Friday, April 5, 2013
D: Disc World
Reviewing Small Gods, a Discworld novel by Terry Pratchett.
(For the record, yes, I am working hard and stretching a bit to make this alphabet thing work out. Wanna make something of it?).
Note: Sir Terry Pratchett's Discworld novels are incredible fun and great satire. . . and suitable for young adults and up. He's also brilliantly irreverent, so if that bothers you, watch out!
For anyone who isn't familiar with the books, Sir Terry Pratchett invented the Discworld, a disc-shaped planet held up by four elephants who stand on the back of the great A'tuin, the giant turtle. Discworld, being flat, has given Pratchett a great platform for many, many satirical novels which send up everything from Hollywood (see Moving Pictures) to religion (which brings us to Small Gods).
First, Small Gods is about belief as much as it is about religion, and maybe is best summed up, after nearly a whole book sending up religion (and noticing how seldom real faith happens, and pretty much accusing the leaders of religion of believing in nothing but themselves), by the following passage. Simony, a cynical soldier who believes in nothing, addresses the god Om, who has just made himself rather obvious and undeniable, about the need to reconstruct the country.
"Will you help?"
VI. And Brave, Too, To Declare Atheism Before Your God. [responds the god]
"This doesn't change anything, you know!" said Simony. "Don't think you can get round me by existing!"
I'm tempted to leave my review right there, but I suppose there ought to be more.
When Pratchett gets hold of the gods, he figures out a few things. For one, the gods exist to the degree that they have believers, real believers. In the case of Om, when the story opens, he has exactly one: Brutha, a novice in the temple in Omnia, and apparently a half-wit. All the other Omnians believe in themselves, and in the usefulness of religion. As is usually the case, of course, Brutha's half a wit proves better than most people's whole wits, and his faith is strong enough to allow him to disagree with his god, and forge his own way to what is right and good. He may, in fact, be the only person in all the lands encompassed by the tale who gives a poop about justice and kindness. This, as the Omnian religious leaders find out the hard way, makes him a very dangerous man.
Other great characters (including those used to make fun of philosophy and technology) are Didactylos and his nephew (and philosophical apprentice cum engineer) Urn, and Cut-Me-Own-Hand-Off Dhblah, who sells things to the religious tourists. Much of what he sells is supposedly edible, and "onna stick." Then there's Om. Nothing like a Great God who has tried to turn himself into a bull or something, and ends up stuck as a tortoise. It's really hard to be god-like when you move that slowly, and even worse when you can't manage even a bit of lightning. And if he can't keep Brutha alive, he's dead, because a god with no believers is done.
One final thought, which is also a "D" thought. I wonder what my Dad, who was a Presbyterian minister (and taught me an appreciation for irreverence, though I may have taken it a bit farther than he wanted. . . ) would have thought of the book? I have a sneaking feeling he might have approved.