from
Hogfather
by
Terry Pratchett

Terry Pratchett

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Hogfather

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Fantasy

Christmas stories

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Hogfather

Copyright © 1996 by Terry and Lyn Pratchett

But it was much earlier even than that when most people forgot that the very oldest stories are, sooner or later, about blood. Later on they took the blood out to make the stories more acceptable to children, or at least to the people who had to read them to children rather than the children themselves (who, on the whole, are quite keen on blood provided it’s being shed by the deserving*), and then wondered where the stories went.

* That is to say, those who deserve to shed blood. Or possibly not. You never quite know with some kids.

“You have read it, I assume. You know? The sign which says, ‘Do not, under any circumstances, open this door’?”

“Of course I’ve read it,” said Ridcully. “Why d’yer think I want it opened?”

“Er . . . why?” said the Lecturer in Recent Runes.

“To see why they wanted it shut, of course.”*

* This exchange contains almost all you need to know about human civilization. At least, those bits of it that are now under the sea, fenced off or still smoking.

Topic:

Logic (examples)

The members of the Guild of Assassins considered themselves cultured men who enjoyed good music and food and literature. And they knew the value of human life. To a penny, in many cases.

The previous governess had used various monsters and bogeymen as a form of discipline. There was always something waiting to eat or carry off bad boys and girls for crimes like stuttering or defiantly and aggravatingly persisting in writing with their left hand. There was always a Scissor Man waiting for a little girl who sucked her thumb, always a bogeyman in the cellar. Of such bricks is the innocence of childhood constructed.

There were lessons later on. These were going a lot better now she’d got rid of the reading books about bouncy balls and dogs called Spot. She’d got Gawain on to the military campaigns of General Tacticus, which were suitably bloodthirsty but, more importantly, considered too difficult for a child. As a result his vocabulary was doubling every week and he could already use words like “disemboweled” in everyday conversation.

Getting an education was a bit like a communicable sexual disease. It made you unsuitable for a lot of jobs and then you had the urge to pass it on.

Topic:

Education

“This one’s mental.”

“Eccentric.”

“What’s the difference?”

“A bag of cash.”

There had been people dressed up as pixies, and a picket outside the shop by the Campaign for Equal Heights.*

* The CEH was always ready to fight for the rights of the differently tall, and was not put off by the fact that most pixies and gnomes weren’t the least interested in dressing up in little pointy hats with bells on when there were other far more interesting things to do. All that tinkly-wee stuff was for the old folks back home in the forest—when a tiny man hit Ankh-Morpork he preferred to get drunk, kick some serious ankle and search for tiny women.

A man might spend his life peering at the private life of elementary particles and then find he either knew who he was or where he was, but not both.

Topic:

Science

“Y’know, I’ve always felt that Mr. Johnson was a much maligned man,” said Ridcully, eventually.

“Well, yes, of course he was,” said the Lecturer in Recent Runes, clearly exasperated. “That’s like saying that jam attracts wasps, you see.”

Topic:

Insults

WHAT DO YOU WANT FOR HOGSWATCH? said the Hogfather hurriedly.

Mother took her economic cue again, and said briskly: “She wants a—”

The Hogfather snapped his fingers impatiently. The mother’s mouth slammed shut.

The child seemed to sense that here was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and spoke quickly.

“I wanta narmy. Anna big castle wif pointy bits,” said the child. “Anna swored.”

WHAT DO YOU SAY? prompted the Hogfather.

“A big swored?” said the child, after a pause for deep cogitation.

THAT’S RIGHT.

[...]

“You can’t give her that!” she screamed. “It’s not safe!”

IT’S A SWORD, said the Hogfather. THEY’RE NOT MEANT TO BE SAFE.

“She’s a child!” shouted Crumley.

IT’S EDUCATIONAL.

“What if she cuts herself?”

THAT WILL BE AN IMPORTANT LESSON.

Topic:

Hogfather (Santa Claus)

Many people are aware of the Weak and Strong Anthropic Principles. The Weak One says, basically, that it was jolly amazing of the universe to be constructed in such a way that humans could evolve to a point where they make a living in, for example, universities, while the Strong One says that, on the contrary, the whole point of the unverse was that humans should not only work in universities but also write for huge sums books with words like “Cosmic” and “Chaos” in the titles.†

† And they are correct. The universe clearly operates for the benefit of humanity. This can be readily seen from the convenient way the sun comes up in the morning, when people are ready to start the day.

Topics:

Anthropic principle

Universities

“They always gives me bath salts,” complained Nobby. “And bath soap and bubble bath and herbal bath lumps and tons of bath stuff and I can’t think why, ’cos it’s not as if I hardly ever has a bath. You’d think they’d take the hint, wouldn’t you?”

If you left off traditions because you didn’t know why they started you’d be no better than a foreigner.

“That statement is either so deep it would take a lifetime to fully comprehend every particle of its meaning, or it is a load of absolute tosh. Which is it, I wonder?”

“It could be both,” said the Senior Wrangler desperately.

“And that comment,” said Ridcully, “is either very perceptive, or very trite.”

“It might be bo—”

“Don’t push it, Senior Wrangler.”

“Willow bark,” said the Bursar.

“That’s a good idea,” said the Lecturer in Recent Runes. “It’s an analgesic.”

“Really? Well, possibly, though it’s probably better to give it to him by mouth,” said Ridcully.

Topic:

Puns

“Generally we ask for student volunteers,” said the Dean.

“What happens if we don’t get any?”

“We give it to them anyway.”

“Isn’t that a bit unethical?”

“Not if we don’t tell them, Archchancellor.”

Topic:

Rationalizing

“Clever isn’t the same as sensible,” said Susan, “and they do say that if you wish to walk the path to wisdom then for your first step you must become as a small child.”

“Do you think they’ve heard about the second step?”

Susan sighed. “Probably not, but sometimes they fall over it while they’re running around shouting.”

The path to wisdom does, in fact, begin with a single step.

Where people go wrong is in ignoring all the thousands of other steps that come after it. They make the single step of deciding to become one with the universe, and for some reason forget to take the logical next step of living for seventy years on a mountain and a daily bowl of rice and yak-butter tea that would give it any kind of meaning. While evidence says that the road to hell is paved with good intentions, they’re probably all on first steps.

“Idiocy is not a communicable disease.”

Ridcully puffed his pipe.

“I used to think that, too,” he said. “Now I’m not so sure.”

WHAT DO YOU CALL THAT WARM FEELING YOU GET INSIDE?

“Heartburn!” Albert snapped.

“It’s all about the sun, master. White snow and red blood and the sun. Always has been.”

VERY WELL, THEN. THE HOGFATHER CAN TEACH PEOPLE THE UNREAL MEANING OF HOGSWATCH.

Albert spat over the side of the sleigh. “Hah! ‘Wouldn’t It Be Nice If Everyone Was Nice,’ eh?”

THERE ARE WORSE BATTLE CRIES.

Some have been in fact abducted while waiting to carry out an abduction on a couple of other aliens trying to abduct the aliens who were, as a result of misunderstood instructions, trying to form cattle into circles and mutilate crops.

The planet Earth is now banned to all alien races until they can compare notes and find out how many, if any, real humans they have actually got. It is gloomily suspected that there is only one—who is big, hairy and has very large feet.

The truth may be out there, but lies are inside your head.

It’s because their minds are so often involved with deep and problematic matters, he told himself, that their mouths are allowed to wander around making a nuisance of themselves.

“It’s the hope that’s important. Big part of belief, hope. Give people jam today and they’ll just sit and eat it. Jam tomorrow, now—that’ll keep them going forever.”

“I remember when I was a nipper, one Hogswatch I had my heart set on this huge model horse they had in the shop . . .” His face creased for a moment in a grim smile of recollection. “I remember I spent hours one day, cold as charity the weather was, I spent hours with my nose pressed up against the window . . . until they heard me callin’, and unfroze me. I saw them take it out of the window, someone was in there buying it, and, y’know, just for a second I thought it really was going to be for me . . . Oh, I dreamed of that toy horse. It were red and white with a real saddle and everything. And rockers. I’d’ve killed for that horse.” He shrugged again. “Not a chance, of course, ’cos we didn’t have a pot to piss in and we even ’ad to spit on the bread to make it soft enough to eat—”

[...]

“O’ course, I still hung up my stocking on Hogswatch Eve, and in the morning, you know, you know what? Our dad had put in this little horse he’d carved his very own self . . .”

AH, said Death. AND THAT WAS WORTH MORE THAN ALL THE EXPENSIVE TOY HORSES IN THE WORLD, EH?

Albert gave him a beady look. “No!” he said. “It weren’t. All I could think of was it wasn’t the big horse in the window.”

Death looked shocked.

BUT HOW MUCH BETTER TO HAVE A TOY CARVED WITH—

“No. Only grown-ups think like that,” said Albert. “You’re a selfish little bugger when you’re seven.”

Topic:

Rocking Horses

THIS IS WRONG. Death hesitated. I MEAN . . . IT’S RIGHT TO BE HAPPY WITH WHAT YOU’VE GOT. BUT YOU’VE GOT TO HAVE SOMETHING TO BE HAPPY ABOUT HAVING. THERE’S NO POINT IN BEING HAPPY ABOUT HAVING NOTHING.

Albert felt a bit out of his depth in this new tide of social philosophy.

“Dunno,” he said. “I suppose people’d say they’ve got the moon and the stars and such like.”

I’M SURE THEY WOULDN’T BE ABLE TO PRODUCE THE PAPERWORK.

Topic:

Wealth

“Ridiculous way to behave,” said Ridcully brusquely. “If he’s stumped for an answer, why can’t he write ‘You’ve got me there’ or ‘Damned if I know’ or ‘That’s a bit of a puzzler and no mistake’? All this ‘Insufficient data’ business is just pure contrariness, to my mind. It’s just swank.”

Goodwill to all men was a phrase coined by someone who hadn’t met Foul Ole Ron.
“Don’t worry,” he said. “I’m on your side. A violent death is the last thing that’ll happen to you.”

Topic:

Death

Somewhere almost out of hearing, children were at play. It was always a pleasant, lulling sound.

Always provided, of course, you couldn’t hear the actual words.

Topic:

Children

When you were grown up you only feared, well, logical things. Poverty. Illness. Being found out. At least you weren’t mad with terror because of something under the stairs. The world wasn’t full of arbitrary light and shade. The wonderful world of childhood? Well, it wasn’t a cut-down version of the adult one, that was certain. It was more like the adult one written in big heavy letters. Everything was . . . more. More everything.

Topic:

Childhood

HUMANS NEED FANTASY TO BE HUMAN. TO BE THE PLACE WHERE THE FALLING ANGEL MEETS THE RISING APE.

“Tooth fairies? Hogfathers? Little—”

YES. AS PRACTICE. YOU HAVE TO START OUT LEARNING TO BELIEVE THE LITTLE LIES.

“So we can believe the big ones?”

YES. JUSTICE. MERCY. DUTY. THAT SORT OF THING.

“They’re not the same at all!”

YOU THINK SO? THEN TAKE THE UNIVERSE AND GRIND IT DOWN TO THE FINEST POWDER AND SIEVE IT THROUGH THE FINEST SIEVE AND THEN SHOW ME ONE ATOM OF JUSTICE, ONE MOLECULE OF MERCY. AND YET— Death waved a hand. AND YET YOU ACT AS IF THERE IS SOME IDEAL ORDER IN THE WORLD, AS IF THERE IS SOME . . . SOME RIGHTNESS IN THE UNIVERSE BY WHICH IT MAY BE JUDGED.

“Yes, but people have got to believe that, or what’s the point—”

MY POINT EXACTLY.

Topic:

Belief

YOU NEED TO BELIEVE IN THINGS THAT AREN’T TRUE. HOW ELSE CAN THEY BECOME? [...]

text checked (see note T) Feb 2005; Jan 2006; Jun 2012

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Background graphic copyright © 2004 by Hal Keen