Headscratchers / Hogfather

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    Match Girl 

  • Why does Death save the little match girl? What's so bad in getting to bloody Heaven? She would've gotten there, angels were coming for her. He gives her the present of a future... yeah, a future of poverty and misery.
    • I think it's in keeping with the overall deconstruction of Christmas and in particularly the sentimentality surrounding it and stories. From one viewpoint, The Little Match Girl is kind of horrible — take away the sentimentality and the 'getting into Heaven' bit (and the original, intentionally or not, is a bit ambiguous regarding that as well), and what you're left with is a poor, homeless, orphaned little girl being tormented by hallucinations about the wealth of everyone around her as she freezes to death in the snow. And as Albert unwittingly points out, we're kind of using that little girl's death in the snow to make us feel better about ourselves (yeah, we might not have much — but at least we're not The Little Match Girl!). Yeah, she may live in poverty and misery now — but she's only a little girl, and she deserves to have the chance to grow up and at least look for and maybe even find happiness, not to just be a sentimental cautionary tale. If she's good, she'll still get into Heaven someday, but arguably later's better than sooner in this case.
    • Don't forget that Death drops the kid off with the Watch, and he says he'll be checking in on her in the future. He's not just making her not die, he's putting her in the hands of people who can really help her.
    • Of course, if you take away the "getting into Heaven" bit, the story is horrible. But Hogfather didn't take that away - the angels appear, and Albert throws snowballs at them. If they made it ambiguous, saying that she might be better of dying, I could understand Death's rage over it better. But I really don't think the original is ambiguous over this: "[Her grandmother] took the little girl in her arms, and they both flew upwards in brightness and joy far above the earth, where there was neither cold nor hunger nor pain, for they were with God." Where's ambiguity in that? But I digress.
    • In-universe explanation is that on the Disc the afterlife is pretty crap for anyone that isn't a Feegle. Out-universe Pterry and most of his fans tend not to put much faith in deities. Being one with a god isn't half as good as actually living your life.
    • And as Death points out, it would have helped a lot more if the angels had come before the little girl froze to death, not after. They certainly have more than enough carrying capacity, as he points out, and coming after her death just isn't helpful at all.
    • If you asked the grandmother from the original story if she'd rather someone had come by and saved the girl's life, do you really think she'd have said no?
    • This being Discworld, there are multiple Heavens, and each Heaven is not necessarily as nice as the Real Life Heaven is supposed to be. The specific Heaven she was headed for was one populated entirely by angels who would deliberately refuse to save a little girl from death , not because they weren't powerful enough, but because they thought her death would make a better story. It kinda makes sense that Death - who loves and cares about humanity - would be livid at such blatant sociopathy by supposedly-superior beings.
    • Hogfather is all about life and its significance - Death's story about the little red flower, his speech to Susan about the uncaring universe. The various explanations for the winter festival - sacrifice, hoping winter will end soon (and therefore life will get easier). The irony of Death being the champion of life. The bad guys hate life because they find it messy. The good guys are on the side of life for life's sake. Of course he saves the girl.
    • Who else is better equipped to champion life but the being tasked with taking it away? It's his responsibility to reap the souls of untold millions, if not billions. If someone presented you with a starving, freezing orphan girl and gave you a gun and directions to a shelter for her, what would you do if they told you that killing her is the only option? You may argue that it's a mercy kill but Death does not really have that option, only an obligation.
    • Because leaving her to die would have been a dick's move. Besides, Death had just spent hours giving the kids what they wanted, even though he wasn't meant to, he wasn't about to say 'Yes, I'll let you die even though I could do differently'. And besides, after Albert explained why he should let her die, he was full of pissed-off, righteous indignation.
    • Sorry, friends, but the only real explanation is this: In fiction and real life, it has always been the tradition to believe both that people who die go to heaven and that it's a tragedy when people die. It's illogical, but that's how it always works. You might as well ask why it's considered a success when somebody's life is saved, considering that they'll die eventually anyway.
    • I am certain other people than Feegles can get a good afterlife on the Disc, such as Teach, Doctor Undershaft, Mrs. Flitworth and a few others. But, putting that aside:
    • The story of the matchgirl is, unsurprisingly, going to be viewed differently by atheists than religious people. But one thing about it is indisputable - the story promotes a passive acceptance of suffering, which is a pretty horrible thing. Both the girl and the reader are supposed to acquiesce to the fact that the girl is dying, for no fault of her own, not from sickness, or an accident, or old age, but just poverty, which is and should be a remediable condition. Not only is the message - for the girl and the reader - 'death is the best you can get', but also there is a message for everyone else (because nobody comes to help the girl, even though she looks into other people's houses, so there are other more fortunate people) - 'you do not need to help others, you can let them die and that's a good deed, because they go to heaven'. If that isn't horrible, I don't know what is. In Hogfather, Death on the other hand gives the lesson in active, constructive kindness, as he gets her what she needs - care, protection by honest people, a warm meal - as well as the feeling of security ('I may well be checking up later.') He puts the real, tangible and vivacious happiness of life above the indefinite, vague and static afterlife.
    • I'm sorry, you're trying to tell me that Hans Christian Andersen was against charity, kindness, and social welfare? The man was very depressed and troubled. He wrote a story about a pathetic little girl who is helpless to change her fate, to whom the world is cruel, because that's what he perceived of life. He tried to console himself, his readers, and the girl by giving her a happy afterlife with her grandmother.
    • Maybe a better way to put it is that Terry isn't against Hans Christian Andersen, but against the way that most people (who don't think about its implications very hard) interpret the story that he wrote as some kind of heartwarming tale without any darker implications.
    • It's not the first time Death has cared for those he serves. What can the harvest hope for, if not the care of the Reaper Man?
    • It's simple, you only have to ask yourself this question: Is it in the spirit of Hogwatch to let little girl freeze to death on the street?
    • Of course getting to Heaven is a good thing. You know what else is good, though? Getting the chance to live a full, happy life. As mentioned before, Death brings the little match girl to the Watch, who we know have a significant allowance for the care of Watch widows and orphans. It's entirely plausible that when the Grim Reaper handed over a nearly-frozen orphan girl, left instructions to take care of her, and suggested he would be back to make sure those instructions were followed, it was decided to add the match girl to the list of children supported by that allowance. Also, remember that Death was caught up in the spirit of Christmas and goodwill and all that. Saving a small child's life and giving them a chance at a better one is a pretty unambiguously "good" act, and Death wanted to be good. For Hogswatch, anyway.
    • She could live a full, happy life in Heaven. This is part of the larger problem of writing a story about the anthropomorphic personification of something that does not exist in the setting. People do not die on the Discworld, they go somewhere else. The only difference with the Tooth Fairy's castle is the corpses.
    • That's not correct at all. People do, in fact, die on the Discworld. This book is about, you know, Death. It's never, at all, ever said that people just "go somewhere else" on the Discworld. They explicitly die.
    • The idea that seems to come up most often when discussing Death in these books is that once you're dead, you're done. You can still be *happy*, but your life is over — you have no more possibilities, and can't accomplish anything, grow, change, or do any of the things that constitute a real life. Death is stasis — which means that even if the girl just goes to Heaven, she's still being robbed of having a real life (which is arguably the most important thing that anyone can have). Just being *happy* isn't the same thing as "living."
    • That doesn't seem to be true. Mr. Tulip (who is, admittedly, a very unusual case) can feel "really -ing sorry" after his death, and at least partially redeems himself. Brutha continues to help people. Vorbis is being helped on the way through the desert. Ms. Lejean is ready for new experiences. Some people are reincarnated (e.g., "Bjorn again"). And so on and so forth. Discworld death definitely isn't always a stasis.
    • Stasis or not, benevolent or not, the afterlife isn't something people should be counting on to make up for a dismal, abbreviated Discly life. Life is to be cherished and made the most of, not casually discarded or muddled through as a mere prequel to what comes next; that's been part of Discworld's message ever since Cohen saved Bethan from being sacrificed to the moon goddess. Look at Djelibeybi, if you want to see how deep a rut living for the afterlife can dig for a society; better yet, ask Brutha what he thinks about the fate of the Little Match Girl, and you can bet he'd tell you: "Here and now, we are alive".
    • The Disc seems to have three main outcomes of being dead: reincarnation, Hell, or walking the desert. We never, to the best of this troper's recollection, see or get told what's on the other side of the desert. Even Death doesn't seem to have much of an idea what's over there.
    • Heaven is open forever, but you only have one life. If you do not value your life, then you shoul kill yourself right now. If you are afraid of divine punishment for suicide, you can gift all your belongings to others and die on the street like the little match girl did. Of course, I do not mean that seriously. Neither does Pratchett. Pratchett often calls bullsh*t and mercilessly parodies these stories that beg for your admiration but in fact include a nasty lesson at the core. In fact, watch Albert's interpretation of the story in the same book: "Little match girls dying in the snow is part of what the Hogswatch spirit is all about, master. I mean, people hear about it and say, ‘We may be poorer than a disabled banana and only have mud and old boots to eat, but at least we’re better off than the poor little match girl,’ master. It makes them feel happy and grateful for what they’ve got, see.” That is a rather nasty interpretation of the tale, too. It basically tells you that what many people experience over these tales is in fact schadenfreude - ie. they can feel better about themselves as long as they know that someone is doing worse. Andersen was pretty fond of these deus ex machina endings - compare the original ending of The Little Mermaid - where everything ends in tragedy, but because God will reward suffering in the afterlife is is All Fine. Pratchett does not believe in that sort of defeatism - his characters like Susan particularly hate it and promote a "help yourself" attitude. If Pratchett would write a book with the Little Match Girl as the protagonist, then the match girl would immediately realize that waiting in the snow was a ticket for death, and expecting her father who's forcing her to sell matches to ever treat her better is pointless. The little match girl would go around banging on people's doors until someone gave her a lowly job, work her way up to become a self-supporting woman, run away from the city, marry, and visit her father's grave some 30 years later only to spit on it. And she would be happy and strong and self-sufficient, all of which wouldn't have happened if she was just waiting around for God's miracle to happen. That's the kind of hero Pratchett would write.
    • If "being dead and in Heaven" (which in itself is a rather uncertain prospect on the Discworld) were really so great and actually preferable options to life, I'd just don't get why most people are trying so hard to live on. Actually it can be rather safely presumed that the Andersen's 1845 original story was originally a massive Take That! to the hypocrites who left the little girl die in the first place (with a period appropriate Happy Ending in heaven slapped on), which - after some period of being Christmas time media staple - gained lot of "Feel Good" Misaimed Fandom.
    • To offer a possible conclusion to all of this, the point is not and never was to deny the girl a place in heaven, just to allow her to live first. Heaven will always be waiting for her assuming she remains on a path of goodness in the long run where as life is a singular event. Now admittedly the singularity of life has some flexibility on the Discworld but speaking general terms humans only get a single chance to live and experience things before eternity in Heaven which is considered preferable to immediate death. In terms of religion as a social structure this serves the function of preventing suicide cult mentalities in what is intended to be a globe spanning organization. In the context of the specific story though Death is pointing out the inherent unfairness and cruelty of a life cut short by the apathy of others combined with its use as a feel good story when anyone freezing to death should not be considered a positive event for any reason. By saving the Little Match Girl he allows her a chance to grow and experience the world before going to heaven anyway, thus giving her a great gift compared to such a cut short life.


  • Aside from The Little Match Girl, the book also skewers the story of Good King Wenceslas. The king's charity is portrayed as self-serving, and he humiliates the old man with it. Were you here last month? Will you be here next week? No. But tonight you wanted to feel all warm inside. Tonight you will want them to say: what a good king he is Death tells the king, and orders him to go. So far so good. But then, he gives a bunch of pork to the old man. How is that different? How is it not charity? Was Death there last month? Will he be there next week? Of course not. And just like the king, he does it because he wants to feel good about himself. He outright says afterwards to Albert: Wasn't that nice? I feel I was cut out for this sort of thing, you know. It's nice to do a job where people look forward to seeing you. How is his self-serving act of charity different from the king's?
    • If I remember right, the old man DIDN'T want the king's charity since what the king was giving was not something the old man wanted/needed and I think it was also mentioned that it was leftovers anyway. But he DID want a pork meal, which is what Death gave him.
    • It was a few things: 1. The king was giving him leftovers (condescension); 2. The king was giving the old man far too much, and food that wouldn't keep as further leftovers (wastefulness); and 3, as pointed out, the old man didn't want it, because the old man had already spent time, money, and effort on his own meal, which goes to waste if he takes the king's "gift". Death gives him a bit of pork, which is more of an addition or complement to his meal, rather than replacing it.
    • True, the king's gifts were leftovers, and he was a dick about it. But still, Death criticized his basic motives not just the gifts (he's self-serving, he did not help the old man before, nor he will after) and I think that's hypocritical.
    • It's only hypocritical if Death intervened knowing that doing so would make himself feel good. He's seldom had the opportunity to do good deeds before, so is unfamiliar enough with the concept that they're satisfying that he probably wasn't anticipating any such reward when he involved himself: he just wanted to stop the king from indulging his royal ego that way.
    • Part of the old man's humiliation was that the king and page were insisting on staying to see 'the smile on your grubby but honest face' while Death left him in peace with his gift. But more importantly, Death-as-Hogfather is not supposed to be there at any other time than Hogswatch, whereas a king who wants people to say 'What a good king he is!' should be doing more.

    New gods 

  • One of the main characteristics of the Oh God of Hangovers is that as a newly formed anthropomorphic personification, he doesn't know a lot about the world, and when Susan mentions the Tooth Fairy, he responds that he's never heard of her. But the Verruca Gnome is in the same boat as Billious, being created in the same fashion slightly earlier, yet he instantly knows about the Tooth Fairy. The only reason this might make sense is that the Verruca Gnome, as a fairy-esque creature, has a similar job and would have a knowledge of her, but it still seems like an odd difference.
    • In fairness to Bilious, a massive hangover is not conducive to thinking particularly well, and after the Wizard's Sobriety Potion the sheer euphoria of not having the worlds' worst hangover probably overwhelmed him somewhat.
    • And Discworld gods in general are well-established as being pretty clueless about worldly affairs, even without a hangover.

    Albert's time 

  • Why is Albert able to go with Death onto the Disc? Didn't he have, like, a few seconds of life or something?
    • Susan asks exactly this in the book—he explains he's allowed to join Death in the role of one of the Hogfather's helpers. Sort of a loophole. It's kind of the same reason Death is allowed to give the little match girl life because he's in the role of the Hogfather.
    • More thoroughly Albert himself actually explains that they're not actually on the Disc but at that point in time inhabit a sub dimension of the Disc that is Hogswatch Eve. This Dimension is what allows the Hogfather to deliver all the world's presents in just one night, as things like time and distance can be stretched squashed and just generally be ignored inside of it.

    Price of gifts 

  • How does the gag that everything in the Hogfather's sack being something that costs $5.99 in the shops line up with the fact that most of the Discworld books state that a lot of people get by on less than $30 a month? Those are some expensive presents.
    • The "lot of people" in question are the ones whose kids get an apple and a crude wood-carved toy in their stocking. Presumably if the Hogfather gave them something worth $5.99, their parents would flog it and they'd never get to play with it anyway.

    Violet and temperence 

  • Violet the tooth fairy girl and Bilious the Oh God of Hangovers are attracted to each other. Violet compounds the Oh God's attraction by mentioning she's part of a temperance movement and doesn't drink. Where does Susan know Violet from? They've seen each other at Biers, a pub.
    • Biers serves a rather eclectic clientele, and it makes sense that not all the drinks there are alcoholic (or edible by human standards for that matter). Angua goes there and orders fruit juice in Feet of Clay.
    • For that matter, as Biers appears to be the only main centre of nightlife for the aforementioned eccentric clientele, it's entirely probable Violet only goes for the company or possibly the food.
    • Tooth Fairy girls are Invisible to Normals when they're working. It's possible that Biers is simply the only place in the city where Violet can be assured of service if she needs a snack break during her rounds.

    The Second Day of Hogswatch 

  • What would have happened if Ridcully had really sent back his present with a nasty little letter the next day as suggested in his interpretation of the Twelve Days song? The closest thing he's ever had to a true love is Granny Weatherwax.
    • That we know of ...