Pratchett, Terry. Hogfather. New York: HarperTorch, 1996.
Terry Pratchett is considered one of the most significant modern English-language satirists. He has written more than thirty books to date, most of them in his science-fiction-fantasy series, Discworld. In every one of his books, one finds something very concrete, very relevant to the world in which we live.
Hogfather is a Christmas story. At least it is Pratchett’s idea of a Christmas story, or more aptly a non-Christmas story. The Hogfather is Discworld’s version of Santa Claus. In the text Pratchett tackles humanity’s obsession with mythology and fairy tales. No legend is safe, from the tooth fairy to Mary Poppins, as Pratchett deconstructs the mythology of the modern world. He interrogates why we tell our children fairy tales—and how. In the story, The Hogfather is depressed. In fact, his holiday has been cancelled because not enough people believe. So, a stand-in must fill the roll: the Grim Reaper, Death, the most affable character in Pratchett’s world.
While subtly examining our social customs and values, Pratchett weaves a fanciful tale of a being trying to move outside of the box. Death wants to be seen for who he is inside—not as people perceive him. He wants to renew the world’s faith in magic, in fairy tales, in something better and by so doing rejuvenate the Hogfather and Yule celebration.
As with all of his novels, Pratchett pokes at academia, government institutions, social values, religion and anything else that he fancies in the moment. He asks the critical reader to look at these institutions here on planet Earth and see exactly how closely they resemble Discworld. Hogfather questions our human propensity for fairy tales – to what end are they perpetuated? Do they entertain? Or teach? If they teach, Pratchett posits, what is it that we can learn from the character of Death? The text, for this reader, adequately answers that question. Fairy tales are not children’s stories at all. The Brothers Grimm, perhaps, finally have competition.