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Hogfather is the 20th Discworld novel by Terry Pratchett.

The Hogfather is also a character in the book, representing something akin to Father Christmas. He grants children's wishes on Hogswatchnight (32nd of December) and brings them presents. He also features in other Discworld novels.


The book is about the nature of belief, in particular that people need to believe in small fantasies, such as Hogfathers and Tooth Fairies, in order to believe in larger ones, such as justice and hope. As Pratchett says elsewhere, fantasy is an exercise bicycle for the mind; it doesn't take you anywhere, but it tones up muscles that might.

Plot summary[]

The story begins in the evening before Hogswatch, the Discworld counterpart of Christmas. Death's granddaughter, Susan Sto Helit has found work as a governess in the Gaiter household, where her ability to see bogeymen and defeat them with a fire poker comes in extremely useful. Meanwhile, the Auditors of Reality decide to eliminate the Hogfather because he does not fit into their ordered view of the universe - the first step in eliminating the belief in all anthropomorphic personifications; the Soul Cake Duck, the Tooth Fairy and ultimately Death. The Auditors meet with Lord Downey, head of the Assassin's Guild, and commission the services of Mr. Jonathan Teatime (who insists that his name is pronounced teh-ah-tim-eh and not like the afternoon meal), a young, dangerously talented assassin whose particular brand of insane genius makes him an ideal candidate for the assassination of the Hogfather and other anthropomorphic personifications. Teatime employs five criminals in his operation, (Chickenwire, Medium Dave Lilywhite, Banjo Lilywhite, Catseye and Peachy), a failed student wizard named Mr. Sideney who needs money in a hurry to pay off his debts, as well as a locksmith named Mr. Brown.

When Death realizes that something is killing the belief in the Hogfather he realizes that he has to prevent this from happening; knowing as he does that the original belief in the Hogfather was what enabled the sun to come up in the morning - no Hogfather, no new day. He decides to take over for the Hogfather in order to make people continue to believe in him, wearing a long red cloak and a beard and visiting hearths and shopping malls to spread the Hogfather's word. He has a problem with the role, being Death, especially the Ho, Ho Ho and with taking the children's wishes too literally but this does buy time for Susan to figure out what is happening to belief in the Hogfather. Susan visits the Hogfather's Castle of Bones only to find the hung-over Bilious, the "Oh God of Hangovers" (So-called because "when humans experience him, they clutch their heads and say "oh god") who she rescues before the castle collapses due to the lack of belief. In an attempt to cure Bilious, Susan visits the Unseen University, where it is discovered that several similar small gods (including the God of Lost Socks and the Veruca gnome) are being created. The University's thinking machine, Hex, explains that there is 'spare belief' in the world - due to the absence of the Hogfather - which is being used to create them. Susan and Bilious then travel to the land of the Tooth Fairy where they discover that Jonathan Teatime has 'killed' the Hogfather by collecting millions of children's teeth and using them to control the children (Pratchett explains in other works that holding a piece of a person like a nail clipping or tooth gives you control over that person), forcing them to stop believing in the Hogfather. Upon throwing the Assassin off the tower and apparently killing him, Susan clears the teeth away and brings back the Hogfather by rescuing him from the Auditors, who have taken the forms of dogs. They cannot return to their original state and so cannot stop themselves falling off a cliff. Afterwards, Teatime tracks Susan to the Gaiters' nursery, but is killed by Susan using the nursery poker, which passes through Death because "it only kills monsters".

Popular references and Annotations[]

Hogswatchnight which occurs on the 32nd of December has obvious parallels to Christmas but it takes its name from the Scottish celebration for the last day of the calendar year - Hogmanay. In addition it is an obvious play on "Hogwash" or "rubbish".

Death, acting as the Hogfather, reads a letter left for him when he comes down the chimney to deliver presents. It is written by Virginia Prood, a reference to the letter Virginia O'Hanlon wrote to the New York Sun on Sept 21st, 1897. The layout of the original letter and Viriginia Prood's letter in the Hogfather are almost identical. The contents are quite different however. The real Virginia asks the editor of the Sun about the existence of Santa Claus. The Virginia in the Hogfather has the same concerns about Santa/The Hogfather's existence but focuses mainly on the list of presents she wants- most of which are violent ones. This is a reflection on the difference between the modern world of violent games, etc and a more innocent time when children were children. Death comments on these differences and the nature of belief throughout the book but particularly when he is going down the various chimneys on his route.

The line "if she did indeed ever find herself dancing on rooftops with chimney sweeps [...]" is a reference to Mary Poppins.

Susan says of the "oh God of Hangovers" - "He's not dead, He's just resting" - a reference to the Monty Python's dead parrot sketch.

When trying to get the pigs who pull the Hogfather's sleigh (Gouger, Rooter, Tusker and Snouter) to move it is suggested that "You could try "Pig-hooey!" This is a reference to P. G. Wodehouse's Blandings Castle, where this cry was recommended to get Empress the pig back to the feed trough.

The line "You know there's some people up on the Ramtops who kill a wren at Hogswatch and walk around from house to house singing about it?" is a reference to the tradition of killing a wren on Dec 26th.

"Tinkle Tinkle Fizz is a parody of the Alka Seltzer commercial "Plop Plop Fizz Fizz oh what a relief it is"

Hex the computer writes "+++Good Evening, Archchancellor. I Am Fully Recovered And Enthusiastic About My Tasks +++". This is a reference to the computer on Zaphod Beeblebrox's space ship in Douglas Adam's Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy which is in turn a reference to Hal 9000 the computer from 2001 A Space Odyseey in Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke's movie 2001: A Space Odyssey . Both computers are overly cheerful about their work.

The theme of the downtrodden and starving person being left to die in an uncaring world and ultimately getting their reward in heaven is a common motif throughout Christmas literature. Pratchett, through Death, plays with variations on this theme in the novel questioning the accepted folklore and Death's own principles . The Little Match Girl is one emblem of Hogswatchnight and is based on the Danish writer Hans Christian Anderson's short story of the same name. Pratchett gives the theme a twist in having Death save the Little Match Girl whereas in the Hans Christian Anderson story the little girl dies and meets her grandmother in heaven. In the Hogfather, Albert throws snowballs at the angels who come to claim her after Death has saved her. Death points out that the angels could have come before instead of after she died and Albert agrees that the fable doesn't work so well now that he comes to think of it.

Another variation on this theme occurs when the peasant in the woods is given food by the king. This is a direct reference to the story and song of Good King Wenseslas - the king trudging through the snow to feed the peasant and do a good deed at Christmas for his people. However the concept has its roots in many Russian tales, the theme being one of how cruel and uncaring the world is for the downtrodden, which is the way we interpret the Little Match Girl today. In Russian literature and folk tales, the peasants starve to death in their hut or in the snow in the woods. Again Pratchett mocks these conventions with Death throwing the king out of the hovel and exclaiming "were you here last month? Will you be here next week? No. But tonight you want to feel all warm inside . Tonight you will want them to say: What a good king he is." Maxim Gorky's short story "Christmas Phantoms" pokes fun at this whole genre when the writer is haunted in his dreams by all the characters he has created and left to starve for his annual Christmas stories. As an aside, William McGonagall, Scotland's famous "bad poet" does his own poetic version of the Little Match Girl.

Pratchett in his footnotes on aliens (when Susan and the oh God are discussing the Tooth Fairy) says "The truth may be out there but lies are inside your head". The first part of the sentence is a reference to the X Files theme. In the same section he comments on earthen works that are only obvious from above as being proof of ancient flying machines which is a reference to Erich von Daniken's Chariots of the Gods; a book claiming that figures as the Nasca figures in Peru are proof of alien creation because they can only be seen in their entirety from the air.

Albert tells Death "Give people jam today and they'll just sit and eat it, Jam tomorrow now - that'll keep them going for ever" This reference plays on a combination of the old saying, "Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime" and mixes it with the saying that originated in Lewis Carrol's book Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There where the White Queen says "The rule is, jam to-morrow and jam yesterday – but never jam to-day." - the idea being that it is all an unfulfilled promise and since tomorrow never comes you aren't going to get the reward anyway. The Oyster Band uses this theme in their song Jam Tomorrow from the album The Shouting End of Life when they say "It's jam tomorrow, shit today".

When the wizards are all discussing childhood Christmases this is a jab at the romanticized Christmas memories of works such as Dylan Thomas' "A Child's Christmas in Wales" with the idyllic world of Thomas and others being replaced by the reality of the many family get togethers: greed, fights, drunkenness, wretched excess, tacky presents, etc.

When Susan and the "oh God of Hangovers" are in the scene that is drawn like a child's picture, an apple falls out of the tree and lands on the oh God's head - a reference to Isaac Newton and the apple tree prompting his law about gravity. Unlike Isaac Newtown, the oh God has no brilliant insights however.

When Chickenwire is killed by the wardrobe of his childhood nightmares, Violet, the Tooth Fairy comments" There are magic wardrobes, If you go into them you come out in magic land" This is a reference to CS Lewis' novel "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Chickenwire does end up in a "magic land" when he ends up transported to the wardrobe of the Bursar at the Wizard's Unseen University.

Archchancellor Ridcully says (in regard to the Cheerful Fairy) "I thought you had to clap your hands and say you believed in 'em" a reference to James Barrie's novel Peter Pan where the children clap their hands to save Tinkerbell's life.

When Mr. Teatime meets Susan and is asked how he knew her he refers to "Twurp's Peerage" a reference to the standard real reference book on nobility in Britain "Burke's Peerage". "Twerp" and "berk" are British slang pejorative names for an obnoxious or ridiculous person.

There are many references to the idealized world of childhood in the novel and Pratchett plays on this supposed real vs ideal world in many sections, particularly when dealing with the Cheerful Fairy, as well as at the Tooth Fairy's home. The Cheerful Fairy is written about in the same style used by such early children's authors as Enid Blyton where the world is cloyingly sweet, moral and wonderful. The references to Spot (the Dog that Banjo will be getting) are to the primary school readers "Fun with Dick and Jane" written by William S. Gray and Zerna Sharp and from the same era as Blyton which were used extensively in schools from the 1930s through to the 1970s in the United States and Canada. Again these books were over simplified and treated children as if they did not have the intelligence to grasp more complex sentences or concepts than "See Dick run, Run Dick Run". In contrast, Twyla and Gawain, the children in the Hogfather readily grasp such complicated concepts of who is the bad guy between Death (the skeleton) and Teatime (the human) as well as what is real and what is imaginary (the bad guys under the bed falling correctly into the former category). The image of Twyla and Gawain peeking solemnly around the door and Teatime calling them "curly-haired tots" is vintage imagery from illustrations of the Blyton era which Susan comments is guaranteed to make the children realize they are being sent up.

Arnold Sideways the crippled hobo says "And god bless us, every one," which is the final line uttered by Tiny Tim (who is also a cripple) in Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol.


This book introduced a number of minor characters that were the result of the upset balance of belief, none of which have been used in any other book. However, some of them played a fairly important part in the plot, such as Bilious the oh God of Hangovers, and the Cheerful Fairy.


The Wizards of the Unseen University:

  • Mustrum Ridcully, Archchancellor of Unseen University
  • Lecturer in Recent Runes
  • Chair of Indefinite Studies
  • The Bursar
  • Hex
  • Ponder Stibbons
  • Adrian Turnipseed aka Mad Drongo
  • Dean
  • Senior Wrangler
  • the Librarian

TV adaptation[]

A two-part TV series of Hogfather was screened on the 17 December and 18 December 2006 (8:00 p.m.) on Sky One in the UK, with Ian Richardson as the voice of Death and Albert, his manservant played by David Jason. Ian Richardson played Francis Urquhart in the BBC series House of Cards. Death"s words to Albert, "You may think I've already thought of that, but I could not possibly comment" mirrors a similar phrase of Francis Urquhart's throughout House of Cards. Marc Warren played Mr. Teatime. Tony Robinson played the shop keeper Vernon Crumley. Rhodri Meilir played Bilious. Terry Pratchett himself had a brief cameo as the toy-maker, Joshua Isme, (who is not named in the book) who owns a shop called Toys Is Me (a play on Toys R Us).

The U.S. debut was on 25 November, 2007 on ION Television, the Australian on 23 December and the 24 December, 2007 on Channel Seven, and the German on 25 December, 2007 on ProSieben.

Reception by Public[]

The novel entered the UK Top 10 charts at #1 as hardback in October 1996 and as paperback in November 1997. According to Publishers Weekly, Pratchett used a darker tone and edgier satire for Hogfather than his previous work, and so moved beyond the realm of humorous fantasy and into position as "one of the more significant contemporary English-language satirists".


  • Svinvinternatt (Swedish)
  • Schweinsgalopp (Pig gallop - German)
  • Papá Puerco (Spanish)
  • Дядо Прас (Bulgarian)
  • Санта-Хрякус (Russian)
  • Le Père Porcher (French)
  • Батько Вепр (Ukrainian)
  • Vadkanapó (Hungarian)
  • Wiedźmikołaj (Polish)

External links[]