Welcome back everyone. This week, we continue our look at Christmas literature by seeing a story that goes out there. And I mean out there. Like giant space turtle out there. Today, we examine a story we’ve mentioned on this site before as one of the best Christmas stories/satires ever- Terry Pratchard’s Hogfather.
On the Discworld city of Ankh-Morpork, the people are celebrating Hogswatch, a holiday with surprising similarities to Christmas. However, their version of Santa Claus, the Hogfather, has vanished, due to the efforts of the Auditors, who dislike human imagination and belief, and the efforts of Jonathan Teatime, an assassin hired to eliminate the Hogfather. However, Death has stepped in to temporarily replace the Hogfather, performing his duties in order to keep belief going. At the same time, Death’s granddaughter, Susan Sto Helit is drawn into the mix as the lack of belief for the Hogfather has created excess belief, resulting in new beings being created simply by naming them (the God of Hangovers, The Eater of Socks, the Veruca Gnome). Susan must discover the reason behind the Hogfather’s disappearance, and then save him or the Discworld will never see another morning.
What Writers Can Learn: Satire, Nature of Belief
The Discworld novels, as mentioned before, are full of satire and pokes at the ridiculous nature of society. Hogfather is no different, as many of its pages poke fun at the traditions of Christmas. The Hogfather himself is a symbol of how Hogswatch has evoled, having begun as a pagan god of the morning and changed over time as Hogswatch itself has. Christmas has undergone the same progression from pagan ceremony to Christian holiday. The commercial aspect is mocked as well, done best when Death makes an appearance at a store.
The store’s cheerful sleigh display is destroyed for the much rougher (but more realistic) true sleigh, and as he sees the children, Death questions why the store complains when he gives the children their gifts for free (as the Hogfather is supposed to do). There is also a little girl who asks for a sword, despite her mother’s insistence she wants a doll. Christmas morals are also examined- how children are more selfish then we like to let on (though a story where a little boy wants a toystore horse, is instead giving a handmade replica and is bitterly unhappy), and the story of the Little Match Girl (who supposedly dies in the snow so that people are grateful for what they have), who is instead saved by Death, as ‘there is no greater gift then a future.’
But Hogfather is also a way to view the peculiarities of belief. As mentioned before, belief is what keeps the Hogfather active, and the lack of said belief causes other beings to pop on in his place, a comment on the human quirk of assigning unexplainable tasks to fantasy creatures (the Tooth Fairy, for example). However, the nature of the Hogfather himself shows a much greater example of the need for belief. Susan, following the adventure, questions her grandfather on what would have happened had they failed. Death explains that the Discworld would not have been lit by the sun, but by a flaming ball of gas. He further explains that humans need fantasy to be human, and beings like the Hogfather are a way to introduce ‘the little lies’ to children, so they will believe the ‘big lies’- justice and order. Susan is shocked, but Death asks her to put the universe through a sieve and try to find a single, physical grain of those qualities, and yet humans continue to act and believe that there is a cosmic order and logic to the universe.
The concepts of belief, and further satirical attacks on humanity are explored throughout the Discworld series, as are other stories featuring Death (recommendations include Reaper Man and Soul Music). And be sure to stop by next week for our final holiday outing.