This was my first ever foray into the world of Pratchett, and what a ride it was. Regular readers will already be familiar with the disc that sits on top of four elephants that ride on the back of a turtle through the universe but for those that have lived under a rock and know nothing about it, let me give some background details. In so many ways, the Discworld is remarkably similar to our own. It is a land of Medieval-Victorian-Edwardian fantasy that is almost a parody of ours. It features folklore figures of our world that are not quite the same.
Oh, and Death is a real person. So begins our tale. Twas the Night before Hogswatch…
In the dead of winter, children go to sleep on Hogswatch night excited at the prospect of being rewarded with presents for their good behaviour. The bringer of such goodies is a humanoid pig who dresses in a red cape and rides a magic sleigh pulled by hogs. And for this great honour it is traditional to leave him a glass of sherry and a pork pie.
The Auditors though (a group of people who apparently are attempting to restore order to the universe), have decided that the Hogfather must die and they go to the Assassin’s Guild to give out the contract. Lord Downey decides there is only one man for the job – the infamous assassin Mister Teatime (no sorry, not Altaïr) to carry out their dastardly act.
Only one man, errr thing, being, anthropomorphic personification can stop him. The aforementioned Death is the only being who realises that the Hogfather is about to die, and the implications for reality if he is killed. He amusingly chooses to take charge of delivering the presents. Only when caught in the act by his estranged granddaughter Susan do they begin to unravel the plot.
There is a lot of humour here, naturally, but it is also an interesting and intelligent fantasy adventure. “Saving Christmas” has been a recurring theme in seasonal stories and Pratchett’s answer to the plot is a wonderful tale.
Death, Susan and Bilious (the “oh god” of hangovers) take us on an amusing and sometimes deeply profound journey on the importance – not so much of Christmas in isolation – but of imagination, tradition and belief. Though some may perceive a religious message here, it is important to remember that Pratchett is agnostic. Any doubts about this are dispelled when Death tells Susan ‘humans need to believe the small lies so that the bigger ones (such as justice) are more bearable’. The same conversation also contains the one amazing line that epitomises what this book is about: ‘If the Hogfather dies, the Sun would not have risen on the Discworld – instead a flaming ball of gas would have illuminated it’. Pure poetry.