Pratchett is one of my very favorite authors and I decided that a little bit of Pratchett was what I needed to get through an incredibly busy workweek. (I have a very repetitive job that allows me to listen to audiobooks while I work.) I was scrolling through his backlist when I saw Small Gods, one which I adore but had only read once. I decided it was exactly what I needed.
On the audiobook itself, the narrator, Nigel Planer, talks a tad too fast. I really loved him but I wish he talked about 25% slower. It looks like he narrates most of Pratchett’s books (or at least the two I’ve downloaded so far), so I would definitely give him a listen before buying – make sure it’s something you can put up it.
As for the book itself, Small Gods is the story of Brutha, a novice acolyte of Om (the god of Omnia and the Omnian religion, a monotheistic religion that draws heavily from the Catholic Church in particular and Abrahamic religions in general.) In a country run by the church and full of fanatics, Brutha is the last true believer, the only one on the Discworld who can hear the God Om, who was come to visit his believers in his latest godly form – a tortoise, if you please. (Death be unto eagles!) Brutha has a perfect memory, a unique talent which Vorbis, the head of the Quisition, decides will be of use to him as he strives to rid the world of non-believers.
This is religious satire and religious satire at its best. I love the way Pratchett deftly separates believing from participating, no matter how fervently, in organized religion. Don’t worry; he gets in a few well-placed jabs at atheists as well as priests, brothers, and overly religious grandmothers. The critiques are sometimes aimed at the gods – after all, in the Discworld, gods are much like people – but the majority comes from human interpretation of the god’s will, fair game and always relevant. Pratchett manages to comically expose how much humans have misinterpreted the gods’ will in general and, using the truthful and steadfast Brutha as a foil, how little the current interpretation of Om’s will has to do with Om’s actual will. Also, the evolution of Brutha’s faith is fantastically done; Brutha learns so much about Om, about the Prophecies, the Prophets, and how the faith is executed (somewhat literally, there), that one would expect his faith to disappear. Rather, it changes into a more mature and realistic faith which seeks to meld the realities of the world with idealism that religion promotes.
Pratchett’s work, if you let it, challenges the meanings of faith, religion, and belief and satirizes how things are done or have been done in much of the Abrahamic traditions for most of written history. Fun and easily digestible, certainly, but easy to find yourself thinking about it seriously as well. You’ll never feel like he’s forcing a point down your throat; rather you’ll find yourself laughing at an exaggerated point that has described exactly how you felt at one time or another. It’s a great satire – using humor to both mask and make his point. If you want only an easy and fun read out of it, you’ll get only that. If you’d like to read further in, you certainly can. The best of both worlds!
Sometimes I have a hard time following Pratchett’s plot points – I just read along, certain that at the end everything will come together – but that didn’t happen this time. Perhaps because I was rereading or perhaps because it was an audiobook, I was relatively sure of what was happening and why the entire time. If you’re a fan of the Discworld series, you shouldn’t expect the normal cast of characters – Death shows up but not anyone else.
If you like religious satires, this is one of the best ones I’ve read. If you like Pratchett or comedies, you should give this book a go. If you don’t have much of a sense of humor about religion, or if fantasy really just isn’t your thing, you may want to give this a pass.