Page Turners

The Fantasy Slapstick of the Colour of Magic

the colour of magic

Traditional fantasy can be kind of a bore to me. I feel like J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis have kind of nailed that traditional fantasy genre, so if you’re going to add to it, you’d better be doing something interesting with the format. I can’t imagine anyone is excited to read yet another book about a rural farmboy learning that he’s the chosen one to fight against the forces of evil with the help of representatives of all the prominent races before vanquishing the symbol of chaos, ushering in an age of peace and enlightenment. I feel like if that statement sums up your idea for a fantasy novel, you need to go back to the drawing board, because holy crap has it been done before. And yet, I really like fantasy, and have a soft spot for the Tolkienesque format of elves and dwarves and dragons and whatnot, so I’m always on the lookout for a book or story that takes a refreshing look at that tried and true base.

Now I’ve been aware of Terry Pratchett’s series of novels, Discworld, for some time now, because it’s kind of hard to not have heard about them. If you’re at all interested in either fantasy or satire, these books pop up pretty quickly. They’re usually mentioned in the same breath as Kurt Vonnegut, Neil Gaiman, or Douglas Adams, all of whom I love, so Discworld has been on my radar for some time now. Because as well as being a fantasy fan, I’m also a huge fan of humor and satire books. I love a good funny book. One of my favorite books of all time is John Kennedy Toole’s amazing A Confederacy of Dunces, which is legitimately laugh out loud funny, so I’m always game for a book that can get a chuckle out of me. So liking Discworld seemed like a no-brainer, but the thing that was keeping me from the series was it’s impenetrability. There’s 41 of these things, and it’s so dense that people post their own thoughts on the reading order online all the time. I feel like it’s kind of like trying to get into comics, because you may have gone out and seen the new Avengers movie, and are interested in seeing what Captain America is up to this month, but then you see that it says issue 600 or something, and that’s a little daunting to just jump in with. But I finally made the plunge, and quickly realized that there’s nothing to worry about. I did a little research and I guess that the 41 book count is a little misleading, because it’s not like they’re all telling the same story. It’s more like Discworld is just the location, and there’s several series within the umbrella, which makes it a lot more easy to wrap your head around. But to start off with, I decided to just dive in with the first book published in the series.

And it was a blast. The Colour of Magic is a really fun read that introduces you to the world of Discworld, and all the weirdness that that entails, while also being very accessible and fun. The novel is really four novellas, crammed together all with the same loose plot running between them. The principal characters are Rincewind, a “wizard” who actually only knows one spell and was banished from the magical college before officially earning that designation, and Twoflower, an insurance agent from a mysterious land far away from Rincewind’s who is just visiting the wild untamed fantasy world that Rincewind calls home for vacation. So along with a sentient treasure chest that they just call the Luggage, Rincewind takes Twoflower around his half of Discworld, and they get in crazy adventures.

First we learn about their troubles in the city of Ankh-Morpork, where Rincewind lives. Twoflower gets there and starts flashing his gold around, and pretty quickly gets sized up by the local criminals, and the two have to flee them before accidentally burning most of the city to the ground. Second they happen upon a hidden temple in the woods and end up getting involved in a weird game of chance played by the Gods of Discworld that ends up with our friends almost raising some sort of dread Cthulu God from it’s slumber. They also meet a new character there, Hrun the Barbarian, a kind of uber-masculine Conan type who ends up coming with them after they escape the temple. Then they end up finding some crazy city on an inverted mountain that’s lead by a group of warriors who can create dragons with their imagination. Things don’t go well here, since the princess wants Hrun to kill all her brothers and marry her as a puppet king, Twoflower really just wants to play with dragons, and Rincewind just wants to get the hell out of there. They end up just completely screwing up that society and leaving Hrun behind before their final adventure, where they almost fall off the side of the world. Their boat goes over the edge and they’re taken prisoners by a country called Krull who want to sacrifice them before launching what’s essentially a space-ship off the side of the world, but our heroes blunder their way into the ship instead, and blast off to space! And then the book just kind of ends, because apparently the next one picks up right where it left off, which is a bummer, because I wasn’t planning on going through the whole series one after another.

The story was a lot of fun, and I really enjoyed both Rincewind and Twoflower, but overall the plotting of this book left a little to be desired. It really was just four disparate stories that didn’t really have a lot of connective tissue keeping them together. Which normally would probably be a bad sign as the first book in a series, but I’m giving this one a pass, because while I may forget some of the details of the four mini-stories, it’s the world building that really got to me, and has me excited to read more books in the series. I feel like world building is one of the most difficult things to do with a fantasy or sci-fi book, because the writer probably has so much weird details about their world crammed in their heads, and it can be really difficult to get it out at a reasonable degree that doesn’t just feel like a exposition dump. We can’t all be George R.R. Martin and release whole books of ancillary details regarding the world we’ve created, and most people probably wouldn’t want whole chapters explaining the banking system or political histories of the world you created cluttering the story. But this book created the mythology of the world so well, and I’m so excited to see where it goes from here. It’s a strange world, just kind of built as a parody or traditional fantasy, sometimes direct parodies. This is a world where all the weird creation myths and magical explanations of how the world works that older civilizations came up with are real. Their world is literally a flat disk that balances on the back of four elephants who are in turn balanching on the back of a giant turtle that’s sailing through space. They know this, it’s verified with “science.”  It’s a place where magic won out, instead of science, and people who think of things being powered by lightning are the crazy ones, not the people who use tiny goblins to paint them pictures instead of cameras. It was a very silly and enjoyable world, and one that I’ll be spending a lot of time in the years to come.

The Colour of Magic was written by Terry Pratchett, 1983.

2 replies »

  1. You’re in for a treat! Terry Pratchett said he only discovered plot when he wrote Mort, (the fourth in the series), and if he’d have known that The colour of magic was going to be popular he’d have written it better.

    Have you read any of the others yet?


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