The Turtle Moves.
In the beginning was the Word.
And the Word was: ‘Hey, you!’
For Brutha the novice is the Chosen One. He wants peace and justice and brotherly love.
He also wants the Inquisition to stop torturing him now, please…
The disclaimer needed here is that this is my all-time favourite book and has been for 22 years, so I cannot even begin to think of how to review it in an impartial way. I will try my best not to just witter adoring nonsense for pages…wish me luck!
Small Gods is a standalone book in the Discworld canon of comedic fantasy and so is a reasonable place to try Pratchett from if you haven’t already. It is a satire of pretty much every religion going, plus atheism, philosophy…human thought in general really.
The war of knowledge and facts vs subjective reality and ignorance is one that is depressingly relevant to the current events of today, and I have a sneaking suspicion that this book will never not be relevant as long as people are people. Wherever there are books there will be people who want to burn them because they don’t agree with or understand the ideas contained.
There is obviously a huge theme of belief running throughout the novel; mainly how it works: what came first…the god/s or the belief? Also, is the function of god/s to serve their followers or be served by them (a question first raised in the earlier Pyramids, but explored more deeply here)? There are also themes of good vs evil, ‘just following orders’ vs thinking for yourself, what it means to live a good life / be a good person. Some really big, deep, thought-provoking questions.
Being a Pratchett book, the big questions are presented light-heartedly and with great humour, so the moments of thoughtfulness and those of touching emotion are tempered and saved from either mawkishness or evangelising. This is the first book I ever read that made me literally laugh out loud, repeatedly.
The Great God Om waxed wroth, or at least made a spirited attempt. There is a limit to the amount of wroth that can be waxed one inch from the ground, and he was right up against it.
― Terry Pratchett,
In terms of actual plot, there is plenty of action; battles and quests, soldiers, engineers and philosophers, book burning, a survivalist desert trek, sea storms and the final ultimate in Deus Ex Machina moments.
The main characters are Brutha and the Great God Om, and their personal development over the course of the plot is one of my favourite things about this book. They start at completely opposite ends of the thought spectrum and the realist/optimist sliding scale, and gradually, through greater understanding of each other and other people, come full circle round to meet in the middle.
And THAT for me is the crux of this book, and its relevance: not religion or gods really (although it is a great parody of those) but understanding. That it isn’t what you believe in that matters, but how you act and treat others as a result of those beliefs.
I personally believe that we could all stand to be a little bit more Brutha here on Roundworld.
You can find Sir Terry’s website here. Obviously (and sadly) you can’t contact him, with him already walking that desert, but you can certainly check out his Facebook and Twitter pages which have information about his writing, new editions and adaptations, and other useful/funny stuff.