Thursday, December 9, 2010

Naturalism and Christmas Fantasy - The Spirit of Giving Is Healthy - The Greed Of Getting Is Not

I considered rereading Joseph Franzen's THE CORRECTIONS, as another book that takes place over the holidays; but after reading E. E. Cummings' 1946 play, SANTA CLAUS: A MORALITY, I was instead drawn into Terry Pratchett's HOGFATHER (1996).

I'd read it before, but each rereading provides me with insights I had not yet seen. As with Harold Bloom's description of LITTLE, BIG (in THE BOOK THAT CHANGED MY LIFE: 71 REMARKABLE WRITERS CELEBRATE THE BOOKS THAT MATTER MOST TO THEM), I would describe HOGFATHER as naturalism disguised as a book of fantasy.

As with E. E. Cummings' brilliant play, here Death takes on the role of Santa Claus. The material is shown in stark contrast to the spiritual. On the striking first edition dustjacket, Death is pictured in Santa's sleigh being pulled by eight boar-like hogs across the vortex of Time. The book's opening lines:

"Everything starts somewhere, although many physicists disagree."

"But people have always been dimly aware of the problem with the start of things. They wonder aloud how the snowplow driver gets to work, or how the makers of dictionaries look up the spelling of the words. Yet there is the constant desire to find some point in the twisting, knotting, raveling nets of space-time on which a metaphorical finger can be put to indicate that here, here is the point where it all began..."

"Something began when the Guild of Assassins enrolled Mister Teatime, who saw things differently from other people, and one of the ways that he saw things differently from other people was in seeing other people as things..."

"But it was much earlier even than that when most people forgot that the very oldest stories are, sooner or later, about blood. Later on they took the blood out to make the stories more acceptable to children, or at least to the people who had to read them to children rather than the children themselves who, on the whole, are quite keen on blood...and then, after that, wondered where the stories went."

"And much, much earlier than that, when the Discworld was formed, drifting onward through space atop four elephants on the shell of the giant turtle. Great A'Tuin."

"Possibly, as it moves, it gets tangled like a blind man in a cob-webbed house in those highly specialized little space-time strands that try to breed in every history that they encounter, stretching them and breaking them and tugging them into new shapes."

"Or possibly not, of course. The philospher Didactylos has summed up an alternative hypothesis as "Things just happen. What the hell."

Then on page 2:

"The senior wizards of Unseen University stood and looked at the door."

"There was no doubt that whoever had shut it wanted it to stay shut. Dozens of nails secured it to the door frame. Planks had been nailed right across. And finally it had, up until this morning, been hidden by a bookcase that had been put in front of it."

In addition, there was a sign on it, warning all who read it that they had best not open the door and and enter inside. The plans of the building are consulted on which the room turns out to be described as a bathroom, the jakes, and, as in Cormac McCarthy's BLOOD MERIDIAN, "I would not go in there if I was you."

Unless, of course, you can see the great dark mythic and intellectual humor behind Terry Pratchett's words. In the spirit of the season.

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