Book:Small Gods

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Small Gods
Cover art by Josh Kirby
Publisher Victor Gollancz
Publication date May 1992
ISBN 0575052228
Pages 288
Main characters Brutha, Om, Vorbis
Series Discworld Series
Annotations View
All data relates to the first UK edition.


Brutha is the Chosen One.

His god has spoken to him, admittedly while currently in the shape of a tortoise.

Brutha is a simple lad. He can't read. He can't write. He's pretty good at growing melons. And his wants are few.

He wants to overthrow a huge and corrupt church.

He wants to prevent a horrible holy war.

He wants to stop the persecution of a philosopher who has dared to suggest that, contrary to the Church's dogma, the Discworld really does go through space on the back of an enormous turtle (*).

He wants peace and justice and brotherly love. He wants the Inquisition to stop torturing him now, please.

But most of all, what he really wants, more than anything else, is for his god to Choose Someone Else ...

(* which is true, but when has that ever mattered?)


The story is set in the land of Omnia, an oppressive theocracy that is controlled by a Church that worships the Great God Om and frequently wages war on non-believers. It is about time for Om to manifest in the world and send his eighth prophet. Om has ignored his believers for ages and is surprised to find himself stripped of his divine powers and only able to manifest himself as a tortoise. On the Disc, the power of a God is determined by how many people believe in them.

In Kom, the capital of Omnia, Om meets Brutha, a simple-minded boy with a remarkable memory. He struggles to convince Brutha that he is the God the boy worships. Vorbis, the head of the Quisition, asks Brutha to come with him on a diplomatic mission to Ephebe. While they are there, Brutha starts to take an interest in philosphy. Om meets the philosopher Didactylos and discovers that Brutha is the only remaining Omnian who actually believes in him; the others now only believe in the rules and rituals of the Church.

Brutha's memory helps him to provide information to the Omnians on how to access the Tyrant's palace via the Labyrinth that guards it. He also reads and memorises many scrolls in the library, in order to preserve the Ephebians' knowledge as Omnian soldiers burn the building down. Brutha, Om and a severely injured Vorbis flee the struggle by boat and end up lost in the desert. On their way home, they discover ruined temples that are haunted by Small Gods - ghosts of powerless gods who no-one believes in. Om begins to care about his believers for the first time.

Vorbis regains his strength as they approach Kom. He abducts Brutha and tries to finish Om off without success. He arranges for himself to be ordained the eighth prophet and for Brutha to be publically burned to death by being strapped to a heated bronze statue of a tortoise. Om intervenes; an eagle flies him over to the scene and drops him on Vorbis' head, killing the priest. The crowd witness the miracle and their faith in Om is restored, allowing him to become powerful again.

Meanwhile, Ephebe has formed an alliance with several nations to invade Omnia and a battle breaks out on the coast by Kom. Brutha attempts to make peace, but the invading armies are too distrustful of the Omnians. Om plans to use his physical powers against them, but Brutha argues that he should not interfere with the actions of humans. Om is frustrated but ultimately agrees; instead he travels to the top of Cori Celesti where he sees the other gods gambling on the fates of their believers to gain or lose them. Shocked by the callousness with which they treat their believers, Om loses his temper, even hitting some of the other gods. The soldiers hear a threatening sign from the heavens and stop fighting.

Brutha becomes the Eighth Prophet. He ends the Quisition and reforms the Church, turning the oppressive and dogmatic institution into a fairer-minded theology. For the next century, Omnia is able to enjoy great peace, freedom and prosperity. In the epilogue, Brutha dies on the 100th anniversary of Om's return to power. It is then revealed that the events were orchestrated by Lu-Tze, one of the History Monks, who decided that he would rather have a century of peace than the anticipated century of war.


The cover illustration was drawn by Josh Kirby. It is dominated by two figures: Brutha, who is chained to an altar in the form of a giant turtle and Vorbis with an eagle-like appearance interrogating him. Above both figures a large flying eagle holds a terrified turtle in its claws.

About the book

When reading the Discworld books starting from the first The Colour of Magic to the newest one notices a gradual change in the style of writing. Not only does the text become more picturesque and atmospheric, but the story itself becomes more elaborate. Whereas in The Colour of Magic the story seems to be a mere carrier for a multitude of jokes and anecdotes, newer books have less comedy, but make a good read, because of the intriguing story. Small Gods is the first book in the Discworld series with a noticeably changed style.

Whereas previous books were driven by satire of the fantasy genre and popular culture, Small Gods touches on deeper themes. The main themes of the book are theism, atheism, morality and ethics. There is a clear contrast between Brutha's earnest faith and compassion, compared to the organized religion of a church which at best is stagnant and corrupt, and at worst is oppressive and extremist. The storyline then reveals that Brutha is the only person who is really believing in Om himself, whereas everyone else is just believing in rules and rituals. It also shows that a bad religion or church can still have good followers.

One of the more important messages of the book is: do good things, simply because they are good and not just because a god demands it. This might not sound too funny, but the messages are hidden in a rather humorous story (this is still a Terry Pratchett book) about Brutha, a novice priest of the church of Om.

Small Gods introduces Lu-Tze the history-monk. The book is also the origin of the phrase "The turtle moves" or De Chelonian Mobile.


Main Characters

Minor Characters






A radio adaptation was broadcast by BBC Radio 4 in 2006.


Graphic Novel

Adapted into a comic book Small Gods A Discworld Graphic Novel in 2016, illustrated by Ray Friesen.


  • "The other novices make fun of him, sometimes. Call him The Big Dumb Ox." - in Roundworld, this nickname was applied to St Thomas Aquinas
  • "maybe a small army could get a quarter of the way, and leave a cache of water. And do that several times. And another small army could use part of that cache to go further, maybe reach halfway, and leave a cache. And another small army... It had taken months." - a version of the Jeep Problem
  • "Stoics. Cynics. Big drinkers, the Cynics. Epicureans. Stochastics. Anamaxandrites. Epistemologists. Peripatetics. Synoptics." - implies that there are philosophers named Epicurus and Anaximander
  • "could drag Omnia kicking and screaming into the Century of the Fruitbat!" - the implication here is that this book takes place during the Century of the Fruitbat, even though it presumably takes place centuries before Moving Pictures (Lu-tze had to travel back in time to get to Omnia). Of course, there's no solid evidence that the "current" books take place in the Century of the Fruitbat either(?), and Thief of Time shows the Disc's space-time continuum is rather convoluted.
  • "I said to [Prince Lasgere of Tsort] 'There is no royal road to learning'" - parodies Euclid's statement to King Ptolemy: "there is no royal road to geometry" {{{2}}}
  • "Got to have a whole parcel of worshipers to live on Nob Hill." - references Roundworld's Nob Hill, an upscale area of San Francisco.
  • '[Om] plunged his beak through the brown feathers between the talons, and gripped. [...] "Now. You play, uh, ball with me, I'll play . . . ball with you."' - As the APF ( notes, eagles don't have testicles. Of course, this might be a "balled eagle", but I doubt even Pterry would make such a bad subtle pun.


  • This book is not a part of a series, although some place it in a "Gods" series together with Pyramids and Hogfather. It was placed together with these two novels in the collection The Gods Trilogy.
  • Originally published in Great Britain by Victor Gollanz Ltd.
    Copyright (c) 1992 by Terry and Lyn Pratchett.


Corgi Paperback
'Letterbox' Hardback
Cover by Michael Sabanosh
Cover by Michael Sabanosh-paperback
Paperback 2004
Audio Cassette
Audio CD
US Cover
Paperback 2012
Unseen Library Edition
Collectors Library Edition
Folio Society Illustrated Edition
Paperback 2022

External Links

Small Gods Annotations - The Annotated Pratchett File

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