In the sixteenth part of Hogfather, Susan fights Teatime and discovers what’s in the room at the top of the tower. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Hogfather.
Trigger Warning: For talk of abuse (specifically child abuse)
I honestly was not ready for this section. I’m reminded of the endings for both Moving Pictures and Feet of Clay here, as those books had a more somber message about identity and morality attached to them. But in her confrontation with Teatime, Susan exposes his central flaw: he is too confident. Too arrogant. Too certain that everyone and everything is below him, worthless, disposable.
I could not help but feel sad for most of this section, though. Even the victory over Teatime and the Auditors is bittersweet, especially since so many of Teatime’s henchmen are killed by this place. I didn’t feel great about Sideney’s death, especially since he died at the monstrous personification of his childhood bully. (Now I understand why Pratchett brought him up earlier in the book.) And then, as Teatime toyed with Susan and Banjo and Medium Dave, I just wanted him gone. In this character, Pratchett has a creation that is made up of cruelty and spite. He’s terrifying, not because he’s the bogeyman hiding under our beds, but because he’s so real. Don’t we all know someone who has a bit too much of Teatime in him? Someone who uses their cleverness to cause suffering in others? Someone who views themselves as so superior to the world that they can destroy everything they touch out of some misplaced morality?
There’s no part of this that is more indicative of his cruelty than his treatment of Banjo. Now, multiple characters in this book mistreat Banjo; they view his childish nature as a flaw and evidence of his inferiority. Teatime, on the other hand, feels entitled to Banjo because he’s not as immediately clever as Teatime. And that’s really what spooks me so deeply when it comes to Teatime. That expectation that he deserves subservience from someone like Banjo is simply horrifying. So yeah, it was satisfying as hell to watch Susan tear Teatime down, to see her openly insult him because he was a weird kid. Well, weird is an understatement, of course, but you get the idea. She tears him down, distracting him, and he starts lashing out at the Lilywhites, all while trying to defend himself from Susan’s accusations, and then the nightmare becomes real.
Ma Lilywhite arrives.
Now, there’s a difference between a strict, overbearing parent and what we see here. Remember, this place twists a child’s worst fear into a nightmare that terrifies them. In no universe should a child’s parent represent that nightmare. Yet I related to this on a sadly personal level, given that the only recurring nightmares I have anymore are all about my mother. Thus, I was heartbroken by Medium Dave’s death. He died from the fright of his mother, and that’s seriously, seriously awful.
But then the fight shifts, and I was SO PLEASED that this became the fight between the Eternal Child (Teatime) and the Eternal Babysitter (Susan.) IT’S SO SATISFYING. And I’m sitting here, thinking about how genius it was to make Susan a governess so that this dynamic could play out over the book, and I AM NOT OKAY. Susan’s role has a symbolic importance on top of her being the main character. In this story, she represents someone who never really had a normal childhood, despite that she quietly wishes she had one. Thus, she’s the polar opposite of Teatime, since he is perpetually a child. (You could also argue that Teatime and Susan both want normalcy, but can’t get it. WHEW, THERE ARE SO MANY POSSIBLE LAYERS HERE.) Their fight is visceral, literal, and metaphorical, and I LOVE IT.
And then there’s The Bogeyman. I didn’t really come into this final sequence with the hope that the tower (or this world) would ever be explained. It seemed obvious enough that children’s minds created a place like this, but now I’m quite happy to find out that The Bogeyman – the very first one ever – was responsible for this realm as the world outside it changed and the primal fears that man held long ago didn’t exist anymore. It’s a great twist because there’s such a fascinating study of fear and childhood belief at the heart of Hogfather, and this subplot plays a part in contributing to it. In this case, The Bogeyman stopped scaring children and began to protect them, especially since children represented the purest form of that primal fear that The Bogeyman used to represent itself.
So when The Bogeyman dies – really, truly dies – Pratchett does an amazing thing: he gives Susan the responsibility of figuring out how to preserve this world and this way of believing. In turn, he makes Banjo the protector of all children. It is absolutely one of the most emotionally satisfying moments of this book and the Discworld series as a whole. If Teatime is Pratchett at his most cruel, then Banjo is Pratchett at his most pure. Here’s a character who may have a simpler understanding of the world than everyone else, but they care. Intensely so. He just wants to do what’s right, to make his mam proud, to be purposeful, even if he doesn’t express himself in that way.
And it works so well, y’all.
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