by Terry Pratchett
285 pages, Corgi
Review by Pat Black
Sir Arthur C Clarke once said that there is a star in the heavens for every single human being who ever lived. Similarly, Sir Terry Pratchett’s sales are so phenomenal that there’s at least one copy of the Discworld books sold for each person now living in the United Kingdom (and maybe a few spare for Ireland, and a cauliflower-shaped portion of Brittany).
Discworld is, as it says on the tin, a disc-shaped planet being borne through the cosmos on the back of a giant turtle, A’Tuin. The creatures inhabiting the place come from the realms of fantasy, and we know them well – wizards, gnomes, dragons, dryads, trolls, witches, elves, barbarians with furry pants, that kind of thing. However, the stories of Discworld and the characters of these creatures have more to do with Monty Python than Tolkien or Wagnerian fantasy. There’s high farce mixing with flights of fancy and high adventure – imagine, if you will, that Terry Gilliam had gotten his hands on the movie rights to the Lord of the Rings, instead of Peter Jackson.
The Colour of Magic is split into four discrete sections, but they mostly focus on three people – or, two persons and a piece of luggage, to be exact. Rincewind the Wizard is our guide, a cowardly, craven dropout of the Unseen University in the city of Ankh-Morpork. He is charged with looking after Twoflower, a blithe ingenue from the far-flung Agatean Empire who causes no end of trouble when he becomes Ankh-Morpork’s first tourist.
Twoflower bears with him a piece of living pearwood, a trunk with hundreds of legs which jogs around after its owner. It’s faithful as a puppy to Twoflower, but ferocious as a wolf if anyone messes with him. It’s also filled with gold, a commodity Twoflower tosses around like confetti. And the money soon talks...
I should qualify that; the money doesn’t actually talk. But if it did, this wouldn't be an unusual event on Discworld.
The first section, The Colour of Magic, deals with Rincewind’s attempts to keep Twoflower safe as he drifts around the city hoping to see tavern brawls, trolls and dragons, at no point heeding the danger he’s in. It turns out that Twoflower works in in-sewer-ants, a bizarre concept for the people of Ankh-Morpork which they can only process as being a “bet” against fate. After selling several in-sewer-ants policies to the people he meets, guess what? A massive fire breaks out.
In The Sending of Eight, Rincewind and Twoflower fall into the clutches of a horrible demon called Bel-Shamharoth, who has plenty to do with the number that is feared by all wizards and must never be uttered... “Eight”. This story features an appearance by Hrun the barbarian, a hero thought to be very intelligent among men of his kind as he can utter words of more than one syllable. One of many lines that cracked me up here was: “Hrun knew no fear – that’s because he was incredibly stupid.” And of course, we have a lot of Knights-of-Ni style gags when Twoflower and Hrun’s sentient sword, Kring, mention the cursed number, which lieth between seven and nine, being twice four and two away from ten.
But never eight.
Next, Hrun, Rincewind and Twoflower go to Wyrmberg for The Lure Of The Wyrm, where they get caught up in a king-making power play involving the riders of semi-invisible dragons created by pure imagination (thusly, Twoflower creates a particularly mighty one). And finally, Rincey and Twoey crash into the very edge of Discworld for Close To The Edge, befriending – or so they think – a water troll before being caught up in an outer space mission fronted by hydrophobic wizards seeking to find the truth of their bizarre world and its reptilian bearer.
Rather a lot to pack in, for less than 300 pages. And I’ve left a whole lot out. Like the gods and the upside-down mountains and the alternate-reality stuff.
The Colour of Magic is a joy – there’s barely a paragraph goes past without some zinging lines or wonderful dry humour. Even when Death appears as a character – SPEAKING IN A VERY IMPOSING MANNER ON THE PAGE, TOO – there’s no shortage of laughs and silliness. It’s all very British in tone; Rincewind is a beautiful comic coward in the tradition of Falstaff, and Twoflower’s naivety makes a nice counterpoint to the perfidious straight man. But there are simply too many gems in the storytelling, dialogue, characterisation and plotting to set down here; it’s wonderful to think of how many of these books Pratchett has produced, how much fun I’ve got in store working my way through them.
"I want to do for the classical fantasy genre what Mel Brooks did for westerns with Blazing Saddles," Sir Terry Pratchett once said. Well, he does all this and more with The Colour of Magic. The book’s a wee gem, and if you’ve never encountered Sir TP then I’d urge you to get a copy.
Oh, and the colour of magic? Sort of greeny-purple.