Small Gods Discussion *Spoilers*

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Small Gods Discussion *Spoilers*

Postby Tonyblack » Mon Dec 06, 2010 2:22 am

**Warning**

This thread is for discussing Small Gods in some depth. If you haven’t read the book then read on at your own risk – or, better still, go and read the book and join in the fun.

For those of us that are going to join in the discussion, here are a few guidelines:

Please feel free to make comparisons to other Discworld books, making sure you identify the book and the passage you are referring to. Others may not be as familiar with the book you are referencing, so think before you post.

Sometimes we’ll need to agree to disagree – only Terry knows for sure what he was thinking when he wrote the books and individuals members may have widely different interpretations – so try to keep the discussion friendly.

We may be discussing a book that you don’t much care for – don’t be put off joining in the discussion. If you didn’t care for the book, then that in itself is a good topic for discussion.

Please note: there is no time limit to this discussion. Please feel free to add to it at any time - especially if you've just read the book.

And finally:

Please endeavour to keep the discussion on topic. If necessary I will step in and steer it back to the original topic – so no digressions please!

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Small Gods by Terry Pratchett
Originally published 1992


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When the Great God Om decided to appear to his followers as a raging bull, it came as a total shock to him that all he managed was a lowly tortoise. For three years he wandered around until a passing eagle in search of a feast (there’s good eating in one of those) brought him to Brutha the Novice who had enough belief to allow Om to command him. In the beginning was the word and the word was “Psst!”

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This is probably my favourite Discworld book ever. Oddly enough, I really didn’t care for it much the first time I read it. It’s a book that demands more than one reading - and I find that every time I read it, I find more to it.

It’s Pratchett’s take on the nature of belief and Man’s relationship to gods. It’s about how Humans take simple belief and subvert it into something much more sinister. In many ways I think this is Terry’s first Masterpiece. It appeals to believers and non-believers and philosophers! :D

But what did you think?
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Want to write the introduction for the next discussion (Jingo)? PM me and let me know if you’d like to – first come first served. :wink:
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Postby Willem » Mon Dec 06, 2010 10:20 am

Also my favourite book as stated before :)

I used to go to Sunday school and later on to church (Dutch reformed, pretty laid-back religion really :)) because my mother wanted us too, but I never got into it. We weren't really forced to go - my father doesn't attend either. Luckily my mother doesn't believe that the stories in the bible are literally true, but she does believe in God and tried to get us into it too.
I read this book at about 16 I'd say, my formative years you could say. Pratchett's works have had a huge influence on my own philosophies and this book probably more than the rest. One of the main points in the book, in my opinion, is that people believe in the structure of religion, instead of believing in the God or the message of the religion. That struck so true to me.
Can we agree that Omnianism in this book is pretty much a Roman Catholicism structure based on the Old Testament 'jealous, vengeful God'?


P.S. I didn't get the brother Brutha thing until very, very late - I thought it was Brew-tha :)
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Postby pip » Mon Dec 06, 2010 10:27 am

Loved this book as well . Feel Terry tackled a potentially dangerous topic very well.
The ideas behind the gods is brilliant.
The image of lost parasitic weak entities trying to rise to the heights is genius.
Also loved the typical cheek of portraying the torturors as a bunch of guys with a job to do. nice family men who happen to torture and kill people for a living. This shows a deep insight in Terry about Human Nature.
Might try go llive on top of a pole for a while :lol:
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Postby Jan Van Quirm » Mon Dec 06, 2010 1:43 pm

I've been looking forward to this book being discussed, but also nervous about how lively it's going to be, because SG seems to be a universal favourite with all true Terry fans regardless of their personal faith or lack of it. This is borne out already, as I read Tony's usual request for an intro writer quite late in the day at the start of the last discussion which was already into it's second page. I would have PMed Tony asking to do it but I thought he'd be inundated with people asking to, so I didn't bother even trying. The power of supposed hype! :lol:

Yes it's the Roman Catholic's, but at a very special stage because of the Quisition of course. Great characters in Brutha and Vorbis to symbolise the 'good' v 'bad' kinds of faith, but with a danger of getting too stereotypical which, in Vorbis' case, Terry skips confidently around by making him an Exquisitor whose speciality is a simple blade because the whole thrust of his method of torture lies in twisted mind games where people are so terrified they end up incriminating themselves - except Brutha...

Using inverted commas for good and bad types of faith was deliberate and doesn't necessarily mean that any kind of faith is questionable (though it should be because blind faith whether it arises from ignorance or through coercion are equally obnoxious on a cerebral level). We know about Vorbis' kind of devotions and that he has no meaningful faith at all except in terror and using that to wield power - we see that everywhere and not just in the RC fold. Monsters only need religion to hang their atrocities on. :evil:

Brutha on the other hand comes at it from the perspective of an innocent and his faith is pure and child-like. With him, Terry does risk falling into cliche and in some ways embraces it at first before experimenting with Brutha's reception and relationship with Om, which is course all down to his being the only true believer left in Omnia. What I love about Brutha is the contradictions in his first impressions of the tortoise that is Om. His first act is one of kindness and openess. He does not accept the tortoise is really Om, but he listens to him and tries to protect him from Brother Numrod and the cooks and Vorbis himself. But Brutha really isn't a true innocent. His apparently pure faith is tainted by fear - from his appalling grandmother, Brother Numrod and the Church of Om and its Quisition. He can't NOT believe, because he's too scared and conditioned to obediance so his faith is true and nurtures Om's return from small god internment to godhood, even though Brutha won't accept his god is a tortoise! At first anyway. :lol:

Brutha's belief in Om as a concept is unshakeable and keeps Om sentient all the way through, so it doesn't matter that he thinks he's hearing voices and the tortoise is just that. It's the belief itself that's important not how it's shaped - literally in this case. Brutha's original 'good' pure faith as Terry develops it, itself starts as an obscenity because it is so blind and has no strong core to it. It is founded on terror and so it's the wrong kind of faith in a being that does exist corporeally (like all the Discworld gods, large or small) who has nothing whatsoever to do with his own creed, because it has been twisted away from its origins as shaped by the believers - all Om does is get off on that belief, any belief in fact, and has a ball going around smiting and having fun with taking different powerful, or beautiful forms and not caring how his believers shape his cult. And so we get a book where true belief and the god himself has to be redefined and tested with true rational faith on the part of both the god and his first and only disciple for a time, in the re-shaping of the cult of Om. We start with a faith in which the god no longer exists because of the travesty that the church at the beginning of the book, has made of how he is to be worshipped. It's a born again book in essence - only this time it's born of knowledge and negotiation :wink:
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Postby michelanCello » Mon Dec 06, 2010 8:53 pm

Small Gods is also my favorite DW book. It was the first I ever read in the series and it was love at first sight :wink:
I also think that it's in this book that TP's nature as a writer shows itself most: at first sight it's a hilariously funny book (at second sight too, of course :wink: ) but at the same time it's about a very havy topic... it gets you thinking...
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Postby swreader » Tue Dec 07, 2010 5:11 am

I must admit that I didn't much like Small Gods when I first read it. I agree Michel that it is one of Terry's best (and gets better with ever read). At first, I thought it was a somewhat better version of Pyramids, which in a way it is--but it goes way beyond the earlier book and serves as a presage of ideas which Terry will use and develop more fully in later books.

I don't know that I'd have ever called it hilariously funny though--Vorbis is too evil and dominates too much of the book for me to find it funny--except in small places. Om as tortoise's early shouting and threats of punishment while he is in the garden with Brutha are funny, for example--because of the sheer incongruity of the "god" shape and the total inability to carry out any threats.

One of the interesting aspects of this book is that we are first introduced to the History Monks, specifically Lu-Tze. Certainly he is apparently responsible for moving the compost heap so that Om isn't shattered and in a way he encourages Brutha to take Om with him on Vorbis's expedition. You can tell that Terry is just developing the idea of the Monks of Time in this novel, because Lu-Tze is referred to as a "history monk" in this book while in Thief of Time, a good deal is made out of the "fact" that he is only a sweeper.
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Postby DaveC » Tue Dec 07, 2010 7:26 am

swreader wrote:I must admit that I didn't much like Small Gods when I first read it. I agree Michel that it is one of Terry's best (and gets better with ever read). At first, I thought it was a somewhat better version of Pyramids, which in a way it is--but it goes way beyond the earlier book and serves as a presage of ideas which Terry will use and develop more fully in later books.

I don't know that I'd have ever called it hilariously funny though--Vorbis is too evil and dominates too much of the book for me to find it funny--except in small places. Om as tortoise's early shouting and threats of punishment while he is in the garden with Brutha are funny, for example--because of the sheer incongruity of the "god" shape and the total inability to carry out any threats.


I haven't finished with reading the books yet, I'm half way through Going Postal at the moment, but this book certainly made in impression. I wouldn't say it was my favourite yet, I think a favourite would have to come with all the rereading that you veterans have done.

The book did feel very personal to me, though, being raised Christian, (not as strongly as presented here), as feeling my faith go, really once I started secondrary schoool, I still went to church every Sunday just out of routine really, even though I enjoyed the singing, but not what I was singing about. I went, to keep my Nan company, to make my parents happy, but the thing I still like about going, when I do, is peace really. I have in the last eight years only been around 20 times, mainly when staying for Christmas or a special occassion.

Despite this I stil think of myself as Christian, maybe just because I don't like change or something...I haven't really decided what else I am if I'm not.

Small Gods was a big step forward for Terry as, like Pryamids, it takes place in an area of Discworld not previously explored, like faith for some people, and the only previous character that appears, briefly, is The Librarian, and therefore a lot of the book for me as a first time reader was spent trying to work with the new surroundings so it was a bit of a struggle to enjoy it as much as some of the others but I hope to more next time.
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Postby pip » Tue Dec 07, 2010 9:26 am

It is a curious book.
I imagine a lot of people will find some link to the whole religious theme in some way or other.
The deconstruction of belief to its bare bones , also done in the Hogfather , is very thought provoking.
While the book might seem more likely to appeal to an Atheist I think it covers a lot more bases than that.
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Postby Quatermass » Tue Dec 07, 2010 10:15 am

While Small Gods isn't one of my favourite Discworld books, I have to admit that I agree with many of its ideas about religion. I personally don't think much of the plot per se, but the ideas and the characters contained therein are pretty good.

Of course, much of my own attitudes towards deities is closer to what Terry Pratchett put into the mouth of Lord Vetinari in Unseen Academicals, and which one of the members, I noticed, had in his/her sig. It was along the lines of, if there is any deity responsible for the creation of the universe, then we must strive to become their moral superior.
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Postby poohcarrot » Tue Dec 07, 2010 12:59 pm

swreader wrote: At first, I thought it was a somewhat better version of Pyramids, which in a way it is--

It is a reverse of Pyramids (obviously Pyramids is better).
In Pyramids everyone believe in the gods, they manifest themselves, everyone stops believing in them.
In Small Gods nobody believes in Om, Om manifests himself, everyone believes.
Also it's the same bad guy. :P
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Postby michelanCello » Tue Dec 07, 2010 7:13 pm

poohcarrot wrote:It is a reverse of Pyramids (obviously Pyramids is better).


Please do tell me: why is that so obvious? :P I mean, all right, I agree that there are quite some similarities between the two books (khmm...) but it's still two books. Not even the same characters. There will always be some similarities with any two TP books at random, it being the same writer.
And even if SG and Pyramids are very similar? I don't think Pyramids is so much better. Moreover, it's quite at the bottom of my DW list (still love it, though, all of them, but others I love more :wink: )
I know everyone has a different taste, but saying that "Pyramids is obviously better than SG"....
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Postby Jan Van Quirm » Tue Dec 07, 2010 10:11 pm

It's a 'boy' thing mC - and pooh is trying to provoke J-I-B (who dislikes Pyramids a LOT and swreader isn't too keen either) into a nice little sparring session :roll: :lol:

He's right about Dios and Vorbis though - both megalomaniac control freaks, both bald, both controlling the people who they're technically sub-ordinate too and neither of them serving the god(s) they're supposed to worship. Enough similarities that so far as being prime antagonists/high-priests go, they're almost interchangeable and in addition to all that the countries are very alike too. So two desert countries with very different sorts of god(s) to the rest of the Disc, in that Om doesn't want any other gods muscling in on his worshippers and with the Djelibeybi ones just bloody daft... :roll: Pyramids is not a book solely about religion as such however - it's more about ritual and stagnation and attitudes to death. All meaning on the pantheon has been lost except as a reason to support the building of pyramids and to manipulate time effectively, so every day is an almost perfect version of the previous one for the high caste god-kings and the priestly caste - for the ordinary people like the Ptaclusps and Ptraci even, the gods are pretty much ignored and not really worshipped as such - they have no role in daily life at all. Om does because 'everything' is done in his name, especially the torturing... :(

Small Gods is about religion of course. Strictly speaking it is about how gods are made, grow and die, and in this as in so many other other Discworld settings, this echoes in Roundworld too. Terry's not really 'made up' any of the major Discworld gods at all and says as much in SG. Blind Io head of the Cori Celesti gods is primarily Odin/Woden (the one-eyed god so Io gets loads of them) and he's a thunder god like Zeus, Jupiter/Jove etc etc. Even Anoia, once a volcano goddess, is now i/c stuck drawers and disfunctional kitchen utensils and has an equivalent in the saintly cults (like St. Anthony for finding lost things, St. Jude for lost causes that need reviving, St. Frances for birds etc) so all of them presumably started out like Om as small gods and because they can manifest in Discworld presumably made a better job at keeping their followers from killing or harassing each other too much to be sustainable in an offhand manner...

What do people think of the principle Terry puts forward about people making the god, rather the god (creator) making the people which is how most of the Roundworld gods get themselves established and 'prove' their credentials as it were...? :wink:
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Postby raisindot » Wed Dec 08, 2010 3:17 pm

Jan Van Quirm wrote:It's a 'boy' thing mC - and pooh is trying to provoke J-I-B (who dislikes Pyramids a LOT and swreader isn't too keen either) into a nice little sparring session :roll: :lol:


*Yawn.* I'm not going to get dragged into THAT old thing again. We all know which is the better book, now, don't we?

:D

I wish I had more to discuss about the plot of book but, alas, it's the only one (other than you-know-what) that I don't own and isn't in my local library so I'll have to re-order it again through the intra-library borrowing system (although Verns is very kindly going to sell me her Kirby cover copy).

When I read it the first time I remember nearly giving it up after the first 10-20 pages or so, which were filled with long abd boring religious discussions and exposition. But once the Brutha and tortoise story picked up, I very much enjoyed the rest of it. Although I have forgotten nearly everything about the big parts of the plot. I did really identify with the central premise that the "power" of a god is totally determined by people's faith in it, rather than any inherent godly power.

The book makes a very strong case for relativism, which, as a militant agnostic I find myself aligning with (I'm not quite arrogant enough to state that 'no higher power' of some kind exists in the universe, since we humans are only able to experience a minuscule sense of what is probably really out there). After all, we westerners tend to view the world as ruled by monotheistic faiths when, in truth, at least half of the world's populatation worship deities other than Jehovah, Jesus or Allah.

In terms of its place in the DW pantheon, I think that SG is the true "transitional" book in the series and represents a huge step forward in Pterry's literary development. It's the first book where PTerry really seems to be fully interested in exploring larger themes that will become embedded in the culture and history of DW.

Look at where it sits in the publication order. By this time he had already written at least book in each of the main series, and most of this straight "parody" books were behind him. Guards! Guards! and first two witches books may have begun to establish some elements of the deeper Ankh-Morpork and Lancre/witch mythologies, but they were still mostly plot-and-parody driven, rather than character-and-culture driven.

In SG, you can see here that he really wanted to go beyond what could have been a broad, "Life of Brian" like parody of religion into something quite deeper and more profound. Even though the first 20 pages drag, it's quite that he felt it necessary to create a deep and plausible portrayal of the corrupt religious apple cart Brutha was destined to overturn.

I can speculate that completing SG convinced PTerry that he was capable of doing far more with DW than using it as a setting for cultural parodies, and rather self-consciously decided that he should use his literary powers to create a long-lasting cultural and mythological history of DW where events in one book influenced those in other books and where he could continue to explore themes such as belief, superstition, and the very nature of humanity (and the universe) itself.

If you need proof of this, just read the rather awkward preface to his next book and one of his true masterpieces, Lords and Ladies, where he recommends that readers read the first two witches books to get context. And then he goes on to take some of the themes of SG to create a profound allegory into the dangers of superstition and clouded thinking, while adding layers of depth to Granny and Nanny (and, arguably, Magrat) that were only hinted at in the previous books.

With the exception of the few straight 'comic/parody' books (like the two Rincewind books and Maskerade), nearly every book that came after SG demonstrates stronger characterization, deeper intellectual thinking, and a more mature literary style than those that were published before it.


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Postby Willem » Thu Dec 09, 2010 8:34 am

Some reasons why I'd argue Small Gods is better than Pyramids below. Warning, spoilers for both books if you haven't read them.

- More interesting/menacing villain.
Vorbis is as much as a product of the religious culture as Brutha, he just developed differently (probably because he was more intelligent - or rather, more cunning- and certainly more ambitious than Brutha).
Vorbis' belief in his mindset is absolute, it's bigger than Brutha's belief even. He does terrible, bad things but he's doing them for what in his mind, is the greater good. He's a truly evil person.
Dios isn't particularly scary or threatening. His motivations for doing the things he does, is that he's always done it that way. Once again, it's for the greater good but his actions are in no way as bad as Vorbis's.

- Depth
On the surface, subject matter in both books is the same: a coming-of-age story with the consequences of our beliefs mingled through. Pyramids is a funny romp but it lacks depth (or width when the dimensions went awry). But the changes Pteppic goes through don't follow as organic from the story as the Brutha's. They're logical though, a boy exposed to the wonders of Ankh-Morpork for years will get influenced by it. We do see this through his eyes, but in snippets - an anecdote here, a short story there. In Brutha's case we live through them with him in real time, we see him change before our eyes. Pteppic's character change is a montage, Brutha's a full movie.

- Climax
Pyramids' big ending is when Pteppic climbs the pyramid to make it flare. He's saving his kingdom by doing something dangerous. He's a big hero who then rides off into the night like the Lone Ranger.
Small Gods' big ending is when Vorbis is having Brutha tortured for knowing the inconvenient truth, who is then saved by Om. Brutha goes on to transform his religion in the hopes it will give current and future generations a better world to live in.
You could argue that SG's ending is a deus ex machina (almost literally) but it sure isn't. A God from the sky does save him, but only because of everything that's happened before. Brutha's influence on Om made him save him, it flows naturally from the story so far.
The tension in the climax of Pyramids comes from the circumstances: a magical pyramid needs to be taken care of. In Small Gods it's the differences between Brutha and Vorbis that create the tension. The mark of a good story might not be what happens, but how people react to what's happening.

And in the end, for me personally: Pyramids made me laugh. Small Gods made me think.
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Postby Verns » Thu Dec 09, 2010 5:40 pm

Willem wrote:And in the end, for me personally: Pyramids made me laugh. Small Gods made me think.


* Applause, applause*. I was reading the first posts in this thread and thinking to myself, 'well, yes, Pyramids is funny, but Small Gods is deeper and braver' - then you put my thoughts into words. Thank you. :)

I totally applaud Jeff's review as well, although I had no objection to 20 pages establishing the setting for the story to follow*. But, Jan, I don't really understand the similarities you see between Vorbis and Dios. Yes, they are both bald priests, but Vorbis is evil and self-serving, while Dios is driven and tradition-serving. Pterry, who is a very moral writer, has very different endings for these two characters.

Jan, you make an excellent point, and one which hadn't previously occurred to me, about the similarity between the lesser gods of DW and the Christian pantheon of saints. I'm a bit hazy about the Catholic church, but don't the saints go in and out of fashion? I mean, one century you're a saint, the next century you're removed because people don't believe in you any more? Of course, 'people' in this context means the powers that be in the Catholic church rather than ordinary believers, but it's a good comparison.

And, at the bottom of this, isn't Pterry saying that we create our own Gods? On a philosophical level, this must be true. If nobody can even remember the names of gods worshipped by a particular tribe, and the tribe itself no longer exists, then where's the god they believed in? Isn't it a bit like 'does a tree falling in a wood make a noise if there's nobody there to hear it?' Erm, I'm happy to be corrected by philosophy students, by the way - I know nothing, I'm from Barcelona. Also, I'm not entirely sure how this fits in with the concept of Dunmanifestin - are there gods there who no longer have believers, or do they disappear from that retirement home, too?




* Lords and Ladies a masterpiece? Really?
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