The L-Space Web: Books: Synopses

Hogfather


Written by Ed

It is close to Hogswatch in Ankh-Morpork, and Modo the Unseen University gardener is pulling the boards away from a door. Behind it is the Archchancellor's private bathroom, which Mustrum Ridcully the Archchancellor is looking forward to using as oppose to sharing the showers with other wizards. The other wizards warn him that the room was designed by one B.S. Johnson, a notoriously dangerous architect and plumber. Ridcully refuses to believe that there is anything wrong with the room. As he argues with them he makes a passing reference to the "Verruca Gnome", and on the edge of hearing there is a faint chiming sound denoting the presence of magic.

Susan Sto Helit, daughter of Mort and Ysabelle and granddaughter of Death himself, is working for the rich Gaiter family as a governess for their two children. Having put the children to bed, she is reading in the study when the door opens and Twyla, the little girl enters. She tells Susan that there is a monster in the cellar. Susan grabs a poker and makes for the cellar, passing by the dining hall where the Gaiters are holding a dinner party. The guests go to watch Susan "pretend" to defeat the "monster" in the cellar, and get quite a shock when she attacks and defeats a real, multilegged monstrosity. Susan is no ordinary governess. As she goes back to the study, she has a vision of the window opening and the wind blowing in. Although this did not happen, there is a long thread of wax streaming out from the candle.

The Auditors of Reality are mysterious entities responsible for ensuring that the laws of physics remain in place. They despise life because it is random and unpredictable and therefore something utterly against their principals. A particular grievance of theirs is the human tendency to believe in nonsensical anthropomorphic personifications, such as the Tooth Fairy. This is why, on this night, one of the Auditors approaches Lord Downey of the Assassins' Guild, with a proposition: assassinate the Hogfather, a symbol of humanity's imagination and vitality. Downey is kept in the dark about these motives, and only knows that three million dollars worth of gold has suddenly appeared in the cellars. He agrees, and sends for Mr Teatime (pronounced Teh-ah-time-eh), a brilliant but frightening young assassin with a tendency towards psychosis. Teatime agrees, forms a plan almost instantly, and leaves to prepare.

The next day Susan takes Twyla and her brother Gawain to the park, mulling on the problems she faces. As Death's adopted granddaughter she is only semi-mortal and has inherited some strange characteristics, such as an ability to stop time and walk through walls. She can also see other anthropomorphic personifications, such as bogeymen-and the children's' previous governess used to set great store by those kinds of scare tactics.

That night, Teatime meets his assembled colleagues-Peachy, Catseye, Chickenwire, Medium Dave Lilywhite and his huge but mentally deficient brother Banjo. All five are freelance criminals and not guild members. Medium Dave and Banjo are living under the shadow of their long dead, but fearsome, mother. They have agreed to help Teatime in his mysterious mission as they have been promised a fee of ten thousand dollars each. They are joined by Mr Sideney, a student wizard who needs to earn a lot of money very fast to pay off his debts, and Mr Brown, an expert locksmith. Suddenly, Teatime punches Banjo very hard, and the big but slow-witted man begins following him around like a puppy.

Death is at the bottom of the ocean taking care of minor business when he senses a problem in the running of the universe.

Ernie is a cart driver with an unusual cargo-he carries the teeth collected by the tooth fairies to the alternate dimension where the centre of the tooth fairy franchise is. His cart is hijacked by Teatime and his group, who force him to take them through a strange portal behind the University to a mysterious land. When Teatime learns that Ernie is not required for them to pass, he kills him and takes the cart through himself. When the cart has vanished, the Auditors arrive. They are worried, as the "deletion" of the Hogfather is rather "unofficial". Nevertheless, they are impressed at Teatime's methods. They vanish when Death arrives to collect Ernie's soul.

The Death of Rats, Death's skeletal rodent companion, is also at work collecting the soul of a mouse. It pauses to munch on the treats left out in the grandly decorated home, but suddenly stops when a figure climbs out of the chimney. This is only to be expected on the night of Hogswatch's Eve-but that figure is none other than Death, dressed up as the Hogfather and delivering a sack of presents. The shocked rodent tries to catch up with Death, but he has flown away on a sleigh. On it, Death speaks to his servant Albert. Somehow all belief, the life force of an anthropomorphic personification, has been taken from the Hogfather. The effects are moving back and time, so that the Hogfather has vanished even before Teatime's plan has come to fruition. At this stage Death does not know how this has happened, but is taking the Hogfather's place to try and keep the supply of belief going.

Susan is having a drink in Biers, a bar for anthropomorphic personifications and the undead, when the Death of Rats and his talking raven interpreter come for her. Susan does not want to become involved with her grandfather's affairs, and flees.

As Ridcully is about to enjoy his first bath in the new bathroom, a tiny Verruca Gnome materialises outside and runs towards his room.

Death flies on the sleigh, with Albert trying to teach him how to laugh like the Hogfather properly. Below, Susan arrives back at the Gaiter's mansion in Ankh and meets the Death of Rats and the raven again. After dealing with a bogeyman she met earlier in Biers, she turns back to shooing the Death of Rats and the raven out. They refuse to budge until they say what they have come to say.

 

In a strange land far from the Discworld, Sideney the wizard is in a strange tower, staring at a mysterious heap that he finds ugly and disgusting. Teatime and the criminals are dealing with the multitude of ill-prepared guards. When they die, they suddenly vanish.

Death arrives down another chimney into the maw of Susan, who is furious with him. She demands an explanation for why he is dressed as the Hogfather and is climbing down chimneys and delivering presents. He is forced to tell her that the Hogfather is dead, although that is not exactly the correct word. He refuses to say more, congratulates Susan on her career, and specifically tells her not to worry. Before she can object, he is gone. In the sleigh, Death congratulates himself for arousing her curiosity. Susan stops time, calls Binky (Death's horse) and flies away to his country to find out what has happened to the Hogfather. She is watched by the Auditors, who do not know what to make of her. She arrives at Death's house and goes to the lifetimer room, where she finds a secondary room containing lifetimers belonging to gods and anthropomorphic personifications. The Hogfather's lifetimer has been smashed.

Ridcully is having the time of his life in the new bathroom, trying out all the special features that it has. Suddenly, the little Verruca Gnome appears and Ridcully makes the mistake of opening the bag it carries.

Death has an idea to improve levels of belief in the Hogfather-he hears that men dress up as him to sit in department stores. Death decides to make a personal appearance.

Vernon Crumley, owner of a large toy store in the Maul (a shopping centre in Ankh- Morpork) is congratulating himself on this year's Hogswatch grotto when his display suddenly explodes, being replaced by Death, Albert, and the four pigs that pull the sleigh. Crumley becomes alarmed when Death starts magically pulling everything the children ask for from his sack.

 

In the High Energy Magic building at Unseen University Ponder Stibbons and his group of young wizards are using Hex, their computer, to cure the Bursar's insanity. Ridcully enters with the Verruca Gnome. Ridcully wants the wizards to use Hex to find out what has caused the little creature to spontaneously appear, but in passing remarks abut a god of hangovers. There is the glingleglingleglingle sound of magic.

In Death's library, Susan searches for the Hogfather's biography. She finds it, but when she opens it he has a vision of snow, and teeth. She hurriedly puts the book back.

Chickenwire and Medium Dave are worried. Teatime's unpredictability is alarming, and the wyrd place that they are in is getting to them. Oddly, Banjo seems perfectly happy. Up in the tower, Sideney is still struggling with the locks.

Susan, the Death of Rats and the raven ride on Binky to the Castle of Bones, a huge fortress made of ice pillars near the Hub. Apparently the mythical home of the Hogfather, the place is falling into decay. As they watch, it begins to crumble. There is evidence that Death and Albert have been there recently. As the place begins to collapse they flee, but find a man lying in the snow. He is dressed in dirty white robes and is apparently very ill. They rescue him and escape, and watch the castle crumble into snow from a safe distance. He introduces himself as Bilious, the god of hangovers. Apparently, he is the personification of everybody's hangovers, just as there is a god of wine.

Corporal Nobbs and Constable Visit of the Ankh-Morpork City Watch arrive at Crumley's shop. Crumley wants the "Hogfather" arrested, but Nobby cannot find a good enough reason. The items he is giving away free do not belong to Crumley, and then there is the issue of arresting him in front of all the children. However, Crumley tells him that the man in the grotto is an impostor and Nobby has unhappy memories of Hogswatch as a child. He moves forward.

Ridcully and the Senior Wrangler are debating the logic of hanging up mistletoe in a male-only University when Susan enters with Bilious. She asks the wizards to sober him up for her, so that he can tell her what is happening. After another long debate they decide to simply "mix everything up and see what happens."

Nobby sits on Death's knee, and a kind of hypnosis comes over him. He means to arrest the impostor, but instead gratefully accepts a present-a genuine, very rare and very expensive crossbow. His mind made up, he and Visit quietly leave.

Amazingly, the hangover cure seems to work and Bilious sobers up. After gleefully watching the effects reverse back towards the god of wine, he helps the wizards come up with a hypothesis-anthropomorphic personifications that previously did not exist are materialising whenever anyone mentions their name. Before they can work out why the Bursar mentions a fairy that steals socks, bringing the tinkling sound of magic. The wizards rush down to the laundry to find the creature. The Eater of Socks turns out to be a tiny creature that sucks up socks through a long trunk. It flees when it sees the wizards.

Death is distraught to learn that his next task is to claim the soul of a little girl who freezes to Death on Hogswatchnight. He is beginning to learn that Hogswatch is not a nice time for everyone. He refuses to let this happen, and instead picks up the girl, finds Nobby and Visit, and tells them to look after her.

The wizards go to Hex to ask it why fairies and gnomes are suddenly materialising. Unfortunately, it is unable to help. Suddenly, another creature is brought to life when a fairy that steals pencils is mentioned.

As Susan is demonstrating some of her powers to Bilious, she senses that Death is doing something.on the sleigh, Death finds another hourglass.

The Pencil Stealer turns out to be a small bird-like creature that devours pencils like a logging machine. No sooner has Ridcully found it when a god if indigestion is mentioned.

Susan is realising that she is going to have to assist Death if everything is to correct itself. As she ponders how to do this, a god of indigestion materialises out of the air, lands on the dining table, and staggers off towards the privies. Once this interruption has passed, she asks Bilious if he remembered anything before he incarnated in the Castle of Bones. All he can remember is teeth-this gives Susan an idea.

As the wizards accidentally create a swarm of flying creatures that exist only to steal towels, Death's sleigh lands on a rooftop. Death is here to collect a soul this time; there is a dead body lying in the snow. However, there are no marks on the snow surrounding the corpse-it is like it simply materialised. The dead person is wearing clothes that bear the design of a tooth.and now Death knows where the criminals have gone.

Susan, Bilious, the Death of Rats and the raven go back to Biers. There Susan forces the barman to give her the address of Violet, the resident tooth fairy. They go to her tiny apartment, which is deserted. The only thing they find of note is Violet's list of people who have lost teeth: the last name is one Banjo Lilywhite. There is a knock on the door, which turns out to be Violet's boss. She has not collected her quota of teeth and taken them to Ernie's cart, and he has been sent to investigate. They get rid of him, and then use Violet's list to track down Banjo's home.

As Death learns more about what happens to poor people at Hogswatch by rescuing a humble peasant from a greedy king, Susan and her companions arrive at Banjo's abode- another tiny flat. He has not been there for some time-there is only one place he can be. Susan calls Death's horse Binky and she and Bilious set off for Death's country, where by reading Violet's biography they find out where she is.

Death is horrified to learn that he is not allowed to give a poor child the presents he wants, because he is poor and therefore not destined to receive nice things. Albert has to explain things to Death by recounting a tale from his youth about how a rocking horse that he wanted was bought, while he watched, by somebody else.

The wizards go back to consult Hex. The hypothesis it gives is that a major force of belief has been removed, so there is now "raw" belief that is discharging itself in the form of other random anthropomorphic personifications. The major force of belief in question is obviously the Hogfather. The wizards begin to argue amongst themselves, resulting in the creation of the "cheerful fairy". That is the final straw-the wizards then go down to the Library, where the orang-utan Librarian has dutifully hung up his stocking.

Some of Ankh-Morpork's most notorious beggars are enjoying their traditional Hogswatch pastime of scaring people into giving them money when Death's sleigh swoops overhead, dropping down a huge feast for them. Albert gets Death to admit that he stole the food from a high class restaurant, replacing it with old boots.

The Tooth Fairy Country is based on the same lines as Death's domain. It exists in a reality congruent to the Discworld, and has been created from the minds of the people who believe in the tooth fairy. While Death's domain is black and spooky, the Tooth Fairy Country has been created from the minds of young children, and looks like a child's painting. The sky is bright blue, the ground is bright green, and the river is a block of liquid blue through which orange cartoon fish swim. There are no variations in colour, or hues, or textures; everything is one colour. The sky does not extend as far as the horizon; in between the ground and the sky is an empty void. It is easy to see why the criminals hate it so much. Susan heads off towards the house she knows is around somewhere-a square one with four windows, and corkscrew smoke coming out of the chimney.

The criminals see the huge amount of money that is kept in the tower and suddenly Teatime's promise of ten thousand dollars each does not sound quite so much. Medium Dave confronts the assassin, but Teatime nicks his eyelid with his knife. Suddenly, Chickenwire bawls that he wants to go home, and then is unable to say what came over him.

The wizards are shocked to see who comes down the chimney and into the Library.

Mr Brown the locksmith is fed up-the locks are magical, which was not part of the deal. He gets up to go, and Teatime orders Banjo to kill him. The big man picks up Mr Brown and throws him down the vast spiral staircase.

The childlike quality of the Tooth Fairy Country is beginning to affect the criminals, and they begin to revert further into infantile mindsets. Suddenly, the dead body of Mr Brown hurtles past.

Susan and Bilious enter the tiny house-inside which is the giant tower. She sees a huge heap of more that twenty million teeth inside a magic circle. Before she can work out why the criminals have done this, Mr Brown lands in front of her.

Chickenwire reports to Teatime that there are intruders. Teatime orders them to be killed. Suddenly, Chickenwire is terrified by the sound of a creaky wardrobe door; as Teatime has said, there is nothing to be afraid of except what you bring with you. When he was a child, Chickenwire was spooked by an old wardrobe.

Susan realises how they have managed to delete the Hogfather-the teeth can be used to control the children. A piece of someone's body can be used to control people's thoughts and deeds; millions of people are being forced not to believe in the Hogfather.

Chickenwire meets the others and tells them about the wardrobe; they scoff at him until Peachy hears a snipping sound. They split up to search for Susan. Catseye's own fear is of the dark, and behind him his own shadow rises up to claim him.

Susan and Bilious round a corner and find that the only remains of Catseye are his boots. Susan explains that it is impossible to die in the Tooth Fairy Country-a little chid believes that dead people have just "gone away". Therefore, when someone dies, they disappear back to the Discworld. This explains how that guard materialised on the rooftop earlier. Continuing on, they find a small room in which Violet, the tooth fairy, is being held. They release her, but then get held up by Peachy. Suddenly, there is a snipping sound and he flees. Susan looks to see what he is afraid of, and encounters something like an ostrich made out of razor blades. It is the Scissorman, another anthropomorphic personification. It came for Twyla once and has felt the wrath of Susan before, and so it creeps around her and goes to chase down Peachy.

Sideney is making progress with the magical locks that protect the central room of the tower; he has unlocked four, and there are three left.

As Bilious lies outrageously to Violet about what he is actually a god of, Chickenwire catches them. There is another creak, and a wardrobe appears at the top of the stairs, As Bilious and Violet watch in horror, Chickenwire is sucked towards it and vanishes inside.

Death tells the wizards what is happening. If the Hogfather is not restored, the sun will not rise.

The Bursar opens his wardrobe, and the corpse of Chickenwire falls out. A thaumatological reading confirms that he has arrived by magic.

Death goes to Hex and instructs it to believe in the Hogfather, so that there will always be a little bit of belief.

Sideney completes the locks and flees. Susan arrives and is captured by Teatime. Sideney finds that he has returned to his infant school, is five years old again, and is at the mercy of the school bully.

Teatime steals Death's sword, carried by Susan, and tries to kill her. As there is no death in the country, here is no blade on the sword and it is useless. When Teatime admits what he is doing, Banjo is horrified to learn that there is no more Hogfather. Teatime has not taken into account the fact that Banjo still believes in him. Susan starts to annoy Teatime by intentionally mispronouncing his name, and teasing him about his mental instability. Medium Dave comes to the defence of his brother, but then is claimed by the ghost of his mother. Teatime lunges at Susan but overbalances and falls off the balcony and down the tower, where he lands on the pile of teeth and vanishes. Susan tells Banjo to go and sweep all the teeth out of the circle. She then enters the locked room, and finds the first ever bogeyman lying in a bed. It tells her that it started off scaring children but then started to observe them and eventually protect them; it started the tooth fairy franchise to lock away children's teeth so that they could not be interfered with by people like Teatime. As she watches, the thing dies and vanishes.

The Auditors wonder what to do. Death has broken no rules, as he actually instructed Susan not to interfere. He decides that drastic measures are called for.

Susan leaves Bilious and Violet to make their own way back to the Disc, and leaves Banjo in temporary charge of the Tooth Fairy Country. She gets on Binky, but in the void between the world Death finds her and steers the horse to a metaphorical wintry landscape, where the Hogfather (in the form of a boar) is being chased by the Auditors (in the shape of wolves).

It is the Hogswatchnight feast at Unseen University, and in the middle of it the wounded but alive Teatime materialises in the air and crashes to the ground. He uses Death's now fully functional sword to escape.

Susan is made to ride the Hogfather and steer it to safety. This she does, and the boar dies and is replaced by the real Hogfather. The Auditors learn that in their form of wolves they are just alive enough for Death to deal with them.

The cheerful fairy, and all the other recent creations, vanish. Susan and Death arrive back that the Gaiter's residence and Susan invites Death in for cocoa. However, Teatime is in the house, and holds Death hostage with his own sword. Suddenly, Gawain and Twyla enter and Teatime is dismayed to find that they are more afraid of him and his bizarre eyes than they are of a skeleton eating a biscuit. With Teatime off his guard, Susan takes a poker and hurls it.it passes straight through Death and impales Teatime. He dies, and Death takes the body away to prevent questions. He then goes back in time to buy a certain rocking horse for Albert.

Ridcully, in the bathroom, finds out why the bathroom was bricked up. The pipes are connected to the organ, and the Librarian is about to sit down to play.

Susan and the children sit down to enjoy Hogswatch, and outside the beggars have their usual philosophical discussion about nothing as they walk off into the snow.


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