Looking Back At Terry Pratchett's HOGFATHER

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Martin Rayburn celebrates Hogswatch.


The first live adaptation of a Discworld novel arrived at Christmas 2006. Naturally, because of the time of year, Terry Pratchett's 1997 novel Hogfather was the story chosen. A wise decision as it's a fine Christmas tale, and one which contains several important lessons about being human. The Hogfather himself is the Discworld equivalent of Father Christmas. In the story he goes missing and Death is forced to take his place while his half-human granddaughter Susan attempts to find out what has happened. 

Broadcast in two-parts, Hogfather was a star studded production. With David Jason as Albert, Marc Warren as Mr. Teatime, Michelle Dockery as Susan, David Warner as Lord Downey and Ian Richardson as the voice of Death. Even though in my mind certain characters didn't look how I'd perceived them to whilst originally reading the novel, all of the chosen actors are very good in their roles, as are the majority of the supporting cast.


I especially enjoyed Michelle Dockery, in one of her first on-screen roles, as the stolid Susan. It's hard to be that beautiful and yet still get the character just right. I always imagined Susan as a strong, attractive woman, yet one who is cold, cynical, and subtly sexy in a stern way, and she is just that. David Jason is fine as Albert, although in my mind's eye he'd have been thinner and scrawnier (sort of like Tony Robinson, who is also in this as Vernon Crumley/Bed Monster). But if anyone nails their character it is Marc "Tee-a-tim-ay" Warren, as he showed the exact right amount of ruthlessness and naiveté to make him the perfect fearfully funny antagonist.


The television adaptation follows the novel quite closely, but even though there is three plus hours of running time certain sequences from the source material have been omitted or shortened (the Death of Rats is reduced to a one-scene cameo, the Cheerful Fairy, the Towel Wasp and any mention of the Money Bag Goblin are all missing, to name just a few examples). Plus there are areas where character development has been glossed over, this doesn't so much take anything away for those who are coming to the story unaware of the book, but it bugged me a little in the same way, I would guess, that Harry Potter novel fans may feel about the movies. All the same, Hogfather is very well produced and really does try it's best at successfully adapting a Terry Pratchett book for the screen - which was never going to be an easy task.

Visually it's quite a treat, nearly a decade on the sets and effects hold up well. I remember reading complaints about the costume and mask for Death, but being that it is a made-for-TV production I think there was very little else they could do. Plus Ian Richardson conveys so much in his voice that even though we only have a static plastic face mask it doesn't matter as much.


There's a lot of humour too, as you'd expect from any Pratchett story. However, here it is mainly visual. For instance, it's fun seeing Death cloaked in the Hogfather (Father Christmas) robes while mushing a sleigh towed by heavily-tusked boars. But what is lost is Pratchett's clever witticisms, the expected yet unexpected moments when reading that would often cause me to nearly choke with restrained laughter, whilst I try to stifle my guffaw in case the people sitting opposite on the train think I'm a lunatic.

What we have in Hogfather is a partial triumph. Proof that it is possible to successfully produce a live-action adaptation of a Discworld novel, but one which proves the old adage - the book was better.

Happy Hogswatch.


By day, an ordinary bloke in a dull 9 to 5. By night, a tired ordinary bloke. Martin still hasn't worked out what he wants to do when he grows up. He is currently 48.

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