Mark Reads ‘Hogfather’: Part 17

In the seventeenth and penultimate part of Hogfather, Death and Susan confront the Auditors. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Discworld.

Well, now I understand how there’s more of this book. It’s astounding to me that this confrontation and climax can still feel as big and as important as the one between Susan and Teatime. But there’s a bigger theme at work here, and I can’t imagine Hogfather without all of this. That’s partially due to the fact that a “reunion” of Susan and Death was inevitable anyway; I wanted to see them meet-up again after their earlier encounter. But Death’s promise – that without the Hogfather, the sun would not rise – made no sense to me. I had to find out why he was so certain of that. (There’s also the other loose thread: Teatime is alive and I don’t understand how that’s even possible, but he is, AND NOW I AM SCARED.)

Actually, before I move on to the main Death/Susan story, I must appreciate this killer exchange:

“What’s all this, Mr. Stibbons?”

“I really should talk to him, sir. He’s had a near-death experience!”

“We all have. It’s called ‘living,'” said the Archchancellor shortly.

THIS IS SUCH A GREAT JOKE, OH MY GOD.

Anyway, let’s talk about the power of belief. That’s not an unfamiliar theme within the Discworld books, and indeed, it is probably the most pervasive concept across these twenty books. It’s surprising, then, that Pratchett finds a new way to deal with this idea, and he utilizes the Auditors – who hate the untidiness of humanity with a passion – to comment on the need for belief. It’s something that all people, in some form or another, deal with on a daily basis. So we’re taken far away and long ago, to a time where the Hogfather was something much more primal, and this is where a primal battle between the Auditors and the Hogfather unfolds. The end of this conflict felt far more metaphorical than I was used to for Pratchett, but it’s not a bad thing at all. It’s actually one of the reasons I found this to be such an exciting book to read. Pratchett is breaking from what I expect, and that’s thrilling!

The chase and fight that occurs here is meant to challenge Susan along with us. I’ve mentioned this a few times now, but Hogfather comes together in a purposeful way. Practically every piece of this story exists for a reason. This had to be the Auditors. This had to be Death, and Susan, and Ernie, and the Hogfather, and there had to be a sequence in the Tooth Fairy’s country. And it had to be Susan. Susan, who hates the weird and the bizarre, who wants a normal life, who wishes to leave the occult behind, is asked to do a very human thing: to believe in the Hogfather. And it was fascinating to me to watch her to jump into action without hesitation, to then question her faith in her grandfather and herself when things got tough, and then to believe so fully that she actually kills an Auditor.

Which is fascinating, too!!! The Auditors, who hate humanity and untidiness, become what they hate for a brief moment. In that moment, they are vulnerable:

YOU COULDN’T RESIST IT? IN THE END? A MISTAKE, I FANCY.

He touched the scythe. There was a click as the blade flashed into life.

IT GETS UNDER YOUR SKIN, LIFE, said Death, stepping forward. SPEAKING METAPHORICALLY, OF COURSE. IT’S A HABIT THAT’S HARD TO GIVE UP. ONE PUFF OF BREATH IS NEVER ENOUGH. YOU’LL FIND YOU WANT TO TAKE ANOTHER.

Do you realize how significant that is because Death is the one saying it??? Death, who observes humanity from a distance, who has spent this entire series slowly courting with humans and their messy, silly lives. And here, he’s admitting that even he cannot resist the machinations and the temptation. So how can the Auditors? Ah, it’s such a beautiful irony.

AND NOW THERE REMAINS ONLY ONE FINAL QUESTION, he said.

He raised his hands, and seemed to grow. Light flared in his eye sockets. When he spoke next, avalanches fell in the mountains.

HAVE YOU BEEN NAUGHTY… OR NICE?

HO. HO. HO.

Gods all bless this book. It’s incredible. And Death-as-badass-Hogfather-action-hero aside, even the “return” of the Hogfather is symbolically electrifying. His transformation to the “modern” version of himself is a spectacle in and of itself, not in the least because Susan believes him back to life. But it’s what this represents that takes Hogfather to a higher level. Because belief is a fickle, frightening thing, yet it’s something we all toy with in order to avoid falling into existential despair. And even if I have succumbed to that sensation more than I might like to admit, I have also believed in the tiny things so that the big things – mercy and justice and duty and fairness – don’t seem so impossible. Some days, those concepts are nebulous and unfamiliar. But then I think about the flashes of joy I’ve had in the last decade around Christmas and how, even for a few hours, I’ve been able to believe in something bigger than a good party or a loving gathering. I can believe that the world might turn towards the positive. Even I don’t call myself a believer, I still believe in a things that fuel my day-to-day life, and there’s no harm in admitting that. I have to believe in something or else I might fall apart.

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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since ’09.

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