By Terry Pratchett
Abridged Edition published by Corgi Audio
Read by Tony Robinson
It’s been a while since I listened to any of Terry Pratchett’s books although I have most of them in my library (I’m missing one or two, but intend to take care of that one of these days), but I have not reviewed them all because Mister Pratchett managed to write over forty of them before his death in 2015. The series, in fact, is so large that is includes several sub-series within it.
Hogfather involves some of my favorite characters from the series. First of all there is Death. Death is just what you might expect; a tall skeletal being in a long, hooded, black robe who carries around a scythe and/or sometimes a sword (both appear in this story). He has a bit more humor than your usual Death character although much of that seems to come from his desire to learn about and understand the odd people of the Discworld. In the first two books, Death appears every time the Wizzard (sic) Rincewind is about to die but somehow manages to survive leaving Death to mutter something like, “I seem to have had another near-Rincewind experience.” Later on, in his attempt to understand, he adopts a young girl and also takes on a human apprentice. Those two eventually marry and produce my favorite character of all on the Discworld.
Susan Sto Helit is Death’s Granddaughter and while there is no blood relation between her and the anthropomorphic representation, she admits that “Death runs in her family,” giving her certain supernatural powers (similar to those of Death himself), but she is a down-to-Earth and extremely sensible young woman who would prefer to live a normal life (“I don’t do that stuff anymore!”) although the supernatural is constantly calling her back in spite of her desires. In this book, Susan is working as a governess, but because she is who she is, when the children tell her there is a monster under their beds, there really are monsters there. She generally handles those creature with a steel poker from the fireplace… thank you very much.
Then there are the Wizards. They are a silly bunch although they were far more stolid at the start of the series. Generally, they seem to cause more trouble for themselves than any normal person ought to… must be due to all that advanced learning, I guess.
Anyway, the Auditors of the Universe, for reason that come out in the course of the book, have taken out a hit (with the local Assassin’s Guild) on the Discworld’s version of Santa Claus, the Hogfather who flies through the skies on a sleigh pulled by wild boars each Hogswatch Eve to deliver toys to the good girls and boys of Discworld. With the Hogfather out of action it is up to Death to fill in for him while someone else (Susan) goes where even Death cannot and save the day.
This is an hilarious romp of blended parody, satire and humor with a soupcon of philosophy thrown in for good measure. Amazingly it all works together in a delightful, but odd, holiday story. I recommend it highly and if you can find it, check out the TV miniseries of the same name. It is excellently done and very true to the book.
If I have any complaint it is that this audio-edition was abridged. A lot of really good stuff was cut out – oh nothing directly important to hold the plot together, but details and sometimes details matter, such as when Susan reminds one of her young charges to stop speaking with the exaggerated childish lisp she puts on just to be cute. It is a point that repeats several times in the story to good effect, but which was scrubbed from the abridged edition. Or of the scene in which Corporal Nobby Nobbs of the Ankh Morpork City Watch approaches Death, now playing the Hogfather at a Department store. Nobbs is unable to actually arrest the Hogfather and, instead, falls back on habits learned as a child and sits on the Hogfather’s knee. Even Death is unable to exactly figure out Nobbs, though and asks things like “AND WHAT’S YOUR NAME, LITTLE… PERSON?” and “AND HAVE YOU BEEN A GOOD BO… A GOOD INDIVIDUAL?” Fun stuff and I’m sorry it got left out.
The book is read by Tony Robinson who played Baldrick in the Blackadder series. He also appeared at the department store owner in the Hogfather TV adaptation. For the most part he reads wonderfully, but he does not quite get Death’s voice right. He just does not have the deep resonant voice of Ian Richardson or Christopher Lee (both of whom have provided the voice of Death in Discworld adaptations) and his attempt to talk in a Deathly whisper pales beside those other actors who have tried. However, the rest of the reading is excellently done and well worth the time to listen to.
So a fun book and a pretty good reading of it as well. And so to quote Death once more “HAPPY HOGSWATCH. AND GOOD NIGHT, CHILDREN… EVERYWHERE.”