Book Review: Religion in Terry Pratchett’s Monstrous Regiment

book review, genre fiction August 24, 2011

I’ve mentioned time and time again that I read across genre. I enjoy almost all genre fiction, and particularly enjoy writers who bring issues onto the table with their work. Since I’m part of a minority religion here in the US, I love fiction that plays with religion.

I read Monstrous Regiment for a class I took a few years ago and loved Mr. Pratchett’s ability to play with religion. Here are my thoughts:

Despite having taken it’s name from an anti-Catholic tract, and mocking the establishment of organized religion, Monstrous Regiment seems to me to be pro-religion.

We have lots of satirization, mostly in the form of the Abominations of Nuggan. Chocolate, cats, and the color blue are all Abominations unto this “tetchy” god. At several points in the novel, someone mentions that the Abominations are mostly ignored anymore, especially by devout Nugganites. It can be interpreted that the Abominations are ignored because they make life too difficult or might put a crimp in the followers’ style, so to speak.

Modern religion, specifically Christianity, seems to follow the same path. If a piece of scripture doesn’t fit the modern lifestyle, excuses are made for not abiding by it or it’s simply ignored. Pratchett mocks this tendency with Nuggan and his Abominations. He paints a clear picture of the typical religious follower with Polly– skeptical unless it suits her, a so-called “religion-lite” kind of person.

These assertions and satirizations might lead the reader to believe that Pratchett is anti-religion. However, in Monstrous Regiment, Wazzer Goom is clearly a prophet of the Duchess Annagovia. She is from an abused background, the kind of person who might develop a mental disorder as a result of the abuse. She’s endured many things that might lead a person to turn their back on faith in disgust, or it might cause some others to grasp onto religion with an iron-hold, in a desperate attempt to make sense of their horrible surroundings. We see that today in people that commit horrendous crimes, the “God told me to” affliction. Rarely (if ever) are these people shown to be true prophets.

Although the others are uncomfortable around her, they humor her rather than trying to correct her. In the history of religion, prophets are mocked. “Wazzer was nice . . . well, sort of nice, in a slightly scary sort of way– but talking to her was like picking at a scab; you knew what was likely to be under the crust, but you picked anyway” (p.155). And Polly wonders on page 211 “what she should read more: Maladict turning into a ravening monster, or Wazzer reaching the end of whatever mental journey she was taking.” Wazzer is clearly not taken seriously throughout the book.

But Pratchett is setting Wazzer up as the genuine thing.

In the end, her visions and the voices prove to be true– she really does speak with the Duchess and is used as a vessel. On page 298 we see Wazzer take control of a long-dead army. Beginning on page 348, the Duchess asserts herself through Wazzer to promote Sergeant Jackrum and give orders to end the war. She is a true prophet.

Her reward was a job on the general’s staff and her own room (p. 381). This is the reward for prophecy?

Is Pratchett truly satirizing religion, or merely it’s followers? Is he asserting that followers shouldn’t be so skeptical; that they should look to the visionaries and listen rather than scorn? If the reader only considers Pratchett’s invention of Nuggan, it’s most definitely a satire of organized religion. But look deeper to see more.


Tattooed writer with an attitude seeks like minded people who appreciate snark and ink. Or snarky ink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s