on October 18, 2001
The first twelve Discworld books were adolescent affairs, obsessed with corny jokes, screwball plots, and bumbling but lovable characters. Enjoyable treats all, but in retrospect less substantial than they could have been. "Small Gods", to me, is Terry Pratchett's first 'adult' book. The corny jokes, screwball plots, and bumbling but lovable characters are still here, but only to service a narrative soaked in significant themes and obsessed with our place in the multiverse.
For the most part it stands on its own as a complete story. Except for a few notable exceptions (i.e., an appearance by the cousin of Cut-Me-Own-Throat Dibbler, a quick cameo by my all-time favourite Disc denizen The Librarian, and a couple of pregnant references to Ankh Morpork), you don't have to be Discworld savvy to follow the story. It's set in the previously unheard of locale of Omnia, where the Quisition, led by Deacon Vorbis (as evil a character as anything Pratchett has put on paper), tortures into its heretical citizenry a belief in the Great God Om. But the central question in the book, the one that drives the plot forward, is this: what happens when belief dissipates, and is replaced by simple routine? Following the rituals of a religion is not really the same as believing in the power and glory of a God.
And on the Discworld it's not like your wanting for Gods to choose from. There are billions of them, and they're all likely to strike you down where you stand if you insult them in any way. Great God Om used to be the greatest of all Gods, but he's fallen on tough times. The brand of belief favoured by Vorbis is not the kind of belief Om needs. He's losing true believers in the process, and has become quite ineffectual. So much so that he woke up one day to find himself in the body of a small turtle, dropped by an eagle attempting to break his shell (because, as we're constantly reminded, "There's very good eating on one of these, you know"). The only thing keeping Om from disappearing altogether is Brutha, an illiterate novice, who barely knows anything of the world outside the confines of his garden.
Brutha and Om follow a Pratchett tradition of teaming a wide-eyed innocent with a cynical curmudgeon, and watching as the two personalities eventually meet in the middle ("Om, bumping along in Brutha's pack, began to feel the acute depression that steals over every realist in the presence of an optimist"). Brutha is a true believer in the face of pure evil, and it's this innocence/ignorance that allows him to survive. Om is a perpetually pissed-off little dude, angry at his new lot in life, and unsure how to get his powers back. All he knows is that Brutha is his only hope, for Brutha is the only one that can truly hear him. Their joint quest is a joy to follow.
Along the way, we meet an eclectic cast of characters, all looking to revolt against the tyranny of Omnia, or to sit back and wait for the cards to fall where they may. The most fun is a brief excursion to Ephebe, the Disc's Greek doppelganger. Its philosophers are known to run through the streets dripping wet, dressed only in a towel and carrying a loofah sponge, after an Archimedes-esque "Eureka" moment, and it's tyrannical ruler (rightly called The Tyrant) is guarded by an impenetrable and lethal labyrinth. Terry has much fun poking holes in this world of ideas, just as he's had poking holes in the world of beliefs. Which is probably the greatest thing about this book. No matter what side of the line you fall on, be it atheist, zealot, intellectual, or priest, you'll find someone/something to laugh at, and many reasons to pause for thought.
You'd think a book like this, thick with ideas, would be short on plot and humour. Well, this still is a Discworld book, so it has plenty of both. The plot moves along like a steam engine (or a steam-powered turtle), plunging Brutha and Om through danger and chaos until the fantastic denouement, which drops from the sky like some divine providence. It's a thrilling ride and a satisfying ending. As for the humour, Terry's remarkable wit remains intact even after thirteen entries in the series. My favourite moments here involve faux-Latin translations, that clean up the original version with PC precision ("Cuius testiculos habes, habeas cardia et cerebellum" doesn't necessarily translate to "When you have their full attention in your grip, their hearts and minds will follow", but the joke comes when you realize what that second Latin word must really mean).
"Small Gods" is most assuredly a parody of other sci-fi/fantasy books, just as the rest of the Discworld books have been. But it is so much more than that. It really does stand on its own as a perfect satire of religion, and what it means to be religious (or more simply put, to believe). I fancied myself a fan of Terry's previous books, but have to admit that this is leaps and bounds ahead of those previous works. And thank Om for that!
on October 17, 2001
This book is simply hilarious. All of Terry's books at least make me crack a smile at one point, but only a few are truly comedy masterworks, and this is one of them. I don't want to give away much of the plot or any of the jokes, so this won't be a very long review. Suffice to say that this is one of the best religious parodies I've read. Some other reviewers have found this book offensive, but unless you're a very touchy religious conservative or a Catholic from several hundred years ago, I doubt you'll mind. None of the characters in this book occur in other books, which makes this an ideal start to the Discworld series.
on August 13, 2001
still well worth reading, whether you are looking for something light to take the edge off a long day at work or something a little heavier to pose a few interesting questions. Small Gods is the only Discworld novel I've read, so I can't compare it to the rest of Pratchett's work, but it grabbed my attention and held it. It's a many-layered book, but Pratchett doesn't force the reader to go any deeper than they feel like. Knowing Latin is an asset in reading (he can come out and say more adult things which he leaves implied in English.) Also, this book doesn't have either a "British" or an "American" feel, which so much fantasy falls into. Overall, excellent.
on July 28, 2001
A few weeks ago I finished my first Discworld novel, 'Mort', which was a very light and funny book. Therefore, I assumed all Discworld novels would be like this.. I guess I was wrong. Small Gods is funny (at least in the beginning) - but far, far from being a light book, which is not necessarily a bad thing.
Small Gods tells about Brutha, a not so smart lad who one day hears the voice of his great god Om calling him. But contrary to what he expected, the great god Om wasn't really such a great god - in fact, he was quite small.. like a turtle. And he didn't have any powers at all. And apparently, not many believers either. The book tells about the god Om and Brutha's adventures, trying to survive in Omnia (which is a very religious in a fanatic way...) - and maybe even restore the god to his full power.
The book really started light, but turned into a very heavy and philosophical novel about the nature of religions and gods - and of people and belief. Really, I think it would've fit quite well into a philosophy class. Typically to Terry Pratchett, the book is very very witty - I don't think the man knows how to write in an 'Unwitty' way. I don't think I laughed at all during the second half of the book, but I still couldn't stop reading it - and definitely enjoyed the read. I highly recommend this to anyone who loves Discworld, and enjoys reading books which make you think afterwards. However, don't get it if you want a book which will just make you laugh.
on July 17, 2001
Small Gods is not Terry Pratchett's best book by a long shot, but it's still a great parody on religion and... well... the meaning of life?
Who else but Pratchett could write "The Great God Om waxed wroth, or at least made a spirited attempt... He silently cursed a beetle, which is like pouring water onto a pond. It didn't seem to make any difference anyway. The beetle plodded away. He cursed a melon unto the eighth generation, but nothing happened. He tried a plague of boils. The melon just sat there, ripening slightly."
Some classic Pratchett lines but a somewhat weak ending. Don't miss it, though. It's still worth a few hundred smiles.
on July 14, 2001
Terry Pratchett's other books are a lot like well painted homes. There are several layers. "Small Gods" is like inviting over your friends to paint. There is one uneven coat of paint and they left masking tape on all of the edging in an unsuccessful attempt to miss it with their paintbrushes. The ending of the book (and middle and beginning too if truth be known) left me with the same vague feeling of dissatisfaction as when I realized that to get the place properly painted I would have to have another seperate group of friends and throw another 'paint party'.
on June 30, 2001
Imagine, if you will, that you are a big time god, with millions of worshippers, big temples, and all the trappings. That you can incarnate as an impressive ram or a magnificent white swan and that you have all the standard godlike powers. Then, one day, you close your eyes for just a seconds and, suddenly, you found it's years later and you are a small turtle being carried 200 feet in the air by a hungry eagle. An eagle who fully intends to drop you in order to crack your shell. Fortunately the eagle miscalculates and instead of dead, you wind up face down in a compost heap. Such was the fate of The Great God Om.
Or, imagine that you are a temple novice. Not a particularly bright novice, but well behaved. You have a fantastic memory, but are a little short on what it takes to understand how the squiggly markings on the scroll can be words and ideas. You're nice, even tempered, and have a bit of a weight problem. While you will probably be a novice forever, you like novicey tasks like turning the compost heap and tending the garden. Or you did until a crazy, one-eyed turtle walked out of the grass and said, 'Hey, you!' Such was the fate of Brutha.
So begins Terry Pratchett's marvelously witty attack on organized religion, spiritual snobbery, philosophers, and bad people in general. For, with all those people worshipping Om, only one person really believed in him. You guessed it, Brutha the novice. You see, gods need people who believe in them, or they kind of dry up and disappear into the desert with all the other small gods. Om sees the handwriting on the wall. In order to stay in business he will heed to enlist Brutha, push him into action, and completely rework Omnianism. No simple task for a god whose current lightning bolt will barely singe an eyebrow.
To make matters worse, our hapless duo must deal with Deacon Vorbis, head of the Omnian Quisition. All of the Omnian Church's inquisitors take their orders from Vorbis, who was more or less the opposite of Brutha. He is very smart, quite thin, and not very nice at all. The kind of person who turns turtles upside down in the sun to see how long it takes them to die. Vorbis is a strict follower of the Omnian church and intends to be its next prophet. He is not about to let a holy turtle and a chubby novice get in the way. Instead he intends to use Brutha's eidetic memory to aid in the invasion of the city Ephebe, which is full of philosophers, gods, and is not very cooperative at all.
In Pratchett's hand the struggles of Om and Brutha are the basic material for a funny and insightful look at the difference between worship and belief. Pratchett has little toleration for dogma, unquestioning belief, or the abuse of religious power. But he is never unkind, simply honest, and it is clear that he writes from a strong ethical sense. He is to be admired for undertaking what is usually a difficult subject and bringing his points home with considerable consideration and love. If you're looking for a diatribe you won't find it here. If what you want is a bit of insight and a lot of snorts and chuckles, "Small Gods" is just the book for you.
on June 21, 2001
"Small Gods" came to land on my window sill after fluttering in the wind for what appeared to be ages; even though I knew it would eventually flutter somewhere nearby, it came as a pleasant, somewhat unexpected surprise.
Being my first Terry Pratchett novel, I didn't really know what to expect other than a number of sardonic comments on religion and its place in society. Prior to reading it, I thought it would take on the tone of a polemic: unrelenting and pretentious at heart; so I didn't necessarily rush out greet it. The great thing that I discovered afterwards, however, is that Terry Pratchett novels are so lighthearted in tone that they will make even the biggest cynic crack a smile.
The inherent message of the story is simple: as ridiculous as everything associated with a particular god may be, there is certainly no doubt in the fact that we cannot live without them. The book makes a conscious effort to let us feel how faith draws out the best, and sometimes the worst, in us, and through the story's protagonist, Brutha, professes that the best way to believe is by what you know lies deep inside you.
If you're wary of being offended, don't fret. Pratchett treats the matter with the respect it deserves, as long as you're not too big on organized religion. Give it a try; it just might inspire you to think a little intrinsically as opposed to simply going along with the waves.
on April 11, 2001
Brutha is an unlikely choice when a Great God is choosing a prophet... but a battered tortoise is an unlikely form for a god to be stuck in. Brutha, a novice at the temple of the Great God Om, goes on a journey (both metaphorical and literal). He is chosen by Vorbis (who is not EXACTLY evil), for his most unusual talent, to travel to the 'evil' city of Ephebes inhabited by 'polytheistic heathens'. He meets, among other characters, strange men who devote their lives to not being sure about anything: philosphers. Brutha serves his god in various ways (finding tasty lettuce leaves in particular). He must learn to think like a god and rekindle the belief in Om before it is too late and Om winds up... where the Small Gods go.
A hilarious book and excellent parody. Terry Pratchett has done it again. Where gods get their power from? And what happens to a god when he loses his power and can no longer smite anyone? Read this book to find out. Also read this book if you want insight into the nature of religious belief along with hours of laughs (provided you don't take it TOO seriously).
In this era of triumphant religious fundamentalism, Small Gods is a pretty dangerous item to be seen carrying. Terry Pratchett, carrying a reputation of being a major force in writing fantasy and humour has shed both in this penetrating book. It's an incisive satire of the mores and methods of the three major religions of Western Civilization. Pratchett's astute axiom that the Discworld is a "mirror of worlds" applies with more force here than any other Discworld book. Pratchett casts away whatever subtle restraint he's given other philosophical issues to directly confront us with a harsh truth about faiths.
The basic theme is a simple, but rarely recognized, truth. Gods are created by people. The fewer the believers, the smaller and weaker the god. When belief fades or believers eliminated, the gods cease to exist. Once mighty, the god Om has been relegated to the body of a tortoise. He retains but one true believer: Brutha, a novice in the Citadel of Om. Brutha makes frequent reference to segments of the "holy book" Om supposedly authored. Mystified by attribution to himself of these writings, Om wonders who really wrote them. And why they were written. What has been perpetrated in His Name?
Brutha, who has a photographic memory, is conscripted into a religious crusade against neighbouring Ephebe. The Omnian Church wants to erase Ephebe's false belief that the world is a disc riding on the backs of four elephants standing on a turtle swimming through space. According to Vorbis, head of the Quisition, such false doctrine must be erased, erasing the Ephebians in the process, if necessary. Besides, Ephebe's on the best trade route to the Turnwise coast. Tucked away in Brutha's pocket, Om is taken along. But how does Vorbis expect to conquer mighty Ephebe, home of philosopher kings, with a token force of fifty soldiers?
Pratchett is as direct as Vorbis is devious. There's an old saying that runs "I'm not a bigot, I hate everybody". Vorbis doesn't hate anybody, just those following false doctrines. Nor does Pratchett hate anyone, but his scathing wit in this book leaves few untouched . There are some light passages, but this book is deadly serious. It's not small gods, but small minds that Pratchett targets and he hits the mark unerringly [He's nearly prescient about Christian reaction to J.K. Rowlings' Harry Potter books]. Pratchett holds the mirror before us to consider our beliefs. What do we have faith in, and what sustains that faith?. If it proves false, how do we respond? What an experience it would be to visit Pratchett when one of the evangelicals arrives at the door! If he's as verbally devastating as he is with the printed word, there'd only be a smudge on the doormat.