Saturday, October 15, 2011

The Turtle Moves in 'Small Gods'

Review: SMALL GODS (HarperCollins e-books 2009)
Author: Terry Pratchett

There once was a deity named Om who took the form of a bull or so people thought. However, the people began to turn away from his true teachings. Thus, the god who once was a bull (maybe) was reduced to the size of a tortoise. Now, this poor little tortoise found himself wandering through the desert. Hmm ... sound familiar? Perhaps. But I digress. The tortoise/god was attacked by an eagle, because eagles know that turtles make some kind of good eating. So the plan was to smash this turtle/god into a pile of rocks the way eagles do with tortoises and other hard-shelled creatures they'd like to make meals of. But due to bad aim or luck or -- dare I say it? -- divine intervention, this plan went all out of skew on the treadle. The turtle god made a soft landing and survived. And he landed in Om, a place named after him, ruled by the church started by his purported believers.

So ... what's a small tortoise god to do? Seek out his flock, right?

And off he goes on his little stubby tortoise legs. With one eye. And a whole lot of determination. And a whole lot of attitude. And a few divine powers at his disposal. But very little else, unfortunately. Because he is stuck in the body of a turtle, after all.

And he runs across a simple man named Brutha. At least, Brutha seems simple. Brutha is a novice priest. Brutha hoes the garden and does all the dirty little chores that no one else wants to do. Brutha doesn't question the Church or authority (yet). Brutha just wants to live his life in peace and contentment.

Thing is, Brutha has amazing strengths. He has an open mind and an open heart. His mind is so open, he remembers everything. He has total recall. And his heart is so open, he has what you could call the ability to give unconditional love.

Brutha's mind is so open, he's the only one who can hear Om speak when he tries to talk to his so-called believers.

Okay, that's nice. But what's the catch? Well, there's a bad guy, of course. Or there wouldn't be a story, would there?

And the biggest, baddest guy in this story is ... Vorbis. Best. Bad guy name. Ever.

You might say that Vorbis is the anti-Brutha. He doesn't want peace or contentment. He wants nothing more than to stir up trouble and discontent. He does this for the sole purpose of being in a position to get others to do all the dirty work he doesn't want to handle and to be the authority figure.

And the thing is, Vorbis is actually weak. Because his mind and heart are both so closed. His mind is so closed, he can only hear his own thoughts rattling around in his own head. He's incapable of looking at things from anyone else's point of view or thinking outside his own little box (pardon my cliche, but it fits). And his heart is so closed, he has no compassion whatsoever, to the point where one might consider him a dangerous sociopath.

Now, Vorbis has a mission. He's going to Ephebe to meet with their leader called (ironically) the Tyrant. The Tyrant has a plan, but Vorbis has his own plans rattling around in his own head. And Vorbis is taking Brutha with him. Now why on earth (or whatever planet they're on) would he do this? He's afraid. He knows he's weak and Brutha has strength. He wants Brutha's strength. However, you can't get Brutha's strength by being Vorbis.

Okay, that's it.

Now, lest you think this all too serious and philosophical, please don't. Terry Pratchett makes it all as funny as hell. Lines such as, "Om, bumping along in Brutha's pack, began to feel the acute depression that steals over every realist in the presence of an optimist," made me laugh out loud. Brutha and Om go through many adventures and meet all sorts of interesting characters. However, to say more would be telling, wouldn't it?

And Om's so vulnerable for a god. People are always picking him up and thinking about turning him into their next meal. (For God's sake!) Well, turtles make good eating, you know? So ... Om needs Brutha for protection. A god needs his believer to keep him alive. And vice versa. Ironic, huh?

It's not really a spoiler to say that the good guys win in the end, is it? Or that gods could make miracles happen -- if they learned to look at life from the ground level.

PS: Death makes an appearance in this book. And the strengths I mentioned before take on even more significance, in the afterlife as Terry Pratchett describes it.

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