Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The Horror Of...End of the Year Night, Hogfather Part 1

Christmas is passed now. But the holiday season does persist, despite claims otherwise. So, out here, amongst the snow,  ice, and...geese, I can't help thinking about the wintry traditions we all spring from, and the year that's ending.

It's the year's end. Why? Because it's December? Why is it in December? Because we named the month that, and we currently use a 12 month system of dating. But is now really the end of the year? (And why do I sound like I'm high?) Other cultures have different days for the year's end. (Chinese New Year is a month away. Rosh Hashanah is months off.) But most of the world celebrates today. It's semi arbitrary.

So does it really matter? The geese here don't care. Your dog won't care about tonight...until you screw up it's sleep plans.

But we do care. We are out gearing up to spend the night with family, dressing up for parties, getting the kids rested up to make it to midnight. It seems to be important. Even if the exact day and second aren't optimal, we don't care. When the clock hits 12, people will cheer.

It's a tradition we globally embrace. It wouldn't destroy us if we didn't. But what if it could?

Suppose we consider a story where a loose of tradition, and belief put all in jeopardy?

A book turned into a movie/miniseries.

Terry Pratchett's Hogfather.

It's an enjoyable movie about a time much like Christmas, full of characters that are a laugh to watch.

The story comes from a series that was created by the brilliant Terry Pratchett. It's long running, but  Hogfather is reasonably self contained. Many characters have larger lives that expand out in other books, but that is something you can enjoy discovering later.

So, what is the world of this story?

It's the Discworld.

A flat disc, moving through space. A sun in it's orbit.

It sits atop four great elephants (Berilla, Tubul, Great T'Phon, and Jerakeen). And they sit atop the Great A'Tuin. And Great A'Tuin makes his migratory way across the depths of space.

On the disc lie a selection of continents. On one is the great and dirty twin cities of Ankh-Morpork.

There you will find the Unseen University, and it's massive tower.

In this university you will find wizards at study.

But they are not the end of magic and wonder on the disc. 

You also have the tooth fairies.

You have Death.

You have Death of Rats.

You have the Hogfather.


Highly flawed gods.

And, Auditors of...everything

But there are also the so mortal qualities we know.

Like the Assassin's Guild.

And various toughs and thugs.

But this story is focused on the Hogfather. But it is not solely focused on him. It's just the question of him lies at the heart of the story. What happens if you don't believe in him? Why do we believe in him? Who is he? Where does he come from? Does he personally know the Soul Cake Duck?

Those are the Hogfather's hogs, or Gozer's coming to town.

Not to worry, unlike Santa, the Hogfather isn't a beast that eats kids. He's just a porcine man, having his ancient sled pulled by giant nasty boars. (Gouger, Rooter, Tusker, and Snouter) It's really quite sweet, hmm? But in most ways he is a Santa Claus.

He visits homes. He expects gifts. (Not so much cookies and milk, but some sherry, pork pies, and turnips. Tradition.) He takes a look at the letters of kids leave him, and then leaves gifts to the nice kids. And then he's off, soot foot prints and sled marks left.

The year's end wouldn't be what it is, without the Hogfather, and Hogswatchnight. How can you have a Hogswatch without him?

And why would some like to see what would happen?

The story follows three groups in action on the night before Hogswatch (the equivalent of Christmas).

Each group is moving towards a meeting which may destroy Hogfather and take the world with it.

First, the murderers and thieves. We open in Ahnk-Morpork, and in the Guild of Assassins.

The head of the guild is at work late on the eve of Hogswatch.

His office is dark and silent, but he realizes that he is not alone. No signs show someone has come in, but he can sense them there.

The guild head is Lord Downey. He's played by the regularly enjoyable David Warner.

Downey has been joined by an Auditor. It's "one" of a group of beings that regulate and maintain balance in the universe. They make sodium react to water. They make things fall down.

The Auditors like things to work simply and mechanically. They don't like messiness. And so much of humanity is messiness. It also means they loathe individuality.

This leads them to be antagonistic in many stories, trying to set the world to their liking, no matter what the impact on lesser beings. This has included vying to remove Death in earlier stories (Reaper Man).

The Auditor has come to the Assassin's Guild in search of help in removing a problem.

As it puts it, the target is The Fat Man. The Hogfather.

3 Million Dollars. (It's gold discs in the book. I guess they thought this was simpler.) Done before dawn.

Lord Downey has questions. But the Auditor has no answers. 3 million dollars goes a long way to making the questions irrelevant though. So, Downey calls on one of his assassins. Mr. Teatime.

Before long, Teamtime arrives. He is silent, entering the room without Downey hearing. He also moves eerily swift.

Teatime is played by Marc Warren. He's appeared in a number of shows like Hustle and Doctor Who. He's also appeared in a more recent BBC version of Dracula, which I am not too fond of (I prefer their 1977 Count Dracula.). The character is an odd figure. Quiet and swift. A sweet face. A soft voice. But he has one black glass eye and one grey eye. And a violent temper, waiting to arise. He's a man that makes hired killers ill at ease.

They first review his last job, which resulted with a dog impaled on the ceiling, and the victim's head knocked across the room. It was inelegant. It was brutal and cruel. But the job was done to the letter.

Downey wants him to take on this job. It's an impossible job, and Teatime is the sort that actually has thought about how to handle it. He's actually considered how one could destroy the Hogfather. And the Tooth Fairy. And the rest of the pantheon. He's even considered how to kill Death.

Teatime then sets out to complete his task.

First he needs a team, specialist in their field, to get him to his end goal.

So he seeks some local toughs to act as his muscle. He gathers them at a local tavern.

So is this Hustle's darkest timeline then? ..But then
where's the goatee?
The trio at the table at the start are Medium Dave (the brains), towering Banjo (his brother), and Chickenwire (a friend eager for cash). They are a little skiddish, but Teatime scares them into place.

Soon the rest appear. Mr. Brown. He's the best lockpick around. There's no lock he can't best.

The other is Mr. Sideney. He's a wizard...of sorts. He's more a student in need of cash.

So now the team is made. Teatime has the tools he needs to do the job he has in mind. But he needs one more thing. A tooth. So he decks Banjo with speed that leaves Banjo not knowing what hit him.

They place the unconscious Banjo in a bed, and place the tooth under his pillow. For most this would be silly to do. But Banjo is quite simple, innocent really. He believes. And that's just what Teatime needs.

Soon the Tooth Fairy arrives...Well, one of the tooth fairies. ...It's more a franchise business. 

Her name is Violet, and once she takes the tooth and leaves a coin, she heads off. But she doesn't make it out of the room, as she's grabbed, and gagged.

But she's not what Teatime was seeking. Outside a cart quietly passes, waiting. A Tooth Fairy wagon, sent to collect sacks of teeth, and give out coins to give to the kiddies.

The lonely cart driver soon finds that he's not alone. Teatime is there, and holds a knife to his side. The rest of the gang get on board, carrying Violet. Banjo is upset, being brought up to never hit or touch girls. But the others ignore him.

Teatime talks to the driver in his usual menacing/faux friendly way. He tells him that he wants to be taken to the walls of the Unseen University. There he can get access to a place, other than the university. The Tooth Fairy's Castle.

They make their way through Ankh-Morpork and reach the point along the walls of the university that they need.

Teatime then makes the driver explain how he opens the way. He shows Teatime a little container he has. In it lies a glowing dust.

Teatime pinches some and throws it at the wall. The wall then goes all glowy.

Having no more need of the driver, Teatime stabs him in the side, killing him instantly. The assassin shoves him from the cart, and then proceeds at the wall, passing through.

The Assault on the Castle of the Tooth Fairy

Now inside, the criminals look around.

It is a sight. All brightly lit and white. In fact, it's all made of teeth. But what less would you expect from the home of the Tooth Fairy?

It is a place filled with rooms, teeth, and  a staggering central tower, with stairs rising up the sides.

"Hello, I'm Terrance. And I'll be the doomed red shirt in
this scene."
But it isn't unguarded. Rather it is guarded, but not that well. But who would bother invading the realm of the Tooth Fairy?

The criminal muscle begin their work, killing all the guards in the castle. They work their way through the lower levels, pouncing on each guard, and finishing them off.

But they don't leave anything behind. You see, like all mythological beings and realms of the Discworld, this place is made manifest in large part thanks to those that believe. And the Tooth Fairy is a being for young kids. And for young kids, death is not a thing they understand or really accept. So it has no place here.

Therefore, each guard dies. Then disappears. Then reappears in the sky above Ankh-Morpork. Then crashes on top of a building.

One by one they die, and fall on the city.
When that is done, Teatime overlooks all the teeth stored in the facility. He orders the muscle to take all of them and make a massive pile. Millions of teeth.

He also tells Mr. Brown to practice his profession. He's to go around the castle and unlock ever lock. Teatime is ready to hunt. There's a master Tooth Fairy to be found.

As the pile starts, Teatime presses Mr. Sideney to begin crafting a spell for him. It's a spell to charge the teeth. The wizard will create a circle around the teeth, and then the teeth will be activated.

You see, personal items have power. Teeth, hair, clippings, etc. You have a tooth, and a spell, you can control a person. You have teeth from every child in the world...And a mind as twisted as Teatime's...

Things will not go well for the world, once Teatime is done. What happens to a being of belief, when those that believe are made to not believe? What happens to the world when a sociopath gets to tell kids what they believe?

Mr. Sideney struggles some, but is slowly getting the spell to work. He's also growing more stressed. The castle of the Tooth Fairy affects people, slowly.

While the wizard works, Dave and Chickenwire have been snooping. They've found a room full of coins, and deeds to land. Greedy, they begin grabbing them to slip away with.
But Teatime has come to check on them. He threatens Dave, and let's him know that Banjo is now under his thrall. He's now Teatime's friend. So, Dave and Chickenwire better stay in line.

Meanwhile, Mr. Sideney has finally gotten his spell to work. The teeth are active.

Also, Mr. Brown has found a strange door. He's already opened numerous locks, but this door? Oh! This is special.

This door is covered in locks. Strange locks. Magical locks. This will be a challenge.

But it's also a unique door in this place. So, it stands to reason only one thing could be behind the door. One person. The original true Tooth Fairy.

But as they work, things get odd. The place goes dark off and on. The locks change on Mr. Brown.

The castle's defenses are at work.

Frustrated, Mr. Brown quits. He gets up to leave, but holds off Teatime with a crowbar. Then Banjo comes up behind him, at Teatimes silent beckoning. He lifts the lock picker up and throws him down the long staircase, rolling and rolling down to the bottom.

The first of the criminals is dead.

But what is happening elsewhere? Couldn't we be shown some tenderness connected with...

Well, let's see we still have Death and his granddaughter...


How about some Wizards! Huh?!

Okay. The wizards in this show aren't really part of the main plot. They affect it. They play a role. They convey information. But they are mostly B-Plot humor. But they are fun!

The wizards of the Unseen University, are readying for Hogswatch as the movie starts.

The instructors are ready to enjoy some downtime. They are busy, preparing for a meal to welcome the day.

But the students? Well some are busy to. It seems they are eager to get to work on completing a particle accelerator. They explain that the university won't get them one, so they decided to build it. They just need some radiation shielding, from the university.

This gets the old wizards panicked about what to do. They are mostly panicked throughout the night.

The reason Jedi is chosen more than
wizard on the UK census.
Then they get a worse shock, the Archchancellor Ridcully is planning to use the forbidden bath!

They were locked away long ago, a failed experiment. But Ridcully has decided to try them out for himself. A Hogswatch treat.

He gets in. He has it started. He enjoys it for awhile. Then he learns why no one uses it. So he decides to shut them up again.

But this does lead to a conversation where he talks of a joke his dad used to tell him. Watch out for the Verruca Gnome. (Verrucas are warts, Americans.) It isn't a real thing, like a Hogfather. The comment leads to an immediate ringing of small bells in the air.

It's curious, but ignored.

Geez. What do yo get if you kiss a
Verruca Gnome?
Yet shortly, Ridcully makes a discovery. A Verruca Gnome.

The gnome doesn't know where he came from, he just knows he's here, to give out warts.

Ridcully decides to get some answers. So he goes to where students have been building Hex, an artificial brain. He hopes it can generate some answers.

While he explains the situation, he comments about how there should be a God of Hangovers to go with a God of Wine. And the bells ring again.

Finally, they power up Hex.

And here we pause.

The night is closing in here, and midnight looms. Two players have yet to enter the field of battle on Hogswatch.

We have yet to see Susan Sto Hetit, the most dangerous governess you will meet. And Death, who will be asked to pull double duty this Hogswatchnight. They are both at the heart of the story. They are the best part of this tale.

But that will come tomorrow night. Unless there isn't one...I mean scientifically there will be one, but metaphorically...It will make more sense tomorrow.

Also, this was a multinight story originally, so I'm breaking this up.

Enjoy your traditions of this night, they make us all human.

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