Terry Pratchett Book Club: Hogfather, Part III

Boots with mud mousse for everyone! Er…

Summary

Susan is talking to Bilious, trying to figure out how he came into being and explaining how she’s different from other humans. Suddenly, she begins morphing into Death—her grandfather is distracted, he’s changing right now, so it might be on her to do it. The God of Indigestion lands on the table in the dining hall (having just been called into being by Ridcully by accident) and rushes off, and Bilious finally recalls rows and rows of teeth when he came into being. The Tooth Fairy is brought up by the Death of Rats and they wonder where the teeth get taken once they’re collected. The wizards argue over whether two new gods getting made might not be related to older ones that no longer exist, household god types. Death and Albert go to collect a soul of someone dead on a roof who has a patch with a tooth embroidered on their clothes. Susan heads to Biers and asks the barman where Violet the tooth fairy lives, and she and Bilious go there, finding a ledger for her work dela that doesn’t stack up. A fellow named Charlie shows up, Violet’s boss, and Susan uses the voice on him to find out where the tooth deliveries go, but he doesn’t know. They head to the YMPA, where Violet was meant to collect a tooth.

Death puts right another Hogswatch wrong: a King has arrived at a peasant’s house with a feast, demanding his gratitude when he never asked for it. The peasant is far from grateful and the king is getting angry. Death storms in and tells the king that this charity means nothing; he’s only doing it to feel good about himself, and he won’t ever help this man at any other point. He kicks the king out (and Albert lets him know what will happen if he takes retribution on the man), and is told by Albert to give the man what he actually needs—Death leaves behind pig parts, particularly a head. As he leaves, Death tells Albert he could get used to this job. Susan and Bilious arrive at the YMPA and look at the room for Banjo—Susan worries she’s hit a dead end, but then she finds a half-dollar piece and heads back to Death’s library. Looking up Violet’s book of life, Susan finds she’s in a prison. She has an idea of ​​where this prison might be and goes after her with Bilious in tow.

Death and Albert go to deliver toys to a poor boy and Death learns that plenty of children don’t get what they want on Hogswatch. Albert gives him a lesson in how being poor works, and Death is struck by the unfairness inherent in the holiday. Albert knows he just has to let Death work through this his own way. Hex suggests the new gods turning up are a result of a surplus of belief, suggesting that something is no longer believed in. The wizards begin arguing about how much they dislike Hogswatch, which makes Ridcully suspect that the Hogfather might the culprit, but they’re quickly distracted by the creation of the Cheerful Fairy. They decide that the only way to get a chat with the Hogfather is to stake out the Librarian’s room since he still puts up his stocking for Hogswatch. Death showers the beggars of Ankh-Morpork with gifts of food, despite Albert’s protests—they didn’t come from the sack, Death put them there, having nabbed them from a posh restaurant nearby. Susan and Bilious arrive at the land where Violet is being held, and she finally realizes where this place is: It’s a chid’s painting. She wonders why all children seem to draw things exactly like this, and Bilious (whose potion has worn off so that he’s feeling incredibly hungover again) suggests that perhaps children are all painting this place specifically.

The restaurant Death took all the food from now has a kitchen full of old boots (that the beggars were going to eat for Hogswatch), so the establishment decides to work with what they’ve got and make rich people boots for Hogswatch Eve. Teatime’s gang are beginning to get worried about throwing their lot in with him, particularly now that Teatime’s got Banjo Lilywhite on his side, after punching him in the bar and knocking his tooth out of him. Suddenly, Medium Dave realizes that all these colleagues are acting strange… like children. Death goes to deliver gifts to the Librarian and is called out by Ridcully for not being the Hogfather. Mr. Brown can’t get the locks picked for Teatime because they’re half magical and unreal, so Teatime has Banjo kill the man. Susan goes into the children’s drawing house with Bilious and finds a large mound of teeth on the floor, with a chalk circle indicating where it’s meant to go. She also sees Mr. Brown’s dead body, which has clearly been thrown down the stairs. The rest of Teatime’s team notice that there are people in the house now, but Teatime just demands that they kill them. Susan and Bilious are heading up the stairs to meet them, and Susan is finally putting the pieces together….

Commentary

So we’ve stamped all over “The Little Match Girl” in the previous section, and then we come to the “Good King Wenceslas” carol, and Death’s just had enough, to the point where Albert can’t really do anything but go along for the ride and warn the king against making a mistake that would most certainly cause his demise. We’re looking at yet another aspect of this holiday that fails to hold up under scrutiny: The fact that people from charity to make themselves feel good. Which, that is not a bad or wrong thing on its face, it’s just a fact of human nature—the problem comes when you give charity expecting to be lauded for it, and also when you don’t consider the needs of the people you’re meant to be helping.

Death’s confusion over the inherent unfairness of the holiday is heartbreaking because it’s correct, and the veer from the plan that occurs as a result is the only rational response you can expect from a being who is effectively separate from humanity’s learned social contracts. Susan thinks so often about how Death wants to be close to people, but he can only manage the images without the substance; he has a house with an umbrella stand and hairbrushes and a giant clock, so many things he doesn’t use or need. And every time he becomes truly immersed in some aspect of humanity, he breaks a little. He’s forced to swallow all those things he cannot truly understand, forced to reckon with the injustice of it and the pain. (Because the nature of Death’s being is pure justice, in fact, so long as everyone continues to die.) And all of humanity’s rules and inequities are a lot to keep down, even in small doses.

On the plus side, this break leads to Socialist Christmas!!! Which is very hard not to love, watching Death taking from people who have plenty and literally calling it a “redistribution.” The pivot at the restaurant is also brilliant, and again recalls the fact that plenty of “fancy” foods were originally enjoyed by peasants. Whenever you need some cognitive dissonance remember: Oysters used to be eaten by poor folk.

But again, we’re looking at a very pointed commentary because Hogswatch is a Christian holiday stand-in. It’s extremely effective on the satire front because it’s challenging the cultural soup that Pratchett himself is swimming in, but the specificity of this needle he’s threading is bound to read differently if, say, you don’t celebrate Christmas. Or perhaps, if you feel obligated to celebrate it despite not being Christian because it’s expected where you live.

In the meantime, we’ve got Susan and the wizards working simultaneously, trying to puzzle out what’s going on with the Hogfather’s absence and the surplus of belief, and I’ve said this before, but I’ll always adore how the wizards are so often used to layer comedy of errors shenanigans on top of whatever the plot needs to do. A bunch of old men shouting about how much they hate family holidays while Ponder Stibbons tries not to worry about his computer child that might take over the world, and Ridcully misunderstanding most of what he’s told on account of being the most bull-headed man alive .

It occurs to me that Pratchett always has to give Susan little sidekicks in her stories so that she has someone to play off. Bilious a fun one for the fact that he just decides to go along with everything, it stands out to me more on this read because I’m reminded of personal but personal writing of Pratchett’s writing note that he only wrote siblings were more than people with children . (He was an only child and only had one child himself.) Being an only child, too, it occurred to me that I always had sidekicks in my life. Before I come off extremely self-aggrandizing, let me add that I’m not necessarily talking about people in this instance—many of my childhood sidekicks were trusty stuffed animals, imaginary friends, and the like. But there’s a difference in dynamic, I think, with people who were only children. We’re accustomed to tackling things on our own, and everyone else should probably just come along for the ride.

Asides and little thoughts:

  • All I’m saying is that there are dick jokes, and then there’s the “Red Rosy Hen” footnote.
  • There’s a fairly large aside to be made here about the psychology of children’s drawings because they really are a fascinating subject that still confuses psychologists, as far as I understand it. It’s being used here as a kind of chicken-or-egg scenario because do children really draw this place, or is it children’s innate understanding of this place that makes it real? But honestly, all I want to do is talk about perspective and how kids decide to make certain objects/subjects gigantic and others not. That would have changed that nature of this place a great deal.

Pratchettisms:

DO I DETECT A NOTE OF UNSEASONAL GRUMPINESS? said Death. NO SUGAR PIGGYWIGGY FOR YOUALBERT.

Like most people with no grasp whatsoever of real economics, Mustrum Ridcully equated “proper financial control” with the counting of paper clips.

The truth may be out there, but lies are inside your head.

Albert fought his way out of a drift of teddy bears, where he’d been dozing.

It was amazing how many people spent their whole lives in place where they never intended to stay.

It might help to think of the universe as a rubber sheet, or perhaps not.

Death lived in a black world, where nothing was alive and everything was dark and his great library only had dust and cobwebs because he’d created them for effect and there was never any sun in the sky and the air never moved and he had an umbrella stand.

The Cheerful Fairy was quite short and plump in a tweed skirt and shoes so sensible they could do their own tax returns, and was pretty much like the first teacher you get at school, the one who has special training in dealing with nervous incontinence and little boys whose contribution to the wonderful world of sharing consists largely of hitting a small girl repeatedly over the head with a wooden horse.

Next week we’ll finish the book!

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