Hogfather by Terry Pratchett
"Getting an education was a bit like a communicable sexual disease. It made you unsuitable for a lot of jobs and then you had the urge to pass it on."
And now, just in time for the holiday, we come to my favorite Discworld book, actually my favorite book ever. Who is the Hogfather, you ask? Well, on the last night of the Discworld's year, Hogswatch, the Hogfather loads his sleigh, tethers his pigs, Tusker, Rooter, Gouger and Snouter, then flies around the world to give gifts to the good boys and girls. Sounds familiar, doesn't it? But this year someone has decided that the Hogfather won't be making his rounds.Someone has decided that humans are a little too messy, too disruptive, and has decided that the time has come to put them in their place.
The Auditors, first seen in Reaper Man, just are not people-people. Well, to be fair, their not people at all, but what you'd get if boredom came to life perhaps. They feel that people are too chaotic and, in order to maintain the perfection of the universe, should be eliminated. They've tried before, and have all eternity to try again. This time they've decided to bring a human into the mix. They have commissioned the Ankh-Morpork Assassin's Guild to kill the Hogfather, knowing that with his death, human's will become a little less fanciful and a little easier to control. Lucky for them, the Assassin's have just the man for the job.
Mr. Teatime was born to be an assassin ("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.") A very unusual man who makes most people uneasy, the assassin's took him in and taught him everything they knew, but somethings can't be taught and Teatime is a sociopath to the core. Once he's gotten his use from you, your life is over. And he's already thought of a way to kill the Hogfather, and he's recruited a team to get the job done. Now the Hogfather is on the run and someone has to fill his boots. Good thing Death is available.
Death, and his associate Albert, take it upon themselves to drop off gifts, eat the porkpies, drink the sherries, and keep a little bit of belief open for the Hogfather to return to. And if Death, dressed in red with a false beard and pillow stuffed-shirt can't make you believe, then nothing will. But it still leaves them with a problem, who's going to save the Hogfather?
Enter Susan, the granddaughter of Death. She learned early that some traits are passed on without all the messy mucking about with DNA, and she can do a few things that most people can't. She'd just rather not. She's gotten a nice job being a governess to two small children, and is perfectly content to live her happy, quiet, normal life. But a short visit from grandfather changes all of that. Now she's fighting thieves with the help of Bilious, the Oh God! of Hangovers. Throw in some wizards, a tooth fairy, a lot of mysteriously created fairy folk, and you've got a Hogswatch to remember.
As I said, this is my favorite Discworld novel. I've often mentioned that I love the way Terry Pratchett takes the stories of our world and twists them to fit his Disc. Reading his novels has been educational as well as entertaining, because he bases so much on history as well as mythology. One example: in Ankh-Morpork, in times when fire or flood has damaged the city, the construction crews would build up the streets and then put up new structures on top of the old ones. Turns out Seattle, Washington did the same thing in the 1800's, resulting in basements and sub-basements that people didn't even know they had!
Here, he takes a look at the mythology of Santa Claus, and the way he developed from early myth to the current jolly elf. Many people know that Santa is related to Saint Nicholas of Myra, the 4th century bishop with the Greek Christian church who was highly regarded for his generosity to the poor. Fewer people know that, in the Germanic tradition, children left their boots, filled with carrots, straw or sugar, by the fireplace to be traded for gifts and candy. Of course they weren't leaving these for the reindeer or Santa, but for Odin and his horse Sleipnir! The tradition survived, as so many had to when Christianity moved in, by adapting, and the boots became a stocking hung by the fire and the carrots became cookies and milk.
Another topic that is prevalent through the story is about belief. If you know much about Terry Pratchett, you know that he's been a life-long atheist. In his view, the Hogsfather, much like Death, are anthropomorphic personifications of things that we can't explain. Jack Frost makes an appearance, painting fern patterns in ice on windows. The Verucca Gnome shows up in the Arch-chancellors shower shortly after he had been talking about how his dad used to tell stories about what happened to kids with poor hygiene. We carry our gods with us and when we experience something we can't explain, we have historically used gods to explain it for us. Someone survives a crash, it's a miracle. Someone's cancer goes unexpectedly into remission, it's a miracle. In this way, we can attribute what has happened to something we think we understand without having to look closer to find the reason why.
I'd like to leave you with one of my favorite quotes from the book:
"All right," said Susan. "I'm not stupid. You're saying humans need...fantasies to make life bearable."
"Really? As if it was some kind of pink pill? No. Humans need fantasy to be human. To be the place where the falling angel meets the rising ape."
"Tooth Faries? Hogfathers? Little-"
"Yes. As practice. You have to start ou learning to believe the little lies."
"So we can believe the big ones?"
"Yes. Justice. Mercy Duty. That sort of thing."
Happy Holidays, everyone.