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!