Wizards, Hangovers & Death

MAY / JUNE 2011: BY CHARITY BISHOP

hogfather

Normality can be challenging if you can walk through walls and see monsters hiding under beds. Susan wants to be left alone and hopes to make others forget her notorious parentage by working as a governess. (Death adopted her parents and as such she inherited certain of his … ah, abilities.)  The children are delighted that she can routinely beat up make-believe thugs with fire irons and more than once she has impressed the lady of the house by referring to various Important People by their first name, but all that is about to come to an end when someone comes down the chimney on Hogswatch Eve that isn’t supposed to be delivering presents…

In Hogfather, wizards are a bit mad, there is a Guild for everything, it is possible you may be eaten by dragons, and fairy tale characters are in danger of being assassinated. Filled with memorable characters and supernatural beings like gods, vampires, werewolves and even the Tooth Fairy, Terry Pratchett keeps you laughing as you follow the exploits of his grim and unique protagonists.

Although there are multiple plots unfolding, all of them revolve around the disappearance of the Hogfather (Discworld’s version of Santa Clause). Susan puts her mind to discovering what has happened to him, Death delivers presents in his stead, and the sinister Mr. Teatime plots to kill him altogether. And then there is the new bathroom at the Unseen University…

The strength of the story lies in its embrace of wit and absurdity. Cultural references abound; Susan muses on her decision to become a governess and concludes that she would rather die than dance with a chimney sweep on the roof. We meet a variety of useful beings, such as the oh god of hangovers (others drink, he experiences their head-aches, much to his own remorse, as he is tired of waking up in a puddle of sick). The writing style is intentionally droll, at times employing amusing detailed footnotes to explain the social-political-historical significance of certain places and individuals.

Discworld, while setting out merely to amuse and more than succeeding, does have occasional moments of depth. Beings cease to exist if no one believes in them, so if all children refuse to accept the Hogfather is real he will die. When this becomes apparent and Susan questions it, Death tells her it is important for people to believe in small things so big things can come true. They are pretending until belief becomes reality. One could see this as an assault on faith but it works two ways in suggesting faith becomes reality, and reality relies on faith in order to maintain a balance.

It takes a certain amount of patience to read Pratchett since his stories unfold at a measured pace because the action is entwined with character development and… well, moments of sheer absurdity. It is not immediately apparent where the story is going or the significance of unconnected events but rarely is a person or situation introduced that is not important later. You need a reasonable grasp of British life and familiarity with pop culture references in order to get many of the subtler (sometimes blatant) puns. Many consider his Unseen University to be the inspiration in part for the Harry Potter novels, although there is where the resemblance ends (well, apart from the dragons of course). While wizards do feature in his stories, in most instances they are background characters.

Three of his novels have been turned into miniseries: The Colour of Magic, Going Postal, and Hogfather. While minor changes are made here and there, each is mostly faithful to the source material and spirit of the author. The dialogue is frequently taken directly from the book and the marvelous world in which the quirky characters live comes to life with vivid Victorian imagery. The ensemble cast includes such notable English actors as Jeremy Irons, Charles Dance, Michelle Dockery and Sean Astin, among others. Though fans are divided in their opinion of the final result and are known to dicker over minor changes, Pratchett’s sense of humor remains intact. He will not suit all readers since it takes a certain morbidity to truly appreciate him but for those in search of a unique series, he is wonderful. After all, who would not want to read an author whose character concludes, after a man has appeared literally out of thin air:

I didn’t even have any of that salmon mousse! Will you look a it? His foot’s in it! It’s all over the place! Do you want yours?”

mayjune2011

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Charity Bishop would dearly love to spend all her free time mulling over, theorizing, and philosophizing on the vast spiritual / moral lessons of cinema and Victorian literature, but alas, she must make a living, so her days are spent doing editorial work. She devotes her free time to babysitting her bipolar cat, writing books, blogging, and searching for spiritual truth in all aspects of life… when she isn’t editing Femnista!

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