17th July 1998 at 01:00
Rather like J M Barrie in Peter Pan, Terry Pratchett plays with the idea of what happens to folk-tale characters when no one believes in them any more in Hogfather (Corgi audiotape Pounds 9.99). We are back in Terry Pratchett's Discworld, a universe parallel to ours but with more in-built jokes and paradoxes. Death has taken over the seasonal present-giving when the Hogfather (aka Santa Claus) disappears just before Hogswatch.

The Hogfather audiotape is a fun- and pun-filled three hours, with the inimitable Tony Robinson wise-cracking his way through a brisk adaptation of Terry Pratchett's book, dredging all kinds of new voices out of the dressing-up box to adorn, among others, the Cheerful Fairy, the God of Hangovers, one Bilius, and the Sockeater (who resides in the laundry basket).

All of these and more are conjured up in Terry Pratchett's universe by the power of belief - the same power of belief that gives life to the more familiar Hogfather. There is also, unusually, Death's plucky granddaughter Susan (don't ask!), the mysterious grey Auditors, who represent cold reason and no imagination, and a bunch of incompetent slapstick crooks stuck in Rapunzel's castle. Death is, of course, the hero who wins the day.

It is Terry Pratchett's genius that he can allow for sophisticated adult musings on the nature of belief and existence at the same time as teenage zest for blood and mayhem (there's a brilliant psychotic killer called Teatime) as well as deck the narrative with sprigs of whimsy such as the Cheerful Fairy.

Hogfather is suitable for 10-year-olds and upwards.

Victoria Neumark

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