Themes

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Last Updated on May 13, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 485

The central theme of the novel might be expressed as follows: gods need people, and people need gods. This theme comes through most consistently and effectively in the ever-evolving relationship between Brutha and Om. Brutha is the only genuine believer left to the (formerly) great god Om. Everyone else is...

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The central theme of the novel might be expressed as follows: gods need people, and people need gods. This theme comes through most consistently and effectively in the ever-evolving relationship between Brutha and Om. Brutha is the only genuine believer left to the (formerly) great god Om. Everyone else is too caught up in the machinery of Omnianism to remember the god; some devote their energies to crushing infidels and heretics, while the rest scramble to observe all the ceremonies; they pray, if at all, only to be spared the attentions of the "Quisition." Brutha progresses from unthinking fundamentalism and blind obedience through doubt to a humane, philosophical Omnianism of which he is the reluctant prophet. He never abandons his god, despite unusually concrete reasons for doing so; instead, he rejects his old, bad religion, and helps to make a new one by thinking for himself.

Om, a god fond of manifesting himself as a trampling bull or lightning slinging smiter during his glory years, has fallen on hard times. As worship of Omnianism gradually took over from worship of Om, the god dwindled. Finally, he has become trapped in the body of a tortoise and only remembers his own divine nature when a preposterous coincidence brings him close to Brutha. Thereafter he is almost completely dependent on his last remaining worshipper. As he often does, Pratchett offers a mock-scientific explanation: all gods start off as small gods, mere sparks of yearning, buzzing around single-mindedly like insects. Those lucky enough to attract followers grow in proportion to the number of believers and the fervor of their belief. Gods need people; Om has sunk so low that he needs Brutha to rescue him from a mess of soup ingredients. By the time Om finally regains his lost stature, he has learned a few lessons himself and seems likely to take a more enlightened and informed interest in his worshippers than in the past.

The wrongness of Omnianism is incarnated in its most powerful figure, the sinister Deacon Vorbis. He is a man who only hears and sees what is inside his own head. His religion consists of an immovable but not passionate determination to stamp out all heresy, and then to spread such fear through all the neighboring lands that heresy will never arise again. In a work of literature written in our tradition, it is inevitable that such a man and such a system should lose. But Pratchett does not dismiss Vorbis as just another would-be tyrant; rather, he shows his wrongness on all levels, and then wipes him out by having an eagle drop Om (still in the form of a tortoise) on his bald head. This is hilarious, and Pratchett has been setting up this little joke from the beginning. There is a point, however: The absurdity of the death seems to be a comment on the putridity of Vorbis's life and beliefs.

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