Hogfather by Terry Pratchett. ★★★★★
Hogfather is the twentieth book in the Discworld series, and the fourth following Death. However, I think it’s one you can probably pick up even if you’ve read none of the others.
In Hogfather, Pratchett satirizes the commercial and secular phenomena of Christmas – namely Santa Claus, who’s Discworld equivalent is the Hogfather, a merry gift giver who arrives on the longest night of the year.
Unfortunately, the Auditors of reality are out to destroy the Hogfather as part of their war on the messiness of life. To the rescue comes Discworld’s Death, who must keep the Hogfather’s place open by dressing up in a fake beard and delivering presents to children everywhere. Meanwhile, his granddaughter Susan must go to the source of the matter and defeat the assassin Teatime hired by the auditors.
Hogfather is undoubtedly the best Christmas themed book I’ve ever read. It’s hilarious and insightful, and like all the best Discworld books, it has a lot going on beneath the surface.
“In fact the Guild, he liked to think, practiced the ultimate democracy. You didn’t need intelligence, social position, beauty or charm to hire it. You just needed money which, unlike the other stuff, was available to everyone. Except for the poor, of course, but there was no helping some people.”
In this case, I noticed some commentary on how the idea of Christmas does not meet up with the reality, especially for families without the money for the huge expensive gifts. For a book nominally about Christmas, there was actually a number of times Terry Pratchett addressed class and economic inequality.
“BE HAPPY WITH WHAT YOU’VE GOT, IS THAT THE IDEA?
“That’s about the size of it, master. A good god line, that. Don’t give ’em too much and tell ’em to be happy with it. Jam tomorrow, see.”
THIS IS WRONG. Death hesitated. I MEAN…IT’S RIGHT TO BE HAPPY WITH WHAT YOU’VE GOT. BUT YOU’VE GOT TO HAVE SOMETHING TO BE HAPPY ABOUT HAVING. THERE’S NO POINT IN BEING HAPPY ABOUT HAVING NOTHING.”
The other important idea running throughout Hogfather was how the ability to believe and fantasize is what makes us human. There’s a particularly powerful segment near the end that spells out the value of stories and fantasy, but I’ll leave that for you to discover on your own.
“I’m just saying man is naturally a mythopoeic creature.”
“What’s that mean?” said the Senior Wrangler.
“Means we make things up as we go along,” said the Dean, not looking up.”
The technical elements are all excellent. As always, Pratchett succeeds in creating a cast of likable and quirky characters that nevertheless have a sense of weight and reality to them. Death and Susan are both favorites of mine, Death for his desire to understand humanity and Susan for her insistence on logic and good sense.
Hogfather has a bunch of different threads and plots winding throughout it, from Death to Susan to the wizards at the Unseen University to one off scenes that illustrate a piece of the larger story. Despite this, Hogfather never feels fractured or haphazard and ties together wonderfully. It’s much more cohesive than some of the early Discworld novels.
I recommend Hogfather to.. well, practically everyone. Even if you’re not familiar with Christmas or the ideas surrounding it, there’s enough else going on to make Hogfather well worth reading.