Roughly,I announce to you with great joy, we have a turtle God. That should have been the announcement that greeted the arrival of the God of the City of Om upon his return to Om. Unfortunately he was greeted by stunned disbelief by his sole remaining true believer. Since the size and power of any God/god on Discworld is directly proportional to the level of belief in each God's by its adherents this god is but a turtle. Out of such co-dependent relationships are small gods and Terry Pratchett's Small Gods made.
Co-dependent seems an apt term in this context. In Small Gods, Pratchett looks at organized religion through the prism of the co-dependant relationship. This theme is set against a backdrop which, if filmed, would have been produced by David Lean and looked remarkably like Lawrence of Arabia. (The Omnian attack on Ephebia and Brutha's trek with Vorbis across the desert between their cities both left me with images of Lawrence's attack on Aqaba and his disastrous trek across the desert with his youthful assistants.) Specifically, Pratchett examines the co-dependency of man and his God(s). Each is entirely co-dependent on the other. The plot, including the hilarious deus ex machina climax, has been well summarized in the product description and in other reviews so I'll confine myself to a few random observations.
No matter how deeply philosophical the underlying theme, the potential reader should know that Pratchett is an excellent writer and capable of some of the funniest lines and paragraphs you are likely to encounter in fiction. Pratchett introduces the Ephebians' leading philosopher Dydactylos thusly: His philosophy was a mixture of three famous schools -- the Cynics, the Stoics and the Epicureans -- and summed up all three of them in his famous phrase, "You can't trust any bugger further than you can throw him, and there's nothing you can do about it, so let's have a drink." It is no small compliment to state that the passage reminded me of Month Python's Philosopher's Song.
Pratchett's sharp tongue and wonderful sense of humor does not detract from his ability to get a point across. For example, the villain of the piece, Vorbis is engaged in diplomatic negotiations with the leader of the Ephebians, known simply as "the Tyrant". "Slave is an Ephebian word. In Om we have no word for slave," said Vorbis. "So I understand," said the Tyrant. "I imagine that fish have no word for water." In context, this exchange is simply brilliant. Small Gods is full of these little pearls.
Pearls, actually, form the basis of my final thoughts on Small Gods. I think it clear that Pratchett does not look kindly upon the excesses and brutalities committed in the name of God(s). However, those who do maintain such a belief system should not construe that as an attack on faith itself. I think one can liken the philosophies expressed by Moses, Jesus, or Buddha for example as a grain of sand. The grain of sand can be perfectly beautiful but because it serves as something of a societal irritant when first expressed it becomes covered with layer upon layer of outer covering until it evolves into a pearl. Now that pearl can be beautiful but it can also completely obscure the pure beauty of that grain of sand. So too with the trappings and dogma of oragnized relgion. When doctrine and dogma take pride of place the beauty of the idea is lost and can turn horrid. Vorbis' role as leader of the Omnian inquisition is no accident. The comparison between Vorbis and Brutha is beautiful for its symetry. Vorbis is all form and structure but totally devoid of content, of soul. Brutha is close to being the opposite. As we look at the trappings of our own faith (those of us that choose to have one) it might not be a bad idea to examine whether or not the trappings of that doctrine obscure the initial meaning and purity of the ideas around which those trappings were created.
That any author, particularly one so consistenly funny, can evoke such a thought process, is, perhaps, a minor miracle.