Character Reference is a weekly spot where I provide a letter of recommendation for a series you should try. Usually this post introduces a comic or graphic novel for you to delve into, but this week we’re going to take our first foray into books. As it’s Christmas in just a few days, I thought it was time to share my favourite festive tale! Pour yourself a hot chocolate, grab a mince pie and enjoy!
Most people, whether they are avid readers or not, will have heard the name Terry Pratchett. Beloved by children and adults alike, Pratchett had a rare talent for tapping into the profound through the absurd and the humorous, much like Douglas Adams. A prolific author, Terry Pratchett continued to produce books regularly, even after his diagnosis of early onset Alzheimer’s disease, with his last book being released posthumously last year. He is best remembered for his work in the original fantasy realm of the Discworld, which contains many fantasy staples (witches, wizards, vampires, fairies) with a refreshing twist.
Hogfather is set on the Discworld, during their Christmas equivalent; Hogswatch. They believe that a pig-man in a red coat that rides a sleigh pulled by four boars comes on Hogswatch Night and grants wishes…or at least they used to. Belief is what keeps things turning on the Disc, and when anthropomorphic personifications lose popularity things can soon get topsy-turvy, especially when assassins can be sent after a mythical figure like the Hogfather…
There’s nothing twee or sickly sweet about Hogfather, this is proper dark and wintery fare; think more of midwinter festivals and Pagan traditions than of the commercialised, sanitised Christmas seen in TV adverts. But it’s all the better for that; children and adults alike relish the dark to balance the light, which is why fairy tales remain so popular. If Hogfather was to be likened to anything, The Nightmare Before Christmas is the best comparison; in fact the plots are somewhat parallel. The protagonists of this particular story are not your typical heroes; Susan is a young grim nanny who can see rather more than she would like, she’s more Mary Shelley than Mary Poppins. Working hard to be the saviour of Hogswatch so the children aren’t disappointed is Susan’s grandfather, none other than Death himself. A mostly good-natured fellow, he doesn’t always quite get humans and sometimes he’ll take their wishes rather too literally, but he does appreciate cats.
Terry Pratchett’s writing is effortless to read; the humour is deft yet laugh out loud, and he knows just how to stay on the right side of eerie, much like Roald Dahl. The Discworld books are numerous and sprawling, yet can largely be dipped into at any point. Hogfather is an enjoyable stand-alone, or an excellent introduction to Discworld. If you enjoy this, I recommend reading more of the series that heavily involves Death (Mort and Reaper Man are excellent Death-focused stories).
Hogfather is a story about the power of belief, and the reasons we cling to tradition. Things don’t have to be real in order for them to have meaning and a powerful hold over our imaginations. Hogfather is the perfect read for children old enough to scoff at the idea of Santa Claus, and for adults of all ages who need reminding why we all need the dark and the light, especially at this time of year.
Title: Hogfather (Discworld)
Writer: Terry Pratchett
Best for: Fans of The Nightmare Before Christmas, fantasy lovers, children that believe they’re too old for Santa and the Tooth Fairy, adults who have forgotten what it is to believe