Pete and I have been mucking about with the telly. You know, one of those big ones with a computer chip so that it’s really just a huge computer pretending to be a telly. Over the years we’ve collected DVD players to go with it – and its predecessors. First the DVD player to replace the one that replaced the video player, then the bluray/3D player and then a little dinky player which plays everything, regardless of region, which I needed for a few Discworld movies and the Poirot Collection. Of course, there’s also a fairly out of date sound system, with cables and things. For some reason known only to it, the amplifier has decided it doesn’t want to play with the other bits anymore. It’s about twenty years old and it doesn’t even have an HDMI connection, so it’s getting a bit geriatric. So we’ve been Mucking About. We may end up having to buy a new amplifier for the system, but that’s another story.
THE POINT of all this is while in the process of Mucking About, we found some shows we had recorded on one of the DVD player’s hard disk drive. Pete started playing one of them and called me in to ask questions about it. So I sat on the coffee table, facing the Big TV on its cabinet, pulled away from the wall so it stood at an angle so we could get behind to play with the multitude of cables – and became engrossed.
It was Terry Pratchett’s Hogfather. I have the DVD now, but back then, we copied the movie from the ABC. The Hogfather is Discworld’s equivalent of Father Christmas.
The first thing that grabbed my attention was a scene where the wizards at Unseen University were consulting the university’s thinking engine (computer) named Hex. Since it is on Discworld the machine doesn’t have high falutin’ electric bits like microchips and such. It works with ant farms, hamsters in wheels and things like that. For the first time I noticed that Hex has a large yellow sticker on the side of the device labelled “anthill inside”.
I laughed like a loon. (Think about it – it’s a cerebral joke.)
And from there I just kept watching to the end of the movie, about twenty minutes worth. Bear with me. There’s a point to all this. If you’re bored and don’t want to know about the book/movie, skip the next two paragraphs to the label SKIP HERE.
I love Pratchett. I love the way he delves deep into folklore and examines it to understand, if you will, the human condition. And this story, Hogfather, is very much about exactly that. What does fantasy mean? Why do we need fantasy? Why are stories like the Tooth Fairy and Father Christmas important? On the Discworld, Pratchett’s fantasy universe that feels a lot like Earth, the Hogfather bears an uncanny resmblance to Father Christmas and Hogwatch could easily be mistaken for Christmas.
In Hogfather, somebody is trying to destroy the concept of stories because they’re not scientific and they’re not based on fact. When the Hogfather disappears, Death, the seven foot skeleton with a black robe, a scythe, and a sword, takes over the Hogwatch run on his behalf, while Death’s granddaughter goes off to find who’s doing this and stop them.
I wrote a review of the movie for those who might be interested.
Toward the end of the book we have this profound discussion between Death and granddaughter Susan, who has ‘saved the day’ in a primordial forest where the pagan antecedents of Hogwatch, a sacrifice to the return of the sun, was played out. Death always speaks in capital letters. With a deep voice. Sepulchral, perhaps.
I WILL GIVE YOU A LIFT BACK, said Death, after a while.
‘Thank you. Now . . . tell me . . .’
WHAT WOULD HAVE HAPPENED IF YOU HADN’T SAVED HIM?
‘Yes! The sun would have risen just the same, yes?’
‘Oh, come on. You can’t expect me to believe that. It’s an astronomical fact.’
THE SUN WOULD NOT HAVE RISEN.
She turned on him. ‘It’s been a long night, Grandfather! I’m tired and I need a bath! I don’t need silliness!’
THE SUN WOULD NOT HAVE RISEN.
‘Really? Then what would have happened, pray?’
A MERE BALL OF FLAMING GAS WOULD HAVE ILLUMINATED THE WORLD.
They walked in silence for a moment. ‘Ah,’ said Susan dully. ‘Trickery with words. I would have thought you’d have been more literal-minded than that.’
I AM NOTHING IF NOT LITERAL-MINDED. TRICKERY WITH WORDS IS WHERE HUMANS LIVE.
‘All right,’ said Susan. ‘I’m not stupid. You’re saying humans need . . . fantasies to make life bearable.’
REALLY? AS IF IT WAS SOME KIND OF PINK PILL? NO. 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.
She tried to assemble her thoughts.
THERE IS A PLACE WHERE TWO GALAXIES HAVE BEEN COLLIDING FOR A MILLION YEARS, Said Death, apropos of nothing. DON’T TRY TO TELL ME THAT’S RIGHT.
‘Yes, but people don’t think about that,’ said Susan. Somewhere there was a bed . . .
CORRECT. STARS EXPLODE, WORLDS COLLIDE, THERE’S HARDLY ANYWHERE IN THE UNIVERSE WHERE HUMANS CAN LIVE WITHOUT BEING FROZEN OR FRIED, AND YET YOU BELIEVE THAT A . . . A BED IS A NORMAL THING. IT IS THE MOST AMAZING TALENT.
OH, YES. A VERY SPECIAL KIND OF STUPIDITY. YOU THINK THE WHOLE UNIVERSE IS INSIDE YOUR HEADS.
‘You make us sound mad,’ said Susan. A nice warm bed . . .
YOU NEED TO BELIEVE IN THINGS THAT AREN’T TRUE. HOW ELSE CAN THEY BECOME? said Death, helping her up on to Binky*.
Pratchett, Terry. Hogfather: (Discworld Novel 20) (Discworld series) (pp. 379-381). Transworld. Kindle Edition.
*Binky is the name of Death’s white horse.
And I’ll leave you with the thought that ‘science’ is not enough. Even if you’re an atheist.