Mark Reads ‘Small Gods’: Part 17

In the seventeenth and final part of Small Gods, Om makes a stand. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Discworld.

If you want thousands, you have to fight for one.

I can’t imagine a better summary of why this story is so important. Small Gods certainly poked fun at religion and really brought it in the pun department. But I think there’s a very serious message at the heart of all of this, and Om embodies it right when the people of Ephebe and Tsort and Omnia really need it. Powered by the vicious and desperate belief of his followers as they face down the oncoming armies of all the nations come to destroy Omnia, he heads straight to the one place he knows where he can affect real change on this battle.

Cori Celesti, home of the gods.

It’s telling to me that Om, who has sought power and his original form for this whole book, gets what he wants and then immediately uses it to help his people, namely Brutha. He strides into the hall of all the great gods, a place he hasn’t been in generations, and he rejects his natural inclination to view humanity as all the other gods do: as game pieces. This isn’t the first time we’ve seen this specific setting or this motif before, but never has Pratchett addressed it so directly. I get the sense that he despises such an arrangement, too. I don’t know much about Pratchett personally, but I wonder if his thoughts on organized religion could be gleamed from this. I don’t think he’s an atheist by any means; belief plays too heavily into his body of work. But the idea that a god could view humans as game pieces in some sort of otherworldly game of good and evil seems horrible to him. Om shows up here to stop the entire inhumane behavior, bullying the gods into telling their believers what really matters. Y’all, HE STRONGARMS ONE OF THE MOST POWERFUL GODS IN THE DISCWORLD. Why?

So that his message can reach them, and this horrible cycle might actually be broken.

Here and Now, You are Alive

I picked up on a very wonderful thing on that beach: in the midst of the gods’ game pieces falling to earth (as well as some fruit and parts of a cornucopia), the people from all these nations banded together. Just minutes earlier, they were ready to destroy one another. But then, they’re crawling under the Turtle, and no one is trying to prevent their “enemy” from dying. Simony enjoys some Tsortean tobacco and some other lands’ alcohol. Urn helps cook some raw fish. And when the conditions outside the Turtle turn hellish and Simony is certain that people are dying, he refuses to let it happen.

“Listen,” said Simony, as the wind whipped at him, “I’m not giving in! You’ve haven’t won! I’m not doing this for any sort of god, whether they exist or not! I’m doing it for other people!”

So when the gods finally appear to their believers, their commandments fall right in live with this: This is not a game. Here and now, you are alive. It’s precisely the sort of world that begins to be formed after Om and the other gods leave their people behind. There are no easy solutions here for the people of these nations, but Pratchett gives us a glimpse of what Brutha has done. Instead of destroying everything that the Church once had, he makes the people of Omnia slowly change everything. There are no dramatic pronouncements or decrees. Even the Quisition remains for a while, though Brutha asks Simony to head it just to slowly close it. (But not before seeking some justice by punishing the worst offenders.)

I think it all represents being alive, here and now. As Brutha puts it, he just wants Omnia to get on with things, to grow as a society and to finally just live their lives, free from the restrictive forces of the Church. When Brutha dies, a hundred years later, Omnia is drastically different, but only when you compare the beginning and the end of that journey. It took a hundred years for the Library to be rebuilt, for the Temple doors to be turned into an open and welcoming set of stairs, and for Omnia to become it’s own nation.

And in the end, Brutha remains almost exactly the same person he was at the beginning of the novel. Strangely, he has changed a lot. He’s no longer the obedient boy who memorizes everything because he’s told to. But when he dies and faces his final trip across the desert, he exhibits the same sense of loyalty and kindness that made him such a memorable character in the first place. Even though Death details what a horrible person Vorbis was, Brutha still helps him across the desert, even though he certainly doesn’t have to.

It’s a fitting end to a story about doing right by people simply because it’s a good thing to do, regardless of religion or gods or faith.

Mark Links Stuff

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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since ’09.

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