Okay, so it might be a bit weird reading a Christmas-themed book in the middle of spring, but it’s been so anxiety-inducing out there that I wanted to read something that would be a bit comforting. And that ended up being Discworld. So I’m not sorry, just a bit temporally confused.
It’s the night before Hogswatch, and a jolly man in red is making his way around the Disc, delivering presents to all the good boys and girls. Except that this year, the Hogfather has been temporarily replaced by Death, and his granddaughter Susan is determined to put a stop to such foolish behaviour. Elsewhere, an unnerving assassin by the name of Mr Teatime (pronounced Teh-ah-tim-eh) has been given a truly bizarre target for inhumation, and seems to be only too happy to give it a go.
So this might be my new go-to Christmas story. As the book can largely be split into three main plots (Death, Susan and the Unseen University, and Mr Teatime) I shall focus on each of them briefly.
There’s something absolutely wonderful about watching Death trying to get into the spirit of the holiday with great enthusiasm but not much understanding. From what I’ve seen of other people’s reactions, this is most fondly remembered in the scenes where he has gatecrashed a posh toy-shop’s “Hogfather’s Grotto”, and that is entirely understandable. There’s something magical about Death giving a small child a sword with the justification that it’s educational. What I kind of wasn’t expecting were the moments that were unexpectedly touching, that really question how charity is approached at Christmas and how little it is shown at other times of the year. It was more sobering than anticipated.
Upon finding out that her grandfather a rather unexpected side hustle this year, Susan is determined to figure out what is happening and decides to investigate, which involves the wizards at some point. Susan continues to be an odd character for me, as she doesn’t quite mesh with the Discworld as much as other characters with similar qualities, and this is highlighted very much when she stands in contrast to the insanity that is the Unseen University. She is cynical and practical, much like Vimes or Veternari, but these qualities only serve to make her feel a bit inhuman. Her desire to be perfectly normal and inoffensive is a bit too laser-focused, especially in the Discworld where their baseline for normal should be compared to real life. I wouldn’t be surprised if that were the point, but it still bothers me when I read her. The wizards are, of course, thoroughly entertaining and more than happy to just kind of roll with the various shenanigans that pop up during the narrative. It was nice to have some more development for Hex, which I hope to see more of as the series progresses.
Mr Teatime is genuinely unsettling, and should be held as an example of how masterful “less is more” characterisation can truly be. I will say that after a little while, before all three plots can come together near the climax, his plot-line can get a bit on the repetitive side, largely due to how few concrete details the audience have to work with about what is actually going on. Other than the odd pacing issue though, it does have some truly unsettling moments that will stay with me.
Hogfather is largely carried by the absurdity of Death trying to emulate a Santa-type figure, but the inclusion of Mr Teatime is a masterstroke that proves just how skilled and subtle Pratchett’s writing could be. The pacing could have used a little tweaking in places and I’m still a bit on the fence about Susan, but otherwise this was thoroughly enjoyable. 4.5/5
Next review: The Yoga of Strength by Andrew Marc Rowe