Small Gods Discussion *Spoilers*

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Postby raisindot » Mon Dec 27, 2010 3:49 pm

Question for all, now that I've finally re-read it.

Was Vorbis at all comatose during the trek across the desert? First reading I thought he was and then recovered at the end. But on re-read I think he was faking it the entire time and did so to make Brutha do all the work (and as a means of spying on Brutha to discover what made him tick).

I also think that Vorbis did hear the voice of Om during this trek, and because Om's plans would have totally destroyed his ambition he tossed what he thought was Om into the rocks. Vorbis ultimately tries to bribe Brutha to buy his silence, but when Brutha challenges him he arranges a turtle crucifixion to make sure the Brutha-Om relationship is never revealed. Because Vorbis is a literalist, he can never imagine that the "small god" version of Om would ever be able to harm him.

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Postby Tonyblack » Mon Dec 27, 2010 5:24 pm

You now have one week to read or reread Jingo for the discussion starting Monday 3rd January 2011. :D
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Postby swreader » Tue Dec 28, 2010 7:31 pm

raisindot wrote:Question for all, now that I've finally re-read it.

Was Vorbis at all comatose during the trek across the desert? First reading I thought he was and then recovered at the end. But on re-read I think he was faking it the entire time and did so to make Brutha do all the work (and as a means of spying on Brutha to discover what made him tick).J-I-B


Every time I re-read Small Gods I find it more complex. And one of the puzzling questions is the one you raise--when does Vorbis "come to". But I think your original idea was correct. Vorbis, when he is found on the sea shore and picked up by Brutha is clearly comatose. And I find it difficult to believe that anyone who was conscious would submit to being pulled by one arm for as long as he does. And one suspects that sometime during the journey he slowly regains consciousness. But the real point, I think, that Terry is making is somewhat different. You are certainly right that Vorbis regains consciousness far earlier than he lets on. Some of this may be laziness--he has always made others do the "dirty work." But it seems very clear to me that Vorbis NEVER hears Om. On the other hand, he undoubtedly hears Brutha talking to a tortoise that he clearly believes to be Om. And Brutha's side of the conversation makes clear that Brutha and Om are terribly dangerous to Vorbis's plans. If Vorbis is to take the credit for crossing the desert, he has to get rid of the tortoise (which he thinks is Om), and disable Brutha so that he can carry him in. The conversation between Brutha and Vorbis after they are back in the temple about the "fundamental truth" of their desert experiences confirms this. Vorbis is hoping that Brutha can still be shaped by the old ideas--but he still is not sure.

raisindot wrote:I also think that Vorbis did hear the voice of Om during this trek, and because Om's plans would have totally destroyed his ambition he tossed what he thought was Om into the rocks. Vorbis ultimately tries to bribe Brutha to buy his silence, but when Brutha challenges him he arranges a turtle crucifixion to make sure the Brutha-Om relationship is never revealed. Because Vorbis is a literalist, he can never imagine that the "small god" version of Om would ever be able to harm him.

J-I-B


Vorbis cannot believe that Brutha will ever escape from his control--he shapes him by his belief in the difference between the fundamental truth and just plain, ordinary (but real) truth. And as long as Brutha believes this, he is the pawn that Vorbis can manipulate. But when Brutha's mind overrides his old condition so that he he refuses to act as Vorbis confidently expects, Brutha refuses to strike Vorbis. This is the only time that Vobis (briefly) completely gives in to rage. This leads inevitably to his attempt to kill Brutha.

Vorbis is anything but a literalist. He believes only in his fundamental truth--which is the opposite of the real, literal truth. His problem with Brutha (and therefore with Om) is that he has finally met someone who has grown to the point that Vorbis can no longer shape his beliefs. He attempts to kill Brutha, but since he never heard Om, he believes he killed the right tortoise--a fatal mistake.
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Postby Jan Van Quirm » Tue Dec 28, 2010 8:49 pm

I agree with you Sharlene - Vorbis definitely was out of it from the beach and I think remained that way until after they'd met St. Ungulant.

So far as Om and the other small gods were concerned Vorbis never heard any of them and none of them could reach into his sub-consiousness even whilst he was comatose let alone when he began to recover. That I think is most significant because he would have had no defence to their assault if he'd been at all susceptible to hear the spirits whilst he was out of it as he would have been wide open to their calling and they were just bouncing off his inviolate skull and 'soul' presumably, which had never entertained any thoughts but his own.

If Vorbis is a literalist it's only in this respect - there is nothing to believe in except what he creates and his soul is therefore closed to everything.
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Postby Prolekult » Mon Sep 05, 2011 9:57 pm

I've been looking forward to reading this thread after rereading the book, and it was well worth the wait, some great discussion here as expected, and I hadn't realised that Lu-Tze was responsible for saving Om from the eagle.

On my first pass through the series this was my favourite, and it's still right up there, although I did enjoy Reaper Man even more this time round I think. SG is wonderful but I did find it a bit slow this time around, and I think the Queen of the Sea bit could have been left out. However the book does have one of the greatest endings, and I think Vorbis is probably the scariest of all the villains. It is possible to feel pity for Dios, not so for Vorbis. And SG vs Pyramids: SG, no question for me.

Does anyone think that Brutha may have been intended to be autistic, with his 'slow and simple' manner, illiteracy and eidetic memory, and could this be what enables him to hear Om when no-one else can?
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Postby ChristianBecker » Tue Sep 06, 2011 8:19 am

I'm with you on Pyramids vs. SG. But I love pyramids, too. I just think that SG is the best Pratchett book. :D

That Brutha could be autistic has occurred to me, too but I'm not an expert on it, so I can't really offer an opinion here.
On the other hand it is very clear that he really believes (what made him alone hear Om - while all other people believed in the church (or even Vorbis), not in Om himself).
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Postby Juken » Tue Sep 06, 2011 9:48 am

One of my favourites, the subject matter - as volatile as it is in the real world - was handles expertly, the most reflective (in the sense the Disworld is a world and MIRROR of worlds) book Sir Terry has done. Great read..even on the 3rd time.
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Postby Tonyblack » Tue Sep 06, 2011 10:01 am

Yes I think Brutha comes across as autistic, maybe even a savant, but the important thing about him is that he's a clean slate - an empty vessel who is subject to being influenced. he could have gone either way in this book - Om's way or Vorbis's way, but he ultimately chooses to take his own path based on what he's learned from his experiences.

Isn't that what a belief system should be about? Believing in your own experience of life and making decisions based on them. :)
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Postby Dotsie » Tue Sep 06, 2011 11:15 am

I don't think he's autistic. He doesn't have any problems relating to others that can't be explained by his upbringing. And of course, simple isn't the same as having a learning difficulty.

Tonyblack wrote:Isn't that what a belief system should be about? Believing in your own experience of life and making decisions based on them. :)

Whilst everyone should make their own decisions, which will inevitably be based on their own experiences, I don't think that this is the same as a belief system. If you have a belief system, it makes decisions for you, even ones you know to be wrong. It can't possibly cope with every eventuality, which is why religion is full of holes.

A belief system not based on religion is just a moral code.
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Postby raisindot » Tue Sep 06, 2011 4:31 pm

Tonyblack wrote:Yes I think Brutha comes across as autistic, maybe even a savant, but the important thing about him is that he's a clean slate - an empty vessel who is subject to being influenced. he could have gone either way in this book - Om's way or Vorbis's way



What Brutha is at the beginning of the book is almost a kind of human golem. He bases nearly all of his actions and beliefs on the words he's absorbed by memorizing the Omnian holy books or by the dogmatic teachings of his instructors (who really teach memorization, rather than understanding, which is why he so infrequently needs to attend classes).

However, unlike the "king golem" of Feet of Clay, Brutha somehow is able to absorb the teachings of these texts and fully believe in them without going mad in the same way he can absorb and remember everything that ever happened to him without going into psychic overload. And unlike Dorfl, it has never occurred to him (before meeting Om) that any of these words might be anything less than 'gospel truth.'

For Brutha, there is no difference than the words of the holy texts and the coins in Vorbis' chambers--all of them are the creation of Om, and thus all are holy and worthy of his unquestioning belief.

Could Brutha have totally gone Vorbis' way? One wonders. Certainly despite his grandmother's best efforts, Brutha did not become a fire and brimstone fanatic (that he had wished her dead shows that there was some part of independent thinking in him). That, in spite of all his background and the teachings he's absorbed he is, at heart, a kind and gentle person shows that he as a moral sense that the clergy don't have. Which is perhaps why he was the only one to whom Om could have spoken.
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Postby raisindot » Mon Oct 24, 2011 12:36 pm

Just bumping because I finished listening to the audio book version.

This is one book that truly does get much better with repeated readings. First reading I thought it was good. Second reading I thought it was great. This time it just comes off as one of Pterry's indisputable masterpieces. There's are just so many amazing, well conceived ideas about religion, politics, history, morality, philosophy and the meaning of life and that these ideas don't get in the way of a strong and compelling narrative really is a tribute to Pterry's development as a writer.
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Postby Tonyblack » Mon Oct 24, 2011 12:39 pm

Yes indeed. He's written about religious beliefs in this one and 'other' beliefs in Hogfather. I only mention this as it's the next discussion. :wink:
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Postby raisindot » Mon Oct 24, 2011 8:04 pm

WEE SPOILER POTENTIAL AHEAD

Indeed.

If you look at the period starting with Small Gods and ending with Hogfather, one common theme that runs through the best of these works is the nature and origin of belief and existence. Feet of Clay, Small Gods and Hogfather are probably the 'big three' that provide the most complex (and often perplexing) examination of these themes, but even Lords and Ladies and, to a lesser extent, Soul Music delve into explorations of the ancient rituals and beliefs that mutate into modern day illusions.

With the exception of Thief of Time, Pterry never really delves as deep into these kinds of multi-layered explorations after Hogfather. Most books from this point on deal more with discussions of cultural confrontations, political intriques, economics with supernatural beasties tossed in every now and then to make good villains. (He does return to some of these themes in Wee Free Men, Wintersmith and even more so in Nation, but never goes back to it in the 'adult' DW books.

Still plenty of masterpieces there, but they are a different kind of masterpiece.
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Re: Small Gods Discussion *Spoilers*

Postby TimBou » Wed Feb 29, 2012 3:05 am

This is a great, great book and really one-of-a-kind though as people have mentioned there are several Discworld books touching on some similar themes - still haven't read all of them but at the moment this one is right up there in my list of favourite DW books along with Hogfather, Night Watch and Going Postal.

I loved this book so much I decided (foolishly, in the best Discworld/Pratchett tradition) to adapt it and tell it as a story in our local church community. That all came to a conclusion last Saturday 25/2/12. I'm going to relate my experience below as I think it's helped me to see the book in a different way.

Our church is very non-dogmatic and open minded so there was no issue with the content. However where I hit problems was with boiling down the story to a form I could tell to a group of adults in two fourty minute sessions.

It really, really hurt to leave out so much as I love most of the additional characters. But I found that the central narrative with Om, Brutha and Vorbis (plus Brother Nhumrod thrown in with the melons) could stand on its own. It's still hugely funny, moving, philosophical and a "comedy" in the best sense of the word (that is, something that has a happy ending).

The really great moment in the abridged version of the story was the sentence that comes right after Om hits Vorbis in the forehead travelling at 3 metres per second - "It was a revelation." After that the rest is all a joyful wrap-up. The image is just such a perfect culmination of all the threads that have been building up - bad-guy-priest who no longer has any real connection to the whole purpose of his own religion is hit between the eyes literally by his own god who thereby also achieves his own purpose of getting his believers and his power back and also achieves Brutha's purpose of returning to Omnia to show them what Vorbis has done.

I included the introduction on the tortoise and the eagle, almost everything before the departure of the secret mission to Ephebe, a large chunk of Om, Brutha and Vorbis in the desert (including the scalbies and the underground temple), most of the stuff back in the temple up till the point Brutha decides to go to the beach to meet the invading fleets, Vorbis' death scene and Brutha's death scene.

Including the two death scenes was really important as I had always felt the very last lines of the book where Brutha and Vorbis set off across the desert together were the most wonderful and joyous and profound ending I had ever seen in a Pratchett book. And he does have more than a few good endings as you're probably aware (sometimes several endings in the same book!)

I added a small "bridging" passage to cover the period from the departure from Omnia until the scalby finds Om and Brutha on the beach at the edge of the desert.

So what did I leave out? A lot, as those of you who've read the book will probably realise - all of the stuff about Ephebe, ALL of the characters from Ephebe (including - with great reluctance - Didacytylos and Urn), the Queen of the Sea, Sgt Simony, St Ungulant, Lu Tze, the abbot and many beloved scenes including Death playing chess with the abbot, the Ephebian philosophers in the tavern, St Ungulant and Angus, the non-battle-scene on the beach in Om, Om heavying the gods in Cori Celeste, Fasta Benj and his fish, the newt god P'Tang and so on and on and on...

All of that was painful as there is something in me that wants to share the joy of all of these moments and characters with people. But that's just not possible and what I found was that, even boiled down like this - the story worked!

Which I think goes to show you - with a great piece of literature like this, even if a philistine like me chops it in pieces and then tries to reconstruct it the light can still shine through. A bit like resurrecting Koomi of Smale perhaps... He was one of the few non-core characters who still got a mention in my abridged version, by the way.

One other thing to mention... I found the scene in the underground temple where Brutha smashes the broken vase to be absolute gold - while I hardly remembered it from previous readings, I was amazed to discover how much was included in that scene and putting it next to the dialogue between Om and Brutha about Cori Celeste and the Nobs on Nob Hill made for a fantastic storytelling sequence that actually explained a lot and contributed a lot to the character and plot development.

And I was glad I managed to fit the scalbies in!

Enough for now!
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Re: Small Gods Discussion *Spoilers*

Postby Tonyblack » Wed Feb 29, 2012 6:11 am

Welcome TimBou! :)

It really is a remarkable book, isn't it? And it works for religious, agnostic and even atheist readers because it talks about the nature of belief and how belief can become distorted into something like habit - sometimes at the end of a sword.

I have heard of the book being used in church before, but not in the way you have adapted it. I'd very much like to know what your fellow church-goers thought of it.
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