Narrator: Tony Robinson
Published by Corgi Audio on Nov. 1, 1997
Genres: Fiction, Fantasy, General
Length: 3 hours
HO. HO. HO. BUT WHO IS COMING DOWN THE CHIMNEY?
It's the night before Hogswatch. And it's too quiet. There's snow. There are robins, and trees covered with decorations. But there's a notable lack of the big fat man who delivers the toys. He's gone. Worse still, there's someone coming down the chimney - someone horribly familiar, even though he's carrying a sack instead of a scythe...
When a sinister organization kidnaps the Santa-like Hogfather, the Grim Reaper steps into the role and Death’s granddaughter races to find the missing elf before Hogswatch.
I’m not a huge fantasy reader, but I’ve been curious about this book for a while due to its holiday setting, renowned franchise, and apparent cheeky humor. Given the passing last March of the book’s beloved author Terry Pratchett, I decided this would be the year to dig into this wacky tale. Pratchett wrote a whopping 41 novels set within his fictional universe of Discworld, an alternate, rustic England populated with curious deities and playful supernatural figures. Hogfather falls about halfway through the series.
Based on this book, I’d call Pratchett’s style quintessentially British: the satire and cutting wit of Monty Python, the fierce inventiveness of Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide books, the brisk pace and gleeful storytelling of Doctor Who. There’s even a bit of J.R.R. Tolkien in there thanks to the series’ epic scope. Which is to say, the book is (jolly) good fun.
Perhaps because I listened to this as an (abridged) audiobook, I found the story tricky to follow at times; had I been reading this as a physical book, I’d definitely have skipped back to review names and events. Because Discworld and its characters have such odd properties and histories (the heroine can walk through walls), I found an online summary of the book to be helpful in mastering the backstory and present tale.
That said, I was never less than amused. Even when you’re not sure what’s going on exactly, the dialogue is always side-splittingly witty (“Do you like children?” / “Not raw”) and the characters memorable. I really enjoyed spending time with plucky heroine Susan, a governess who’s not amused to find her grandfather Death pretending to be the Hogfather (a little like Jack Skellington playing Santa). She befriends Bilious, the god of hangovers who always suffers the excesses of his counterpart Bibulous, the god of wine. She’s also helped by the Death of Rats, a tiny, skeletal rodent version of the Grim Reaper. Meanwhile, a bumbling crew of freelance crooks (with names like Peachy, Catseye, Chickenwire, and Banjo) responsible for kidnapping the Hogfather provide their own brand of basic comedy.
The book is very festive as well, with wry commentary on the Christmas-like Hogswatch (December 32) woven into its complex fabric. Even though the pig-driving, pork-giving Hogfather is kidnapped because people believe in him, the joke is that no one really does, not even the kids. Particularly hilarious is Death’s attempt to stand in for a hired Hogfather impersonator at the mall—sorry, the Maul—and comprehend the strange gift-giving requests.
For readers, the holidays are as good a time as any to jump into this delightfully odd series, and this seems like a good place to start. If you’d rather, you can watch the fine three-hour BBC television adaptation available on DVD. But if you do, you’ll miss the book’s achingly funny asides, such as “shoes so sensible they could do their own taxes.” It looks like Pratchett left us with a lot of gifts, and it’s time to start unwrapping them.
Note from Lucy: Though Andrew didn’t mention the narration specifically in his review he enjoyed it a lot! Check out an audiobook excerpt: