Small Gods

by Terry Pratchett
HarperTorch, New York, 2003
First published in 1992
ISBN 0 06 109217 7
357 pages

I bought this book as a used one. Of course I can’t afford all series and bought them all as new, since Pratchett wrote so many titles in the Discworld series alone. Yes, Small Gods is a title in the Discworld series (already 36 titles of them and there is an anticipation of 3 more), a series of fantasy stories happened in Discworld. What and where is Discworld? It is a parody of our world. Discworld is a flat disc balanced on the backs of four giant elephants who stand on the back of an enormous turtle called Great A’Tuin, who in turn swims across the universe. The sun turns around the disc once every day, “dragging its light behind it“. The series was started in 1983 with the first novel, The Colour of Magic. Small Gods is the 13th (wow, THE number).

In Small Gods, Pratchett made a parody (or as Pratchett put it: “resonance“) of one-God religions (I won’t be surprised, he is an atheist) and philosophy. According to the history of Discworld, there are billions of gods in the world. This is the concept of gods in the series:

They are small gods, and most of them stay that way…. Because what they lack is belief. A handful, though, go on to greater things. Anything may trigger it. A shepherd, seeking a lost lamb, finds it among the briars and takes a minute or two to build a small cairn of stones in general thanks to whatever spirits might be around the place…. Sometimes it goes further. More rocks are added, more stones are raised, a temple is built…. The god grows in strength, the belief of its worshippers raising it upwards like a thousand tons of rocket fuel.

It was told that one of the gods, the Great God Om, was powerful once. Omnia, where the church of Om built, has became a state, ruled by the Cenobiarch. At the time he was powerful, he usually came to earth as bull or swan. Om was so lazy and just spoke to men whenever he likes. Om spoke through human sometimes, and the worshippers believed that the human was a prophet. The prophets wrote books of rules they claimed to contain all things Om said to them, although in fact Om didn’t. Om did not pay attention to what his worshippers doing. The Quisition will torture Omnians in Om’s behalf whenever the Omnians break the rules, and Om didn’t even care.

After a long time, his worshippers became too focused on their rituals, and not to Om himself. The worshippers feared the Quisitions more than they feared Om. And then there came the time when, although there were so many Omnians (people who claimed to worship and believe in Om), Om only had two true believers, Brutha and his grandmother. One day, he tried to come to earth as a bull, but, since he had only two believers, according to the theory of gods, he materialized into something rather small and unimportant, a turtle, with an impending amnesia. And what’s the true enemy of a turtle? An eagle. It spotted the turtle wobbling on the land below and flew down to catch it. A yummy prospect of lunch. To eat a turtle, an eagle had to drill through the hard shell, which it couldn’t do. So it dropped the turtle on rocks with the intention to break the shell, but on some lucky coincidence (on the part of the turtle), it dropped the turtle on a compost heap, really close to the Chosen One, the young Brutha, who at that time was still a novice in the Citadel in the city of Kom, in the lands between the deserts of Klatch and Howondaland.

Brutha was a big and strong person, a simple man who could not read and write, but had an extraordinary memory. He absorbed everything said and showed to him. He knew every lines in the seven books of the prophets, he knew every laws, every songs. But nobody cared the presence of Brutha. He was raised by his grandmother, also an extraordinary lady who can see through walls and hear things from faraway. His grandmother was also a true worshipper of Om. It was into Brutha’s head the Great God Om, or the turtle, spoke.

As a devout man, Brutha believed that what he heard in his own head was the voice of the devil. The turtle effort in proving to him that it was actually Om himself seemed useless, especially when Om could not materialized into the bull he always was, had no knowledge at all of the books of rules the prophets wrote, the inquisitions (the roasting of people) conducted to the rulebreakers, and Om even said to Brutha that Om actually could not be everywhere at the same time to hear all people’s prayers. Brutha only believed him after Om told him a certain event in his childhood.

In the meantime, the Church of Omnia kept trying to conquer the areas around it and forced the people to worship one god only. There were a lot of protests and many members of the Omnian government and military had joined a secret anti-Omnianism movement, with mantra The Turtle Moves! based on De Chelonian Mobile, a book who spoke about the world as a flat disc, which was of course contradicted with the church of Omnia’s dogma: the world is a perfect sphere, and the world goes around the sun.

Vorbis, the exquisitor -the head of the Quisitions- who had a secret ambition to be a Prophet, took an interest in Brutha, after he found out about Brutha’s prodigious memory. He used Brutha in his effort to conquer Ephebe. Although simple as he was, finally Brutha understood the true objectives of Vorbis. With the help of Om the turtle, Brutha did what he had to do. Brutha changed, and Om changed with him, resulting in a better and more tolerant Omnianism. Brutha also helped to save the contents of the library of the Citadel, thanks to his perfect memory.

This is the first time I read Pratchett, and I am impressed by the description of the world and the colorful characters, humans and supernatural beings. Death, the soul reaper, who spoke in CAPITALS. Lu-tze, the invisible sweeper, one of the history monks who travels around bringing his bonsai mountains. The Sea-Queen who loves the creatures of the sea and will cause storms in taking revenge to anyone who kills one of her creatures. Didactylos and his nephew Urn, the witty philosophers. Cut-Me-Own-Hand-Off Dhblah, a travelling food-seller who knows things. Pratchett wrote in hilarious and funny way, and by the way, Om spoke just like Bartimaeus spoke (or is it the other way around?).

Discworld stories are said to be satirical parallels of current cultural, technological and scientific issues, and Small Gods is said to have major thematic references to Nietzsche. I don’t really tuned in into current issues and I definitely don’t read Nietzsche, the person who said that “God is dead“. If you are interested into what things Small Gods parodized, you can go to the APF Chapter 3: Discworld Annotations. From something obvious like Lu-tze who is said to be a parody of Lao-tze, Brutha who is said to be a parody of Thomas Aquinas, a reference to Krishna, Archimedes, Pentateuch, Descartes, FedEx, computer programming language Logo, Alexandrian Library, Aristoteles and Socrates (Aristocrates in Small Gods), Stalin, Duke of Wellington, Shakespeare, a game of chess, you name it.

Recommended. if you are a fantasy bookreader, you must try this one.

Pic of a girl holding Discworld plush toy is taken from Daily Illuminator.


7 thoughts on “Small Gods

  1. Pingback: - Gadgets on the web » Small Gods

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