Friday, June 27, 2014

'small gods'

"Small Gods" is Terry Pratchett's rather humorous and insightful take on the relationship among gods, religion, and their worshipers.

Pratchett is a humanist, as becomes obvious to anyone reading his critique of gods and religion; but he's also a gifted humorist, as anyone familiar with any of his Discworld novels will know. Set on his fantastical Discworld, "Small Gods" tells the story of the Great God Om, now incarnated as a turtle with only one worshiper. It is a far cry from the days when he appeared as a raging people trampling the infidels.

Problematically for Om, is that as he has diminished, the Church of Om has grown. People flock from all over the region, from among his own people and from among those whom they have conquered, to pay their respects.

The puzzle of how a god can be so well-known and have such a mighty church but have so few actual worshipers is one that will challenge both Om and his simple-minded worshiper, and change the way things work in Omnia.

Like his other Discworld novels, "Small Gods" is a book that satisfies at many levels, and always leaves the thoughtful reader with something to consider, even after multiple readings.

Copyright © 2014 by David Learn. Used with permission.


It moght sound odd to say that a graphic novel about the Holocaust is inspiring, but in the case of "Maus" that seems an apt descriptor.

"Maus" is a Pulitzer-winning account of Vladek Spiegelman in the years leading up to World War II and the Holocaust. Interwoven with the story is the tale of the hero's twilight years, where he has become a bitter and difficult old man, and his son, the comic book writer and artist Art Spiegelman, tries to bridge the gap between the two of them by trying to understand his father's experiences.

Vladek Spiegelman makes no claims that he and his wife survived the Holocaust because of any special merit on their part, but his story shows a man who seized opportunity when he could. He used those opportunities not only to keep himself alive, but also to give hope and assistance to other Jews during the darkest period of the 20th century.

And while Vladek's story conveys much misery and loss, it ends on the happy note of reunification, as he finds his wife after the war has ended, and the two are able to start a new family.

The younger Spiegelman at times uses the narrative to offer commentary on the medium he's telling it in, and even expresses doubts as to whether the book adds anything of value to Holocaust literature. To that, I'd have to add my own unequivocal "yes." Although "Maus" chronicles the same horror found in books like "Night" and movies like "Night and Holocaust," it also expresses something about the resilience of the human spirit.

For all the horror and nightmare of the Holocaust and other periods where we give way to hatred and fear, and the other woes released from Pandora's box, "Maus" reminds us that hope also is at loose in the world, and cannot be extinguised even by the likes of Hitler and those who support them.

Copyright © 2014 by David Learn. Used with permission.