Sunday, December 16, 2012

Happy Hogswatch!

Hogfather, Terry Pratchett

I find comfort in reading about other people's stressful holidays in the midst of my own.  Though mine cannot compare with that of the families in Connecticut, or with those who are losing their jobs in these months, I learned this week that the apartment complex where I live has been sold to a developer, who will tear it down.  We haven't heard officially, but we will probably have to move out in the next 30-45 days.  I've already started looking for a new place for me, two cats, and far too many books.  I'm lucky it's just me and the cats, that I don't have to worry about finding a place with good schools for kids, as some folks here do.  But it's still going to be an anxious Christmas, and I can feel myself turning toward comfort books even more than usual.

Terry Pratchett's Hogfather is one of my seasonal Christmas books.  If you aren't familiar with his work, he is probably best-known for a long series of books set on a world called the Disc, one with a lot of parallels to our own, which he uses to great satirical and comedic effect.  Each book can be read on its own, but each book also draws on and then builds on a complicated backstory, familiarity with which gives Pratchett's jokes and allusions a deeper meaning.  There are some stand-alone books, but also what I'd call subseries, centered on different characters. I particularly enjoy the books about Sam Vimes and the Watch, the police force in the great city of Ankh-Morpork; the two books about the reforming con man Moist van Lipwig; and those featuring the witches of the remote Ramtop mountains, including the apprentice witch Tiffany Aching.

One of my favorite characters shows up in almost every book: Death.  Pratchett's version of the Grim Reaper is a tall skeleton in a black hooded robe, with glowing blue eye sockets, the obligatory sickle and a white horse named Binky.  Death is an anthropomorphic personification and therefore he has (in Pratchett's words)
in some measure, human traits - like curiosity.  He'll want to see what makes humans tick, being well aware of what makes them stop.  It's a moot point if Death can have emotions, but he does appear to be sentimental.  Certainly he seems to be increasingly uneasy in his role and has been known to bend the rules very slightly . . .
In this book, the Hogfather, the Disc's version of Father Christmas, has gone missing, and Death is filling in temporarily for reasons of his own.  His granddaughter Susan (who has a lovely complicated backstory and has inherited certainly family traits) learns of this and sets off to find out why, though he expressly warns her to keep out of it.  The wizards of Ankh-Morpork's great Unseen University are also drawn into the mystery, which interrupts their usual Hogswatch program of feasting and academic squabbles.  As always, in an entertaining and often hilarious story Pratchett has some serious things to say, in this case about the real meaning of holidays and celebrations, about poverty and injustice, about faith and belief, and about what it means to be human.  And as always, it's as hard to stop after one Pratchett book as it is after one piece of Christmas candy.


  1. Sorry to hear you're having to move out of your apartment. Good luck finding somewhere new for you and the cats.

    I still haven't read anything by Terry Pratchett - for some reason his books have never really appealed to me, though I'm not sure why not! Where do you think would be the best place to start?

  2. Oh, I'm so sorry! Moving is stressful, and moving with books is extra stressful (believe me; I know). I hope you find a great new place.

    Hogswatch is one of my Christmas favorites too. I love Terry Pratchett's take on Santa as a scary winter god.

  3. Thank you, Helen! I do love recommending books. The Truth is about newspapers, and it might be a good introduction to the Ankh-Morpork books. My first was Monstrous Regiment, which is set in the midst of a Balkan-type war - more of a stand-alone. The Tiffany books are YA, but they hooked most of my family into Pratchett - starting with The Wee Free Men.

  4. elizabeth, I hate packing books, because I never know what I might need - and they always take the most boxes. I love Pratchett's idea that gods can evolve and find new niches (and we get to see that process speeded up, through Susan's eyes at the end). My favorite will always be Anoia :)

  5. I hope you find a really good place to make a new home for you and your cats. Half of my books are already packed away in small boxes, I made the mistake years ago of using large boxes which I couldn't budge.We're hoping to downsize soon. Pratchett isn't my cup of tea!

  6. Cats are a bit of a liability in looking for apartments these days - some places are now charging "pet rent"! I haven't met too many other Pratchett readers, except the ones I've converted :)

  7. I am sorry - not the sort of news you want to hear especially at this time of the year. I hope you and your cats find a new home without too many problems.

    I have to confess I've never read Pratchett.

  8. So sorry to hear about your apartment! Moving is hideous at the best of times. In my previous apartment I had to pay pet rent, but it was only $10 or $15 a month. I hope you can find something soon that will be a happy home for you and your cats.

    I haven't ever read Pratchett, but I have a few friends who just adore his books. Just this morning I was contemplating reading his new YA novel called Dodger. Have you heard anything about it?

    Enjoy your Christmas candy comfort reading!

  9. Thank you, Cat - it just seems particularly Scroogeish, at this time of the year.

    Anbolyn, I'm finding that apartments are more willing to take cats or small dogs than people with houses to rent. I did read a review of Dodger recently, and it sounded more interesting than I expected. I thought it was going to be a re-telling of Dickens, but it sort of uses Dickens as a jumping-off point.

  10. I hope you find somewhere perfect for those two great pleasures in life, cats and books. Packing books is such a terrible chore, especially as one always discovers so many things to read while doing it! All the best for a wonderful Christmas, and I'm sure everything will work out.

  11. Thank you, Vicki! I've been enjoying your cat-related tweets very much :) I know exactly what you mean about packing books - and it's so difficult to know what to pack first. I always want to leave them for last, actually. But moving does help clarify that I can let some books go to the library sale - and that helps.

  12. I'm so sorry about the enforced move, Lisa. Having to pack up and find somewhere new is always such a performance. After the last time, I swore never again. I hope you manage to find somewhere so perfect that you bless the forces that made looking necessary.

    Although I used to read his children's books to the children when I was teaching, I've only just come to Pratchett's adult books. I'm halfway trough 'Mort' and in complete agreement about Death.

  13. Alex, thank you! There will be good things, once the upheaval of packing & moving & unpacking is over, and I'm trying to remember that.

    I haven't read all of Pratchett's children's books yet, though I loved Nation.


Thank you for taking the time to read, and to comment. I always enjoy hearing different points of view about the books I am reading, even if we disagree!