Tonight we kick off the Small Gods bookclub, as Mike S recaps the first section of the book. The complete list of sections can be found here. If you’re reading a different edition, post a comment giving its first and last pages, and I’ll add it to the spreadsheet. If you must comment on anything past what we’ve read so far (the first section), please rot13 it to avoid spoilers. If you’d like to volunteer to recap future sections, please say so.
That’s all the boilerplate stuff. Let’s get started.
From Now consider the tortoise and the eagle. to But if ever there was a person without guile or any kind of subtlety, it was Brutha.
Pratchett often eases into a book slowly, giving us background information or talking about the story rather than jumping into telling it. In Small Gods, he begins with a parable about eagles and tortoises. Eagles can see for miles, and use this power to find things to prey on. Tortoises can see five inches in front of them. Eagles can prey on tortoises by carrying them to a great height and letting them drop. They must take some obscure pleasure in this, because it’s a lot of trouble when there’s easier food about. Or perhaps their intent is to selectively breed tortoises that can fly. There’s no way to discuss what this parable is about without massive spoilers. Let’s keep it in mind and discuss it as we proceed.
Next, still in overview mode, Pratchett muses about history. On the Discworld, there are a group of monks whose job it is to make sure that everything that’s supposed to happens, and in the right order, and gets turned into history. One of them, Lu-Tze, is sent to Omnia, land of the Great God Om, to observe…, well we’re not sure, but no doubt we’ll see it too. It may have to do with their 8th Prophet, who’s due just about now.
And now, the story begins. The Citadel is a city dedicated to Om. It has many inhabitants, from the Cenobiarch, chief officer of the religion, to people like Brutha, a novice whose duties center on growing melons. One day, while hoeing the melon patch, Brutha hears a voice which seems to come from nowhere. He’s quite frightened, thinking it’s a demon, but it’s something much odder: Om himself, who has, for some reason, taken the shape of a tortoise. Brutha is apparently the only one who can hear him. Lu-Tze, who has taken a position hoeing the same melon patch, cannot. Or, if he can, he doesn’t let on.
Deacon Vorbis, who also lives in the Citadel, is the head of the Quisition. (Not the INquisition; this one does that kind of thing in both directions.) He leads a team of people who are not monsters or psychopaths; they just do that for a living, complete with funny coffee cups about how awful their job is. He has taken personal charge of the interrogation of his former underling, Brother Sasho, who has become infected by a frightful heresy: he believes that The Turtle Moves.
Back at the melon patch, Brutha hears the voice again, and does everything he can to ignore it: fingers in his ears, yelling “I can’t heeeeeeeaaaaarrrrrr yoooouuuu!”, and finally singing a few songs. (Brutha’s singing is what got him exiled from the choir and assigned extra melon hoeing.) That done, he finally spots the tortoise, which is not in good shape, and being a kindly young man, decides to feed it a grape, for which the tortoise threatens to damn him to the nethermost hell. (It becomes evident rather quickly that Om is not a loving god.) Brutha goes back to voice avoidance, but it’s no use. The tortoise really is talking to him, and demanding to be taken to see someone in authority. Brutha, picturing exactly how “I’ve got this tortoise who want to talk to you” would go, is reluctant, but Om bullies him into it. What’s unique about Brutha among all of the Omnians is this: he truly believes in Om. He got it from his grandmother, who somehow, in a religion that discounted the value of women down to nothing (combining, in this respect, the worst feautires of Islam and Orthodox Judaism), became a force.
Vorbis, who’s only a Deacon, is a man of great influence, pretty much all malign. He meets with other members of the hierarchy, all of whom outrank him, but Vorbis is clearly in charge. He pushes for a war with Ephebe, which no one wants, but he manages to make them look weak in their faith, perhaps even traitors and heretics, for their doubts. Then he drops the big hammer: the Ephebeans believe in the same heresy as Sasho: that the world is flat, and rests on four elephants that stand on the back of a giant turtle. (And what does the turtle stand on? Never mind, says Vorbis. It’s heresy all the way down.) The Ephebeans may have physical evidence for this (peering over the edge of the world and seeing it): but this goes against the word of Om that the world is round. (This is all, of course, a neat reversal on the Roman Catholic Church’s response to heliocentrism.)
Brutha, meanwhile, has gone to the novice master, to ask him to come to the melon patch. The master would be suspicious if it were anyone but Brutha.