Monday, April 7, 2014

Small Gods by Terry Pratchett

“If enough people believe, you can be god of anything…”

I loved this book. So did the cat, as you can see, who turned it first into a pillow and then a bedtime toy. Small Gods is one of the bests of the Discworld series. You can read it as a standalone (in fact, you can do that with most of the forty books.) If you do like the Discworld series, but haven't read this, do yourself a favour and don't wait any longer. If you haven't read it, you should start with this book, and perhaps a bit of an introduction.

The Discworld, written by British author Terry Pratchett, is a series of comic fantasy novels. The series is set on the Discworld - a flat disc, balanced on the backs of four elephants, who stand on the back of a ginormous turtle called the Great A'Tuin who swims through space.

The story begins in the Church of the Great God Om. The Cenobiarch of Omnia, a vulture of a man named Vorbis is busy extinguishing heretical ideas that keep springing up. "The Turtle moves." The rumour has spread deep and wide, and it goes against the very truth that the Church holds. The rumour is that the world is flat. Ring a bell? The Omnians know the world is a perfect sphere and Vorbis is ready to go to any lengths to remove every shred of heresy from his people's minds, even if it means removing the people, especially if it means that. 

Meanwhile, in the gardens of the Citadel of Om, Brutha, a novice finds himself in the company of a talking tortoise, who claims to be the Great God Om, caught in a difficult situation. Om tells the simple fat boy about his failed attempt to manifest in the world in the form a bull and his current state, stuck as a tortoise. Slowly, through Om, Brutha learns to see gods for what they truly are and religion for what it has become. 

Vorbis, who happens to come across Brutha is impressed by his eidetic memory and unquestioning outlook and chooses Brutha to accompany him on a diplomatic mission to Ephebe, a place where they have many gods and hence, many heretics. Brutha considers himself generally unintelligent and unimportant. But he is the only person in the world who believes in Om. So he is the only person who can hear the talking tortoise. Brutha is the Chosen one. You see, in this world, as I suppose in any other, gods need belief to exist. As people lose faith, their gods become lowlier, until they cease to exist. In Omnia, people no longer believe in Om, they believe in the Church and the clergy. And so, the once Great God Om, terrified by his sudden mortality, is desperate and clingy and convinces Brutha to take him along. As story progresses, it's time for gods to start believing in people.

The book is at once eccentric and insightful. Pratchett takes his writing very seriously. What makes it brilliant is that he does it with a laugh. For every vehement supporter of the 'learning through fun' mantra, Pratchett is a must-read. Religion has to be one of the most parodied themes. Hey, it's probably 'cool' to make fun of religion. But this book doesn't poke fun at religious people. Small Gods doesn't take sides and so, every reader has something to learn from it. Of course, that requires reading with an open mind, laughing at the jokes, because they are worth a chuckle; if you take offense, it's your loss.

Philosophizing apart, the book is also engaging. Om is adorable as the poor little indignant tortoise who hates his fate, Brutha is a protagonist created to be loved and it's fun to be inside his mind. Deacon Vorbis is frighteningly true to life. Every character you meet leaves an impression. And even though the plot basically runs on witty dialogue, it does have a beginning, a middle and fabulous fireworks-ey end. You know, when it comes to Discworld, I always feel my mind bubbling with things to say and when I sit down to write, no words seem enough. So, before my review takes on a defensive tone, I'll take the easy way out, and let Pratchett's writing speak for itself.

(on wanting gods to perform miracles)
“Humans! They lived in a world where the grass continued to be green and the sun rose every day and flowers regularly turned into fruit, and what impressed them? Weeping statues. And wine made out of water! A mere quantum-mechanistic tunnel effect, that'd happen anyway if you were prepared to wait zillions of years. As if the turning of sunlight into wine, by means of vines and grapes and time and enzymes, wasn't a thousand times more impressive and happened all the time...”

(on Disc politics)
“The Ephebians believed that every man should have the vote (provided that he wasn't poor, foreign, nor disqualified by reason of being mad, frivolous, or a woman). Every five years someone was elected to be Tyrant, provided he could prove that he was honest, intelligent, sensible, and trustworthy. Immediately after he was elected, of course, it was obvious to everyone that he was a criminal madman and totally out of touch with the view of the ordinary philosopher in the street looking for a towel. And then five years later they elected another one just like him, and really it was amazing how intelligent people kept on making the same mistakes.”

(on philosophers, the world being flat and the nature of Truth)
“But is all this true?" said Brutha.

Didactylos shrugged. "Could be. Could be. We are here and it is now. The way I see it is, after that, everything tends towards guesswork."

"You mean you don't KNOW it's true?" said Brutha.

"I THINK it might be," said Didactylos. "I could be wrong. Not being certain is what being a philosopher is all about.”

His mind was on fire. These people made all these books about things, and they weren't sure. But he'd been sure, and Brother Nhumrod had been sure, and Deacon Vorbis had a sureness you could bend horseshoes around. Sureness was a rock.

Now he knew why, when Vorbis spoke about Ephebe, his face was gray with hatred and his voice was tense as a wire. If there was no truth, what was there left? And these bumbling old men spent their time kicking away the pillars of the world, and they'd nothing to replace them with but uncertainty. And they were proud of this?

So, I read this as part of the Once Upon a Time VIII challenge, Quest the First (or the Third, if I join in for the June readalong.) I don't have to classify this into a category, but it does fall into fantasy, and maybe a little mythology. 

Have you read the Discworld series? If you have, which is your favourite book and character? - I don't know many Discworld fans in real life and don't get to discuss this often enough! For that matter, any other humourous fantasy recommendations? What have you been reading for the Once Upon a Time challenge?

7 comments:

harish p i said...

I never knew Discworld was a humorous book. I should have read it before!

Divers and Sundry said...

i love the discworld books! i haven't read this one yet, but it's my intention to read them all eventually. your cat is obviously a creature of discerning tastes :)

Lynn said...

The only Discworld books I've read are the Tiffany Aching series which I really enjoyed. I've had a few others recommended so should continue - there are so many to choose from though!
Lynn :D

barefootmeds said...

I've never read ANY of the Discworld novels, but this one sounds fabulous. It seems a little like Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.. .is it similar?

Priya said...

Harish - You know, it's never too late to read a good book.

Divers and Sundry - Obviously, and he knows it, too. :) I'm sure you'd enjoy this book when you get around to it.

Lynn - The Tiffany Aching books were great! If you liked Granny Weatherwax and Nanny, they have their own series of books too, that you could read. Small Gods has totally new characters, but it's worth a read, definitely.

barefootmeds - It is certainly a bit like Hitchhiker's, but Pratchett's writing leans more towards fantasy and is way more organized and plot-oriented than those books. But just as funny! And it is fabulous. :)

marveloustales.com said...

I've read lots of scattered Discworld books, and always enjoy them. Sounds like I should give this one a go soon too!

Priya said...

Cheryl - You should, you'll enjoy this too!

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