Tag Archives: terry pratchett

The Discworld: The Hogfather and Christmas

Hogfather

Many of the Discworld books mirror (or parody) our world (if you’re not familiar with the Discworld see here and here). The Last Continent, for example, laughs at Australia and some of our history, food and traditions. But that’s OK because we Aussies are so laid-back we’re horizontal and quite capable of having a laugh at ourselves. Anyway, a lot of it is true and there’s no denying the truth, right?

The Hogfather is the Discworld’s answer to Christmas. You might have seen it listed in the 12 Blogs of Christmas: Books. I could also have listed it in 12 Blogsof Christmas: Favourite Holiday Movies because they made a TV movie, but I chose not to, for variety. 

The Hogfather is a big, fat man in a red suit who delivers toys in a sleigh pulled by four hogs. Sound familiar? OK, except for the hogs. Unlike Santa, the Hogfather harks back to more primitive times, when Hogswatch was a sun festival, and he still has some of those trappings. 
Susan, Death’s granddaughter

The Hogfather, like Death, is an anthropomorphic personality. That is, people’s belief in him has generated an actual corporeal representation of what is otherwise a natural force. In the Hogfather’s case, it’s the belief of children that keep him alive.  We know from Small Gods, where the great god Om was reduced to a powerless tortoise because he had but one believer, what happens when belief fades. When people stop believing, gods die…

When the Hogfather dies, the consequences are more terrible than disappointed children. 

If the Hogfather dies, the sun will not rise.

In The Hogfather, the Guild of Assassins has been engaged by the Auditors of Reality (kind of self-explanatory really – you could see how the Discworld’s existence might annoy them a tad!) to eliminate the Hogfather. This task is assigned to Mr Teatime, of whom Lord Downey, head of the assassins says:
“We took pity on him because he’d lost both parents at an early age. I think that, on reflection, we should have wondered a bit more about that.”
Indeed….

Mr Teatime’s cunning plan is to kill the Hogfather by preventing children believing in him. This he does by breaking into the Tooth Fairy’s domain and seizing the stash of teeth, which he uses to control all the children. This is a reference to many old beliefs that witches and the like can use a part of you, a tooth, some hair, nail clippings and so forth, to work their will on you. 

And it works. As belief in the Hogfather wanes, spare belief starts flapping around, to the point where even the mention of something, like an eater of Socks or Verucca Gnome, causes a glingleglingleglingle sound signalling the creation of that creature – because someone believes in it, and as we know, belief gives life. And we all believe in the Eater of Socks, right? That’s the reason we can only ever find one sock from a pair. Where does the other one go? We never find it. It must have been the Eater of Socks!

Death as the Hogfather
In an attempt to make children believe in the Hogfather, despite Mr Teatime, Death delivers the Hogfather’s presents, being sure to be seen in a long red cloak and a white beard. Imagine, a skeleton with a beard… I’m not sure it would have the desired effect! The role isn’t precisely one that comes naturally to him:
“ER…HO. HO. HO.”
 I suspect that the cheerful ‘Ho Ho Ho’ lacks a little something when delivered in a leaden voice that sounds like crypt doors slamming. Even on paper it comes across as a little grim. 

It falls to Susan, Death’s granddaughter (who wishes she was anything but and would like to be left to live a normal life) to find the real Hogfather. At the Castle of Bones (wow, I think I like the North Pole better!) she meets the Oh God of Hangovers, also created by the excess belief floating around. His name is Bilious and he gets the hangover every time the God of Wine gets drunk. No wonder he runs around saying ‘oh me!’ so much (think about it for a minute if you don’t get it). Poor chap, I have to say I can’t help but laugh at his predicament. He is one of my favourites in this book.  

Bilious, Oh God of Hangovers
While probably not one of my favourite Discworld books, The Hogfather is, like all of them, entertaining and hilariously funny. Susan is an interesting practical figure who takes no nonsense from monsters (Death’s granddaughter, remember?) and Death is always worth a laugh for his awkward attempts to be something he’s not. The Wizards of Unseen University make an appearance with Hex, their ‘computer’, which is always guaranteed a laugh. Kind of like watching a bunch of people who really don’t understand the first thing about computers try and make one work. 

I’d give this four stars out of five. Now I wonder where I packed it… it is Christmas and I should read it!

This will be my last post of the year. Tomorrow we are moving into the house we just built (which if you are interested you can see here). I have the internet organised, but with the holiday season, who knows when it will be connected. 
 
So have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year and hopefully I will see you all after January 1!

An Introduction to the Discworld: Part 2

Introduction to the Discworld

If you missed Hear Me, Heretic! An Introduction to The Discworld you can find it here

Are you desperately hoping Rincewind isn’t a heel? Or do you already know the truth?

Sad to say, our man Rincewind abandons the naïve tourist and makes a bid to flee the city. 

The Discworld
How can the protagonist be such a coward, leave a poor guy in the lurch and yet we, the reader, still identify with him? Indeed, Rincewind is my absolute favourite Discworld character of all time yet I had to stop and consider why when there isn’t a lot I can say to recommend him. 

Rincewind is completely shameless. He knows he not brave or reliable or heroic (which suits him fine, cause you know heroes end up dead on swords or smote by gods, right?) but he makes no apologies for who he is. And I wonder if that’s the key. He’s not evil. He’s just cowardly, but he’s brave enough or honest enough to admit it. He doesn’t pretend to be something he’d not. 

Anyway, Rincewind ends up staying on to help Twoflower out. Lord Vetinari, the Patrician of Ankh-Morpork, tells Rincewind that he must stay with Twoflower – on pain of, well, pain. 

It is worth mentioning that the Lord Vetinari we meet in these first two books is a much flatter character than the later, well-rounded Vetinari – who is also infinitely more subtle. The Vetinari of later Discworld books, for example, would never do something so crass as to threaten someone in such blunt terms. He is the master of innuendo and implication. The best Discworld books for a look at Lord Vetinari are the city watch books. Interplay between Vetinari and Sam Vimes is often priceless.

Rincewind’s encounter with Vetinari ends with this exchange, as Vetinari tells Rincewind not to consider fleeing the city as he has advised all the rulers of the neighbouring cities of the situation. 
‘I assure you, the thought never even crossed my mind, my lord.’
‘Indeed? Then if I were you, I’d sue my face for slander.’
A small joke, but a funny one. Or is it only funny to lawyers?

The Luggage
I promised to introduce you to the Luggage in this post. The Luggage is made of a magical wood called sapient pearwood and it is more or less sapient. The box has its own legs and pretty much decides where it goes. It belongs to Twoflower but is inherited by Rincewind. My favourite thing about the Luggage is its homicidal tendencies. 
The lid snapped shut. Gancia vanished.
And just in case Weems thought it was accidental the Luggage’s lid snapped open again, just for a second, and a large tongue as red as mahogany licked across broad teeth as white as sycamore. Then it slammed shut again.
This thing will hunt you down. And it tracks better than a bloodhound.

The other two characters worth a mention are Death, the Librarian and Cohen the Barbarian. 

Death is your typical death – skeleton in a black robe. This is explained on the Discworld as an anthropomorphic personification. Natural forces, like death, essentially become personified. People think death is a skeleton in a black robe, so that’s what he looks like. And he talks LIKE THIS which sounds like crypt doors slamming. Death and Rincewind don’t really get along, mostly on account of Rincewind’s refusal to die. This is a scene where the Disc’s oldest wizard attempts to cheat death by locking himself in a box where Death can’t reach him. 
He has just set the complicated clockwork of the lock and shut the lid, lying back in the knowledge that here at last is the perfect defence against the most ultimate of all his enemies, although as yet he has not considered the important part that airholes must play in an enterprise of this kind.
And right beside him, very close to his ear, a voice has just said: DARK IN HERE, ISN’T IT?
Cohen the Barbarian. Fearsome.
The Librarian is the wizard who runs the library at the wizards university. He is accidentally turned into an orangutan and resist all attempts to be changed back. Just don’t use the ‘m’ word. What m word? Monkey. 

OH SHIT.

Cohen the Barbarian is like Conan the Barbarian, only old… and stringy…. He’s about ninety in the shade and has no teeth. An old barbarian is very good at his job. You can tell because he’s not dead yet, see?

So now that you’ve met the characters, what’s the story about? You already know that Rincewind has been instructed to keep Twoflower alive, in the interests of avoiding international conflict between the city of Ankh-Morpork and the very old, powerful Agatean Empire. This is complicated by the fact Twoflower has no sense of self-preservation at all. 

Things come to a head when a red star growing in the sky signals the end of the world – unless the Eight Great Spells can all be spoken at the right time. The problem is, one of them is missing, hiding in Rincewind’s head. This is the reason he is such a failed wizard. He’s never been able to memorise another spell because ordinary, garden variety spells are too afraid to stay in his head with a Great spell. The other wizards know where the missing Great Spell is and are determined to hunt Rincewind down. Not all of them have the best intentions.

Don’t even mention the fact that the fate of the world rests on Rincewind’s shoulders. He doesn’t want to know. Someone else can have the job. 

It’s a fun ride and things only get better from here!

Lord Vetinari. Maybe this is why I had trouble finding dates?
As a matter of interest, you can find various Discworld quizzes on the web that will tell you which Discworld character/s you are most like.I’ve done this previously but I forget the results so I just did it again and here are my results:

You Scored as Lord Havelock Vetinari

You are Lord Vetinari! Supreme ruler of Ankh-Morpork! Cool, calculated, and always in control. You graduated from the assassins guild, but failed a course on stealth and camouflage, because the professor never saw you there (even though you attended every class). You always seem to know what everyone is thinking, and after a conversation with you, people feel that they have just escaped certain death.
Lord Havelock Vetinari

75%

Carrot Ironfounderson

56%

Death

56%

Esmerelda (Granny) Weatherwax

56%

Greebo

50%

I find the results slightly worrying. Carrot is an anomaly in there with all those other characters, but that’s my sense of honour coming out. 

If you’d like to know who you are, check it out here


All quotes are from The Colour of Magic and the Light Fantastic by Terry Pratchett


Hear Me, Heretic! An Introduction to the Discworld

Discworld

It has come to my attention there are heretics among us. Yes, heretics. Some of you have not read the Discworld series by Terry Pratchett!

*Pause here for shocked gasps*

If you’re sitting there thinking ‘I haven’t read it’ or ‘What the hell is the Discworld?’, then yes, I’m talking to you, heretic!

Don’t feel too bad. My Dad is also a heretic. It has become one of my life’s ambitions to convince him to read just one Discworld book. Just one. The Australian one didn’t work. I’m currently trying the science angle. 

The original and subsequent covers in Australia and the UK
If you don’t know the greatness that is Terry Pratchett, then you don’t know what you are missing. It is one of the world’s greatest tragedies that Mr Pratchett is suffering from early onset Alzheimer’s. The loss of his genius will be a cruel blow to literature. Go forth immediately, infidel, and beg, borrow or steal (or hey, even buy!) a copy of The Colour of Magic. It’s got dragons. I promise.  

I am here to introduce you to the magical wonders of the Discworld series via the first two books, The Colour of Magic and The Light Fantastic. Since there are two books, I’ll be doing this over two posts.

Unlike the rest of the Discworld books, you really do need to read both of these together. You don’t get a real conclusion to The Colour of Magic without reading The Light Fantastic. And, like many other series I’ve read, I didn’t start with the first book. Are you surprised? No? Didn’t think so. Someone bought me The Light Fantastic and in ignorance I read it and had to backtrack to The Colour of Magic. One day, we will find a series where I started at book one. What a novel idea…

Here’s the blurb from The Colour of Magic.
On a world supported on the back of a giant turtle (sex unknown), a gleeful, explosive, wickedly eccentric expedition sets out. There’s an avaricious but inept wizard, a naive tourist whose luggage moves on hundreds of dear little legs, dragons who only exist if you believe in them, and of course THE EDGE of the planet…
Rincewind
OK, that’s maybe not how I would have put it. The Discworld really is a disc, carried on the backs of four elephants, standing on the shell of the giant turtle swimming through space. The wizard is Rincewind, who is my most favourite Discworld character of all-time. He’s a wizard, but he is well and truly inept. He wears a pointy hat that reads ‘Wizzard’ just so people know what he is. He only knows one spell (but obviously not how to spell, ha ha) and he can’t use it. As for the luggage on ‘dear little legs’… Possibly my second favourite character. A box? Yes. However, if I had to describe the Luggage, I would probably have said ‘walking sentient box with homicidal tendencies’.  The word ‘dear’ wouldn’t feature.

This is our introduction to Rincewind, fleeing from a burning city and waylaid by two barbarians. He has just called one of the barbarians a ‘shadow-loving fleabag’ and the barbarian objects. How does Rincewind respond?
‘You don’t understand at all,’ said the wizard wearily. ‘I’m so scared of you my spine has turned to jelly, it’s just that I’m suffering from an overdose of terror right now. I mean, when I’ve got over that then I’ll have time to be decently frightened of you.’
That’s Rincewind, our friendly cowardly hero. He’d really prefer you dropped the ‘hero’ part. He introduces his companion as Twoflower, the man who started the fire. The barbarians ask if he is an arsonist.
‘No. Let’s just say that if complete and utter chaos was lightning, then Twoflower’d be the sort to stand on a hilltop in a thunderstorm wearing wet copper armour and shouting “All gods are bastards”.’
Twoflower. Typical tourist, right?
I have to say that is a pretty fair description of Twoflower. Everywhere he goes, he draws trouble without meaning to. For example, he introduces the citizens of Ankh-Morpork (the burning city) to the idea of insurance (or in-sewer-ants as the locals say it). In his well meaning fashion, Twoflower insures the local pub, not realising all the pub owner understands is if his pub burns down, he gets gold. Do you start to see how the city caught fire? Not so good for Rincewind, who would like a quiet life followed by a quiet, painless death. 

Twoflower is a tourist from ‘the Counterweight Continent’, so-called because it has so much gold it makes up the weight of all the other continents combined. Needless to say, gold there doesn’t have quite the same value it does elsewhere, and Twoflower flashes far too much of it for his own safety. He is also looking to experience ‘authentic’ heroes and describes the pub as ‘a genuine Morporkian tavern…. All these quaint old beams’. 
Rincewind glanced around quickly, in case some leakage of enchantment from the Magicians’ Quarter across the river had momentarily transported them to some other place. No – this was still the interior of the Drum, its walls stained with smoke, its floor a compost of old rushes and nameless beetles, its sour beer not so much purchased as just hired for a while. He tried to fit the image around the word ‘quaint’. His mind reeled back from the effort.
You can see that Twoflower’s perception of things doesn’t really match reality. A very dangerous tendency. He also doesn’t speak the local language. Rincewind, poor wizard that he is, happens to know multiple languages and signs on as his tourist guide. Although he does so purely for the massive amount of gold Twoflower is offering, Rincewind is, at heart, a nice enough fellow trying to get Twoflower out of trouble. 
‘Stranger,’ said Rincewind levelly. ‘If you stay here, you will be knifed or poisoned by nightfall. But don’t stop smiling, or so will I.’
OK, himself as well. 

When Rincewind starts to discover how much gold Twoflower really has he knows he’s gotten himself into trouble.
Artist’s impression of the imaginary dragons
As a student wizard, Rincewind had never achieved high marks in precognition, but now unused circuits in his brain were throbbing and the future might as well have been engraved in bright colours on his eyeballs. The space between his shoulder-blades began to itch. The sensible thing to do, he knew, was to buy a horse… But what would happen to Twoflower, all alone in a city where even the cockroaches had an unerring instinct for gold? A man would have to be a real heel to leave him.
Look for Part 2 to meet some more of the characters (including an up close and personal encounter with the Luggage!) and to learn if Rincewind is, in fact, a heel. 

What do you think? If you’ve read the books, don’t give it away for those who haven’t!

All quotes are from The Colour of Magic by Terry Pratchett. Go buy a copy or follow Terry Pratchetton Twitter @terryandrob