In late December 2015, Rihanna Pratchett, daughter of award-winning author Sir Terry Pratchett, wrote an article in The Guardian, as a tribute to her late father. She talked about how, in creating the fictional character of Death, Sir Pratchett had made, well, death, less of a terrifying concept. As it is the season, it seems worth talking about one of Pratchett’s more Christmass-y stories- and although the celebration is over, it’s certainly a timeless tale. ‘The Hogfather’, published in 1996, and made into a television-film in 2006, is one of Sir Pratchett’s parody-based stories, in this case, focusing on the titular Hogfather, the Discworldian Father Christmas.
We begin with a meeting of the Auditors, the faceless, nameless figures who effectively run the universe. One, meeting with the head of the Assassin’s Guild, employs one of the assassins, Mr Teatime, to kill the Hogfather, as he does not fit in with the auditor’s ‘view of the universe’. But don’t worry, because Death, and his adopted granddaughter Susan Sto Helit, an exceedingly qualified babysitter, are on the case. Death decides to act as a substitute, donning a fake beard, and long red cloak, though taking the Children’s wishes a little too seriously (a little girl requesting a sword is given a full length broadsword, rather than a toy one). Susan, meanwhile, makes her journey to the tooth fairy’s castle, where the Mr Teatime is biding his time.
The one defining moment of the text is when, without spoiling the story, someone accidentally runs Death through with a fire poker. However, because the weapon ‘only kills monsters’ (which, to be fair, it has done in previous chapters), Death is fortunately, albeit confusingly, still alive. The first book in which Death takes a leading role is ‘Mort’ in which he decides to take on an apprentice. It is revealed that he has an adoptive daughter, Ysabell, who was taken in when Death, ahem, collected her parents, and found the child in the carriage wreckage. This is the Death the audience are introduced to; one who takes in stray children, is happy to pretend to be Father Christmas, and has a horse named ‘Binky’. No, seriously. Despite his… unfortunate occupation, this is a gentle, kind character, which is easy for readers to connect with, making Death a lot less scary.
Despite Sir Pratchett being gone, he lives on through his books. From Death, to Captain Vimes, to Tiffany Aching, and a hundred other characters. Through his writing, Sir Pratchett will continue to tell his stories, and remind us all not to be afraid of the monsters under our bed, and to keep believing. This is characterised in one of the book’s best quotes:
IT’S PRACTICE. YOU HAVE TO START OUT LEARNING TO BELIEVE THE LITTLE LIES.
"So we can believe the big ones?"
YES. JUSTICE. MERCY. DUTY.