Terry Pratchett crafted a truly unique world in the vast Discworld series, and that’s not only because he wrote in the rare sub-genre of comedic fantasy. Even when his ostensible purpose was to spoof a myriad of tropes and character types, he still managed to offer some surprisingly deep insights into human nature.
His prolific works are a mixed bag of in terms of quality, particularly the early ones, but Hogfather is one of the strongest. The title refers to the Discworld analogue of Santa Claus, who was referenced in previous books as the mythic tusked figure who brings presents for children on Hogswatch night. But now he is in serious danger of being murdered. How do you murder a mythic figure? By convincing people to stop believing in him, of course.
The culprit is Teatime, an assassin hired to take out the Hogfather by any means necessary. Oddly enough, his principle opponent in this endeavor is the personification of Death. As the Hogfather’s existence diminishes, Death takes on his duties on Hogswatch, ensuring that children will continue believing in the jolly old fellow. Much of the book’s humor comes from the image of a skull-faced grim reaper figure trying to play what is essentially Santa Claus.
But then we have our main protagonist, Susan, who is Death’s granddaughter (by adoption; it’s a long story). By profession she’s a governess, which is a much more perilous profession than you might think — the children she cares for keep imagining real monsters into existence under their beds. It doesn’t take her long to figure out that something very odd is going on that Hogswatch night. It’s only through her resourcefulness and determination that disaster is averted.
What is that disaster? Whenever Susan asks, Death claims that without the Hogfather, the sun will no longer rise. It’s not until the end that we discover what he really means, and it becomes a interesting discourse on the nature of belief and mythology. I don’t necessarily agree with every point of the philosophy that Prachtett is presenting, but it’s some intriguing food for thought. More importantly, it comes in the form of a very funny story. I haven’t even scratched the surface of all the gags and jokes. It’s good stuff.