One of the biggest and most publicised losses to literature in 2015 was the death of Terry Pratchett. To my great shame, when I heard the news, I had actually not read a single one of his books. I had heard of Discworld, of course, and had even watched some of the animated adaptations as a kid. I was familiar with the idea of a flat world balanced on the backs of four elephants, themselves balanced on a galactic turtle. I even went along to a commemorative, Terry Pratchett-themed evening by Naked Girls Reading. However, I still had never managed to get around to reading any of his books myself. I finally took myself to a bookstore, and found that The Discworld series has been released in stunning hardcover editions with beautiful metallic detailing. I picked up a copy of “The Colour of Magic”, the first book in the Discworld series, and gave it a go.
“The Colour of Magic” is to fantasy as “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” is to science fiction. It is without a doubt a fantasy story, but it is at the same time a clever satire of the genre. The book follows Rincewind, a wizard who, had he been born on this world, would have probably been a high school physics teacher. However, on Discworld, Rincewind is a largely useless and skeptical wizard who seems to have a lot of luck (both good and bad). He somehow finds himself responsible for the naive and irrepressible tourist Twoflower, and the pair of them begin a long and convoluted journey throughout Discworld accruing (and narrowly escaping) a multitude of attempts on their lives.
This book is funny. Throughout the novel, any fantasy buff can pick up on the numerous jabs at tropes and big names in the genre. Despite its several adaptations into animated series, this book is also surprisingly adult. When I say that this book is comparable to “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”, I’m not kidding. Terry Pratchett and Douglas Adams both had a knack for writing the absurd and using it as a platform for spoof. I think perhaps if I had read Pratchett first, I would have thought he was incredible. However, because I had read Adams first, I think some of the novelty of this writing style was lost and I was maybe not as impressed with Pratchett as I could have been.
I’ve been told that “The Colour of Magic” is not the best book in the Discworld series, and I believe it. Pratchett is clearly a master of world-building, and a lot of this book is spent outlining the structure, culture, geography and climate of Discworld. However, I think the narrative suffers (understandably) a bit because of this and parts of the book read a little like a textbook. Nevertheless, this book is clearly a the first of what became a cult following, and the pockets of brilliance in “The Colour of Magic” are more than enough to finally get me onto the Pratchett train.