The Colour Of Magic – Terry Pratchett (Discworld #1)

Allow me to wave hello to my readers. Hi there! In particular to Lauren who decided to write a blog post every day this week. This has spurred me towards making an effort to write more. Since books are generally slightly more than a one day effort (usually :P), I’m doing to write a review of a book from one of my favourite authors, Terry Pratchett.

Author bio stuff: Terry Pratchett, sorry, make that Sir Terry Pratchett was awarded the Order of the British Empire in 1998, and was knighted in 2009. His first book, The Carpet People was published in 1971, and the first book of the Discworld series, The Colour Of Magic, was published in 1983 (a good year!) According to his Wikipedia page, he was the best selling author in the United Kingdom during the 1990s until usurped by J. K. Rowling, and is amongst the world’s most-read and most-popular authors. And I think that he’s brilliant. In 2007 he announced that he had early-onset Alzheimer’s Disease. He subsequently donated a million dollars (US) to research on the disease, and his fans donated another one million dollars as part of a “Match It For Pratchett” scheme. Various news reports discuss it further, as well as the fan-site.

Let’s jump to the punchline: The Colour of Magic is good. It’s really quite … good. But. And it’s a rather significant but, it is not anything close to his best work. It was his first real attempt at comic fantasy, and the balance isn’t quite right. The world that we are introduced to is a little too generic fantasy. The characters rely a little too much on the standard tropes. Many people hear wonderful things, glowing and effusive praise for Pratchett and the Discworld series, they read the first book (because starting at the beginning is logical, right?) and are left a little cool on the experience. Most of the books are quite stand-alone (there are recurring characters: the Witches books, the Watch books, the Unseen University books, the books that centre on Death, etc, and it’s good to be introduced to those characters in the correct order, but it really isn’t important), and so reading order doesn’t matter here. This is the not the book that should be the introduction to the Discworld series.

The principle characters are Rincewind and Twoflower. Rincewind is introduced as a street-savvy failed wizard who was forced out of the Unseen University due to his inability to retain any spells. Twoflower is a tourist to the city of Anhk-Morpork (you will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy…) from the Agetean empire where, well, things are done a little differently. For a start, gold is quite abundant, to the extent that the entire economy of the city is somewhat warped by his presence. And, unfortunately, he makes the mistake of introducing the idea of fire insurance, leading to the city being burned to the ground. (There are more than a few jokes about “echo-gnomics” and “in-sewer-ants”….) Unknown to Rincewind and Twoflower, they are but pawns in a game of the Gods, and are being directed by The Lady, Fate. They are diverted to the Temple of Bel-Shamharoth, where they are rescued by Hrun the Barbarian (hello slight mockery of standard fantasy tropes) who bemusedly acts as their hero and guide in exchange for photographs of himself produced by Twoflower’s imp-driven picture box.

They escape to the upside-down mountain of the Wyrmberg, a gentle parody on Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonriders of Pern series (on the list of “things to read”–I’ve only ever managed some of the short stories), where magic rules everything, and there are some very amusing scenes with a cowardly wizard and the child-like curiousity of a genuine tourist who believes that nothing wrong can ever happen to an innocent bystander.

The novel, which is divided into roughly four mini-stories, finishes with our characters being rescued (or, depending on their point-of-view, kidnapped) by the city-state of Krull, where they are accidentally launched into space to determine the gender of Great A’tuin oh damnit I forgot to mention something really really important.

Why is called Discworld? Because the world is carried through space on the backs of four elephants, who are in turn standing on the back of the space turtle, Great A’tuin. No one knows where he (she?) is swimming toward, or what will happen when they get there. There was speculation that the world was a great sphere, which is patently nonsense: all of the people would fall off the bottom half.

Anyhow, Rincewind and Twoflower are accidentally jettisoned into space, and the book ends on a bit of a cliffhanger. The cliffhanger is resolved in the following book, The Light Fantastic, the pair of which complement each other quite well, and stand as a neat little Pratchett-package, separate thematically and stylistically from the rest of the series. Well, at least, that is how is feels in my opinion. Pratchett once said that he wanted to do for comic fantasy that Blazing Saddles did for Westerns. It just took him a little while to find that sweet point of comedy and fantasy.

Like I said, it’s a good book, and if you read it, you really should follow it up with The Light Fantastic. But, it probably shouldn’t be considered representative of Pratchett’s work in general. (Actually, if you’re going to start out, don’t start out with the latest works either. They are, in my opinion, a little smug and cheesy. There was a golden period of about twenty years where he wrote amazing literature. He won the Carnegie Medal during that period.)

Postscript: massive points in its favour for this book though as it introduces the Luggage. A magic trunk made of sapient pear-wood, with hundreds of little legs, that will follow its owner anywhere, in any point in space and time. It’s very devoted. And quite quite deranged.

Oh! There was a TV series a little while back that combined The Colour of Magic and The Light Fantastic: The Color of Magic [Blu-ray]

The books have been republished in some many different formats over the years: I prefer the artwork of the UK versions, but since I’m linking to Amazon, you’re going to get the US-style illustrations: The Color of Magic: A Discworld Novel There were twentieth anniversary special releases a while back. Nice editions. (Again, Amazon won’t let me link to the Kindle version, it exists…)

There was also a graphic novel: The Discworld Graphic Novels: The Colour of Magic and The Light Fantastic The artwork is very very good.

2 thoughts on “The Colour Of Magic – Terry Pratchett (Discworld #1)

  1. I have been writing tiny paragraphs. If you can even call them that.
    You have been writing dissertations on books.
    I hardly think I can be considered the catalyst for you writing more, but I appreciate the shoutout nonetheless. 😛

    So, your point about not starting at the beginning (or the end, for that matter) are well taken. But then – where should we start? in what order would you recommend reading the books?

  2. Pingback: The Long Earth (Terry Pratchett, Stephen Baxter) | Book-type Musings

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