Welcome back to BEHIND THE TREE. Last time, we discussed lesser-known holiday specials. This week, we focus on a special good enough for its own entry. Based on the bestselling novel from Terry Pratchett’s DISCWORLD series, we open up the Sky One adaptation of HOGFATHER.

A DISCWORLD PRIMER

DISCWORLD is the story of a flat, disc-shaped world much like a Victorian London version of Earth. Four giant elephants carry it through space. These elephants stand on the back of the great turtle A’tun.

HOGFATHER
So many ‘shrooms involved here…

Pratchett uses the setting to satirize fantasy tropes, along with a variety of topics. Everything from rock and roll to gender equality and time is poked at, leading to oft hilarious results. The books have no central character, but often a group of stories will focus on one individual. These include the ‘arc’ of the hapless wizard Rincewind and the arc that concerns HOGFATHER, that of Death and his granddaughter Susan Sto Helit.

The Plot

Discworld is celebrating Hogswatch (which is nearly identical to Christmas), but there is trouble. The Hogfather (Santa Claus) has gone missing, thanks to the Auditors of Reality (ghostly beings that despise life for its disorderly nature). Death assumes the role of the Hogfather to perpetuate belief, even as the Hogfather’s absence allows new godly beings to be created (i.e., the oh-God of Hangovers). Death’s granddaughter, Susan, wants little to do with her less than normal family, but soon enters the fray to return the Hogfather to his station.

A ComicsVerse Christmas: BEHIND THE TREE: KRAMPUS

Insane Satire

HOGFATHER, on paper, is one of the most bat-shit ideas ever devised, but that’s what makes it so glorious. The story throws absurd idea after absurd idea at you. It’s not enough Death has a granddaughter (read the books), he’s now trying to be Santa Claus

HOGFATHER
So… Very… Confused

That love of insanity pushes HOGFATHER past all boundaries and allows it to go after everything with all the aplomb fans would expect. The narrative gleefully mocks all aspects of Christmas and belief. The Hogfather himself is the latest incarnation of a winter god, who has changed to fit people’s evolving expectations (much like Christmas evolved from pagan festivals into a holy day). Death is confused by the expectations of the Hogfather (‘My list is so much easier, no naughty or nice’).

Death’s department store appearance involves him giving literal gifts (“she can’t have a sword!”) to arguments with the store management (‘You can’t give things away on Hogswatch!’ ‘Isn’t that the point?”). Watching Death question the literal aspects of the holiday satirizes all the high ideals that we don’t actually live up to, and the weird expectations we all have (‘Little match girls have to die on Hogswatch, Master! It makes other people appreciate what they have!’).

However, HOGFATHER has deeper meanings as well.Death reveals the Hogfather is more than a made up character. Humans need fantasies to be human, and we need to believe ‘small lies’ like the Hogfather to believe in the big ones (justice, mercy, order) since none of those things physically exist either. It reveals the importance of fantasy in our lives, and how much stories and legends influence who we become.

From A Certain Point Of View Review: A++

The Cast

HOGFATHER’s insanity and depth require talented actors. British acting legends like David Warner and Ian Richardson lend their talents (with Richardson excelling as the voice of Death).

Marc Warren shows his creepy skills as villain Jonathan Teatime (pronounced Te-ah-ta-may), and Joss Ackland is a hoot as the Archchancellor of Unseen University (a wizarding school somewhat parodying HARRY POTTER).

A unique performance of the film is Michelle Dockery as Susan. This was one of Dockery’s first roles, and she plays the part to absolute perfection. She captures the upper-class upbringing Susan received while fully grasping that the character is aware of a bigger world.

That understanding allows her to capture Susan’s desire for normalcy while also being stuck in the weirdest of families. The emotions are complex, but Dockery moves from frustration to curiosity to heroine with ease. I literally can’t imagine anyone else doing the role.

Final Thoughts on HOGFATHER

It’s difficult to encompass all of HOGFATHER in one sitting, but it surpasses the mark of Christmas excellence. It accomplishes the rare feat of satirizing the holiday while also showing how important it is. The film is a near flawless adaption of the book and manages to please fans and newbies alike.

It is long (just over three hours) but keeps viewers both curious, amused, and entertained throughout. So grab a pork pie and sherry, then sit down and have a Hogswatch viewing.

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