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Hogfather by Terry Pratchett
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8,12395391 (4.08)326
Authors:Terry Pratchett
Info:Corgi Adult (1997), Paperback
Collections:Your library
Tags:Fantasy, Humour, Discworld

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Hogfather by Terry Pratchett (1996)

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The midwinter holiday on Discworld is Hogswatch rather than Christmas, and the Hogfather is the Discworld's counterpart of Santa Claus. He climbs down chimneys, gives presents, says, "HO-HO-HO," and drives a sleigh pulled by four flying pigs. Many children of the Disc believe in him, which is why he exists. (This is a fundamental characteristic of the magical system in Terry Pratchett's Discworld books.) Belief causes the thing believed in to exist, and when belief stops, that existence stops. Teatime, an assassin retained to do away with the Hogfather, plans to exploit this metaphysical law to accomplish his assigned task, but first he must break into the Tooth Fairy's castle and get control of the teeth stored there. With them, he can influence the belief of their former owners through sympathetic magic. (That's something of a spoiler, but if you haven't read this yet, you may be thankful for it.)

Hogfather was the first Discworld book I ever read. This was back in 1999, I think. It could have been 2000. I'm not sure. I didn't buy it. The book was given to me, not so much as a gift, but as a case of, "Here, I'm not going to read this again, but you might like it since I know you like the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy."

A few months later, I decided to give it a try. I didn't know what to make of the book at first. It wasn't like anything I had ever read before. I recall thinking when I was about halfway in that I wasn't sure I liked it. It was obviously fantasy, but it wasn't like the epic fantasy stepchildren of Lord of the Rings or the Dungeons & Dragons role-playing game, which dominated the fantasy genre at the time. Those stories seemed to make a concerted effort to convey their fantasy settings as 'real' places, and they were chocked full of dragons, evil warlords and their minions, and powerful magic. Their plots often boiled down to simple, and often bloody, contests between 'good' and 'evil'. The reader didn't have to think much for most of these. They offered an entertaining escape from reality, but not much else. The plots were often a bit like sporting events in which one side is 'good' primarily because it's from your hometown (although there's a good chance none of the players are). In some, the biggest difference between the protagonist and antagonist was the point of view that dominated the story.

In any case, that was the kind of fantasy novel I was used to. Hogfather is none of the above. It's not even like the Hitchhiker's Guide, but the person who gave me the book was right in one regard. If you like the Hitchhiker's Guide, there is a good chance you will like Discworld. Both are satirical, funny, incredibly clever, and mind-bending.

But, back to what I was saying. Halfway through my first reading of Hogfather, I was confused. This book was far more complex than the fantasy stories with which I was familiar. The setting was comprehensible but bizarre. I mean—really—a flat world carried on the back of four elephants standing on a turtle? Come on! The plot confused me, and there were subplots and multiple points of view presented by an omniscient narrator. There were even footnotes! This wasn't like watching a sporting event or a cartoon. I had to pay attention. This book was trying to make me (*gasp*) think! To be honest, I wasn't sure I was up to the challenge.

Then, about halfway through, I got it. I can't recall exactly what scene or phrase caused my epiphany, but I finally caught a glimpse of what this story was doing, and it floored me. The author wasn't to draw me into the story to the point of total immersion. The setting was absurd because I wasn't supposed to believe it was possible. The story was fiction and, I wasn't supposed to suspend disbelief to the point where I felt for a moment that it wasn't. There's a kind of honesty to that that I still find refreshing. Yes, the story is set on a fantasy world starring a counterpart of Santa Claus and an anthropomorphic personification of Death, complete with black cloak and scythe, but it's not ABOUT them. It's about us!

But at the same time, this ridiculous setting was rich and textured. It was unbelievably believable. And the characters, although they seemed exaggerated caricatures at first, had surprising depth and personality. I recall thinking that this Terry Pratchett fellow must be some kind of genius.

I've read all forty or so Discworld books since, all them at least three times, and I still think this is true.

Hogfather, like many of the Discworld books, is far more than it appears at first glance. Here are a few things I noticed:
• It is, of course, a parody of the Santa legend.
• It's a cultural satire about our traditions and philosophies.
• It's a not-so-thinly veiled criticism of holiday commercialism.
• It's a morality tale about duty and the importance of family ties.
• It's a philosophical statement on the nature of humanity.
• It contrasts rational and irrational ways of thinking.
• It provides a brief comment on emergent artificial intelligence.
• It's a fantasy story that pokes fun at fantasy, while, at the same time, explaining why fantasy is both meaningful and necessary.
• Oh yeah, and it's funny.

If you have not read any Discworld books yet, you should. Actually, my advice is to read them all and then to reread them. (I find that Discworld stories are often even more enjoyable the second time.) Before sitting down to write this post, I reread Hogfather for what was at least the sixth time. The Discworld books are incomparable. My only problem with them is that after reading the Discworld stories, all other fantasy stories tend to pale by comparison.

When reading Hogfather, one key point to remember is that time is not necessarily linear where Death (the Discworld character) is concerned. It can be frozen, and causality can work in reverse. The future can change events in the past or cause them not to happen at all.

Hogfather, however, is not the Discworld book I would recommend to newcomers to the Disc. Yes, it was my first, and each book can stand on its own, but Hogfather is a tough go without the background provided by some of the others. I hesitate to recommend any particular Discworld book to start with. I've seen some forums in which people can become quite heated about this, believe it or not. I highly recommend all of them, but I will say again that Hogfather probably shouldn't be your first.

If you're familiar with Discworld, but have not yet read Hogfather, I suggest doing so now. It's a great book for the holidays. If have read Hogfather before, it's a great one to reread for the Holidays. You'll be glad you did.


( )
  DLMorrese | Oct 14, 2016 |
Lots of fun. It didn't quite rank up there with my favorite Discworld book, Going Postal (my favorite so far, though I've only read a few), but still quite entertaining. The dialog and characters are great. ( )
  Amelia_Smith | Aug 28, 2016 |
My partial re-read of Pratchett's Discworld series, starting with the Death books, continues with this one, in which the Hogfather, Discworld's equivalent of Santa Claus, has disappeared after someone put out a hit on him, and Death has to step in to do his job and keep belief in him alive.

With a premise like that, how can you go wrong? The mere thought of Death in a Santa suit trying very hard to get the hang of a proper "HO HO HO" is just inherently hilarious. But there's lots and lots of other delightful stuff in here too, from Death's granddaughter Susan dispatching monsters from under children's beds with a poker and a no-nonsense attitude, to Death's manservant Albert snarking wonderfully while wearing a Hogswatch pixie outfit, to Death's inevitable and endearing inclination to become a little too invested in his new job, to the marvelous creepiness of the Santa-cidal assassin Mr. Teatime, to the fact that when Pratchett turns to contemplating the true meaning of Christmas, what you get isn't saccharine platitudes, but some deconstruction of saccharine platitudes and a glimpse at something much deeper, much older, and much more fundamental. Even the bits with the wizards, which are usually the weak point in these Death-centered books, were fun, with Archchancellor Ridcully being on particularly fine Ridcully-ish form, and an entertaining appearance from Hex the magical computer. (I like Hex. He's basically made entirely of computer-related puns, and it amuses me greatly how that somehow never gets old.)

It may not be an absolutely perfect novel. As sometimes happens with Pratchett, some of the plot stuff maybe gets resolved a little too quickly. And the god of hangovers character -- excuse me, the oh god of hangovers character -- is a bit too much of a one-note joke for me. Nevertheless, this is probably one of my favorite Discworld books, and it holds up beautifully on a re-read. Even in July. ( )
1 vote bragan | Jul 8, 2016 |
I actually liked thinking about some of the ideas in this one. For example: The world is so full of sharp bends that if (parents) didn't put a few twists in you, you wouldn't stand a chance of fitting in." And: "Humans need fantasy to human. To be the place where the falling angel meets the rising ape.... You have to start out learning the little lies [eg Tooth Fairies, as practice for the big ones like}... Justice. Mercy. Duty. That sort of thing.... {You have}... the most amazing talent."

(Better if you read the whole passage, p. 336 my edition. Better still if you read the whole book.)" ( )
  Cheryl_in_CC_NV | Jun 6, 2016 |
As nonsensical as Pratchett's Discworld books may seem, they often make a great deal of sense. Hogfather pokes fun at old gods, evolving gods, power, and belief systems. There's even an "oh god," as in "oh god I'm gonna be sick."

The Hogfather is Discworld's version of Santa Claus, and things go very,very astray forcing Death to step in and try to put things right, while his granddaughter tries to behave like a normal person. ( )
1 vote AuntieClio | Mar 28, 2016 |
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» Add other authors (23 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Terry Pratchettprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
De Muth, RogerCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Galian, Carl D.Cover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Ittekot, VenugopalanTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kirby, JoshCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Planer, NigelNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Stone, MikeAuthor photosecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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To the guerilla bookshop
manager know to friends as
'ppint' for asking me, many years
ago, the question Susan asks in
this book. I'm surprised more
people haven't asked it . . .

And to too many absent friends.
First words
Everything starts somewhere, though many physicists disagree.
She'd become a governess. It was one of the few jobs a known lady could do.
And she'd taken to it well. She'd sworn that if she did indeed ever find herself dancing on rooftops with chimney sweeps she'd beat herself to death with her own umbrella.
Time stopped.

But duration continued.
Sometimes, somewhere, somehow, the numbers on the clock did not count.

Between every rational moment were a billion irrational ones.
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Where is the big jolly fat man? Why is Death creeping down chimneys and trying to say Ho Ho Ho? The darkest night of the year is getting a lot darker…

Susan the gothic governess has got to sort it out by morning, otherwise there won’t be a morning. Ever again…

The 20th Discworld novel is a festive feast of darkness and Death (but with jolly robins and tinsel too).

As they say: 'You’d better watch out…
Haiku summary

Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0061059056, Mass Market Paperback)

What could more genuinely embody the spirit of Christmas (or Hogswatch, on the Discworld) than a Terry Pratchett book about the holiday season? Every secular Christmas tradition is included. But as this is the 21st Discworld novel, there are some unusual twists.

This year the Auditors, who want people to stop believing in things that aren't real, have hired an assassin to eliminate the Hogfather. (You know him: red robe, white beard, says, "Ho, ho, ho!") Their evil plot will destroy the Discworld unless someone covers for him. So someone does. Well, at least Death tries. He wears the costume and rides the sleigh drawn by four jolly pigs: Gouger, Tusker, Rooter, and Snouter. He even comes down chimneys. But as fans of other Pratchett stories about Death (Mort, Reaper Man, and Soul Music) know, he takes things literally. He gives children whatever they wish for and appears in person at Crumley's in The Maul.

Fans will welcome back Susan, Death of Rats (the Grim Squeaker), Albert, and the wizardly faculty of Unseen University, and revel in new personalities like Bilious, the "oh god of Hangovers." But you needn't have read Pratchett before to laugh uproariously and think seriously about the meanings of Christmas. --Nona Vero

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:25:02 -0400)

(see all 6 descriptions)

As a first step in destroying humanity, evil men in Discworld try to undermine belief in Hogfather by abducting him. The plot is ruined by Death who takes Hogfather's place in his sleigh drawn by pigs. Part parody of Christmas, part meditation on the role of faith.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

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