Keywords

Terry Pratchett, Discworld, Hogfather, utopia, dystopia, fantasy, imagination, belief

Subject Area

English/Communications

Start Date

1-3-2014 9:00 AM

End Date

1-3-2014 10:30 AM

Description/Abstract

Terry Pratchett’s series of novels about Discworld—a flat world held up by four elephants and carried through space on the back of a vast turtle—began with a parody of the conventions of fantasy fiction but developed into a satirical, yet eminently humane, examination of modern social conventions, assumptions, and foibles. Pratchett’s Hogfather explores the longing for order, for a utopia in which all the “messiness” of being human no longer disturbs the calm process of the universe. In this novel, the forces of order are represented by the Auditors of Reality, who hire a human assassin to do away with the Hogfather, the Discworld equivalent of Santa Claus. The powers of imagination and belief that accrete around this figure are essential, however, to the continuance of life on the Disc, and so the Auditors’ great adversary, Death (an “anthropomorphic personification,” as he refers to himself), steps in to carry out the Hogfather’s duties. Meanwhile, the Auditors’ hired assassin makes his headquarters in the palace of the Tooth Fairy, an unchanging place cast in the image of the perfect homes imagined in generations of children’s artwork. Utopia—the good place, the desired world—is perceived as a realm where imagination is either tidied into predictable patterns or swept away entirely. Here there would be no Hogfather—and no Death. As this paper will discuss, however, such a place is not in fact a good one for human beings, who must, as Death points out, be free to imagine small things (such as gift-giving holiday characters), so that we can imagine the big things (such as justice, mercy, and duty) that enable us to create ourselves as the locus of true utopia, “the place where the falling angel meets the rising ape.”

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Mar 1st, 9:00 AM Mar 1st, 10:30 AM

The Auditors, the Tooth Fairy, and Death: Utopian Delusions in Terry Pratchett’s Hogfather

Terry Pratchett’s series of novels about Discworld—a flat world held up by four elephants and carried through space on the back of a vast turtle—began with a parody of the conventions of fantasy fiction but developed into a satirical, yet eminently humane, examination of modern social conventions, assumptions, and foibles. Pratchett’s Hogfather explores the longing for order, for a utopia in which all the “messiness” of being human no longer disturbs the calm process of the universe. In this novel, the forces of order are represented by the Auditors of Reality, who hire a human assassin to do away with the Hogfather, the Discworld equivalent of Santa Claus. The powers of imagination and belief that accrete around this figure are essential, however, to the continuance of life on the Disc, and so the Auditors’ great adversary, Death (an “anthropomorphic personification,” as he refers to himself), steps in to carry out the Hogfather’s duties. Meanwhile, the Auditors’ hired assassin makes his headquarters in the palace of the Tooth Fairy, an unchanging place cast in the image of the perfect homes imagined in generations of children’s artwork. Utopia—the good place, the desired world—is perceived as a realm where imagination is either tidied into predictable patterns or swept away entirely. Here there would be no Hogfather—and no Death. As this paper will discuss, however, such a place is not in fact a good one for human beings, who must, as Death points out, be free to imagine small things (such as gift-giving holiday characters), so that we can imagine the big things (such as justice, mercy, and duty) that enable us to create ourselves as the locus of true utopia, “the place where the falling angel meets the rising ape.”