Small Gods

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Small Gods
First edition
AuthorTerry Pratchett
Cover artistJosh Kirby
13th novel – 3rd individual story
SubjectReligion, Philosophy
Brutha, Om
Omnia, Ephebe
PublisherVictor Gollancz
Publication date

Small Gods is the thirteenth of Terry Pratchett's Discworld novels, published in 1992.[1] It tells the origin of the god Om, and his relations with his prophet, the reformer Brutha. In the process, it satirises religious institutions, people, and practices, and the role of religion in political life.


The Great God Om tries to manifest himself once more in the world, as the time of his Eighth Prophet is nigh. He is surprised, however, when he finds himself in the body of a tortoise, stripped of his divine powers.

In the gardens of Omnia's capital he addresses the novice Brutha, the only one able to hear his voice. Om has a hard time convincing the boy of his godliness, as Brutha is convinced that Om can do anything he wants, and would not want to appear as a tortoise.

Brutha is gifted with an eidetic memory and is therefore chosen by Vorbis, the head of the Quisition, to accompany him on a diplomatic mission to Ephebe as his secretary. However, Brutha is also considered unintelligent, since he never learned to read, and rarely thinks for himself. This begins to change after Brutha discovers Ephebe's philosophers; the idea of people entertaining ideas they are not certain they believe or even understand, let alone starting fistfights over them, is an entirely new concept to him.

With the help of Ephebe's Great Library, and the philosophers Didactylos and his nephew, Urn, Om learns that Brutha is his only genuine believer. All others either just fear the Quisition's wrath or go along with the church out of habit. After learning that the casus belli of Omnia's war against Ephebe (the stoning to death of a missionary) was false, Brutha uses his memory to reluctantly aid Vorbis and an Omnian raid through the Labyrinth guarding the Tyrant's palace. While in the Library, Brutha also memorizes many scrolls in order to protect Ephebeian knowledge as Didactylos sets fire to the building, to stop Vorbis reading its scrolls. Completely unrelated to the story, the Librarian of the Unseen University travels through L-Space to rescue several of the abandoned scrolls.

Fleeing the ensuing struggle by Urn's steam-powered boat, Brutha, Om and a severely injured Vorbis end up lost in the desert. Trekking home to Omnia, they encounter ruined temples, the small gods who are faint ghost-like beings yearning to be believed in to become powerful and the small-god-worshipping anchorite St Ungulant. Realizing his 'mortality' and how important his believers are to him, Om begins to care about them for the first time.

While Brutha, Vorbis, and Om are in the desert, the Tyrant of Ephebe manages to regain control of the city and contacts other nations who have been troubled by Omnia's imperialistic ambitions. Sergeant Simony, a member of the anti-Omnianist Turtle Movement, brings Didactylos and Urn to Omnia to organise a rebellion against the Church, only for Didactylos to assert that his seminal text The Turtle Moves, which contradicts Omnian dogma about the shape of the Discworld, was not meant to be a rallying symbol.

On the desert's edge, a recovered Vorbis attempts to finish off Om's tortoise form, abducts Brutha, and proceeds to become ordained as the Eighth Prophet. After Brutha interrupts Vorbis's ordainment, he is to be publicly burned for heresy while strapped on a heatable bronze turtle when Om comes to the rescue, dropping from an eagle's claws onto Vorbis' head, killing him. As a great crowd witnesses this miracle they come to believe in Om and he becomes powerful again.

Om manifests himself within the citadel and attempts to grant Brutha the honour of establishing the Church's new doctrines. However, Brutha does not agree with Om's new rule and explains that the Church should care for people while having a tolerance for other religious practices.

Meanwhile, Ephebe has gained the support of several other nations and has sent an army against Omnia, establishing a beachhead near the citadel. Brutha attempts to establish diplomatic contact with the generals of the opposing army. Despite trusting Brutha, the leaders state they do not trust Omnia and that bloodshed is necessary. At the same time, Simony leads the Omnian military to the beachhead and uses Urn's 'Iron Turtle' machine of war in order to fight the anti-Omnian alliance.

While the fighting occurs on the beachhead, Om attempts to physically intervene, but Brutha demands he does not interfere with the actions of humans. Om becomes infuriated but obeys Brutha, but he travels to Dunmanifestin, where gods gamble on the lives of humans in order to gain or lose belief. While there, Om manages to unleash his fury, striking other gods and causing a storm that disrupts the battle. Eventually, he forces all other gods of the forces at the battle to tell their soldiers to stop fighting and make peace.

In the book's conclusion Brutha becomes the Eighth Prophet, ending the Quisition's practice of torture and reforming the church to be more open-minded and humanist, with the citadel becoming home to the largest non-magical library on the Discworld. Om also agrees to forsake the smiting of Omnian citizens for at least a hundred years. The last moments of the book see Brutha's death a hundred years to the day after Om's return to power and his journey across the ethereal desert towards judgement, accompanied by the spirit of Vorbis, whom Brutha found still in the desert and upon whom he took pity. It is also revealed that this century of peace was originally meant to be a century of war and bloodshed which the History Monk Lu-Tze changed to something he liked better.


  • Brutha
  • Vorbis
  • Om
  • Great A'tuin


Australian author Jack Heath described the book as "one of the 20th century's finest satires", and added that "the gods are pompous, the worshippers cowed, and the priests violently closed-minded. Yet the tale is never heavy-handed, thanks to Brutha's sincerity and some deftly comical plot twists, as well as all the levity that comes from picturing an angry God trapped in the body of a tortoise."[2] Thomas M. Wagner praised it as "an extraordinary novel" on, and called it a "biting but compassionate satire".[3] In 2011, National Public Radio ranked it #57 on its list of 100 best science fiction / fantasy novels.[4]

Believers as well as unbelievers have praised the book for supporting their position, according to fan mail received by Terry Pratchett.[5]

The audio codec Ogg Vorbis is named after the character Exquisitor Vorbis in Small Gods.[6]


In 2006 the book was adapted as a serial for BBC Radio 4.[7] It starred Patrick Barlow as Om, Carl Prekopp as Brutha, and Alex Jennings as Vorbis. Anton Lesser was the narrator.[8]

A stage version of Small Gods was adapted in 2010 and performed between 17 and 19 February 2011 at The Assembly Rooms Theatre, Durham by OOOOK! Productions and members of Durham Student Theatre. All profits were donated to The Orangutan Foundation. The adaptation was written by Ben Saunders, a graduate of the University of Durham department of Archaeology.

In January 2016 the official Terry Pratchett Twitter feed announced an upcoming comic adaptation of Small Gods by cartoonist Ray Friesen.[9]


  1. ^ "Small Gods". Retrieved 9 May 2009.
  2. ^ Heath, Jack. "Small Gods". The Jack Heath Blog. Retrieved 19 May 2012. Archived 10 April 2013 at the Wayback Machine
  3. ^ Wagner, Thomas M. "Small Gods / Terry Pratchett". Retrieved 19 May 2012.
  4. ^ "Top 100 Science Fiction, Fantasy Novels". National Public Radio. 11 August 2011. Retrieved 14 March 2015.
  5. ^ "Words From The Master".
  6. ^ Xiph.Org Foundation. " naming".
  7. ^ "Small Gods". BBC Radio 4. Retrieved 9 May 2009.
  8. ^ "Message Board: Small Gods Radio Play". Retrieved 9 May 2009.
  9. ^ @terryandrob (21 January 2016). "#smallgodsgraphicnovel" (Tweet). Retrieved 26 January 2016 – via Twitter.

External links[edit]

Reading order guide
Preceded by 13th Discworld Novel Succeeded by
Preceded by 4th Individual Story
Published in 1990
Succeeded by