proceedings of Discworld, but I wish he’d done more to show it in Hogfather.

However, it’s looking like Discworld is a rather up-and-down (and-all-over-the-place) series, with the early books (ex. The Light Fantastic, the next book up for review) being marked by a certain amateurish quality, whereas the later books seem to show signs of his gradually failing mind, and that I’ll just have to put up with these sorts of shortcomings for the eventual highs. My only hope is that Making Money, the next Discworld book on my docket, is one of those highs.

Travis Smith’s blog, containing this review, as well as others, photography, and more, can be found here.