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Booking It: “The Color of Magic”

Gabrielle Owens

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Terry Pratchett was a masterful writer. His books are full to bursting with wit, riotous plots, engaging action, absurdly entertaining characters, social commentary, comedy and most of all a light-hearted joy that is all too rare these days. Fortunately, he was also incredibly prolific. His “Discworld” series contains over 40 full-length novels, as well as a variety of short stories, companion books and other supplemental material. “The Color of Magic” is the first in the series, but most of the novels work as stand-alone stories, requiring no context from previous ones. No matter which one you choose, you are guaranteed a rollicking journey from one of the greatest fantasy authors ever.

“Discworld” is set on a flat world that is carried on the backs of four elephants standing on the back of a giant turtle who is swimming through space. On this world there are endlessly colorful sets of characters and places, from witches and wizards to con men turned postal workers to high priests of forgotten gods to tourists and so much more.

Characters from one novel will often cameo or crossover with those from a different novel, creating a web of characters and stories. One of the characters who features frequently in other novels is the protagonist of “The Color of Magic:” an incompetent, cowardly, cynical wizard named Rincewind.

“The Color of Magic” begins with the arrival of a rich but naïve man named Twoflower in Ankh-Morpork, Discworld’s largest city. Seeking a tourist guide, Twoflower joins up with Rincewind. From then on, the two travel around Discworld together encountering a series of unlikely adventures. It is more or less episodic, with no overarching purpose except for Twoflower’s desire to see as much of the world as possible, a parody of the typical fantasy hero quest.

Pratchett at once draws inspiration from and parodies authors such as J.R.R. Tolkien or H.P Lovecraft as well as old folklore and myths. However, “Discworld,” for all its comedy, is never once malicious in its satire. It pokes fun at the traditions and stereotypes of fantasy storytelling but in the same breath manages to pay them homage. “Discworld” is rambunctious and joyful as it subverts tropes and mocks audience expectation. In the world of shows such as “Game of Thrones,” where so many people seem intent on creating fantasy that is grittier and more ‘realistic,’ Discworld is a needed reminder that fantasy can be pure fun. It is intended to be enjoyed, perhaps to be escapist and to help let your imagination run wild.

There is often little to no logic in the plot. For instance, in “The Color of Magic,” Rincewind and Twoflower encounter a community of people who can summon dragons by imagining them. After getting caught up in a succession intrigue, they eventually escape on the back of a dragon that Twoflower manages to imagine; however, when he passes out, they are left falling through the air. At this point, Rincewind, frantically wishing to be in any other situation than the one he is in, manages to imagine himself and Twoflower briefly into a passenger plane in the real world and quickly imagine them back out of it again, rearranging the entirety of the universe in the process. This moment is absurd and is never mentioned again, but it is hilarious and works as a deus ex machina to rescue them from their fall.

Most of Rincewind’s incidents are solved by similar kinds of ridiculous, lucky coincidences, and as a reader you can never quite anticipate what Pratchett may be planning to drop into his lap or on his head. Given the nature of Discworld, Pratchett’s excellent sense of balance in the narrative, giving him obstacles more often than solutions and hinting at the solutions just enough that they work, it manages to avoid feeling contrived.

As delightfully silly and amusing as much of the series is, it is not devoid of serious material. In fact, one of Pratchett’s greatest strengths is his ability to weave biting social commentary, emotional moments and sometimes even tragedy into his books without ever creating too harsh a shift in tone. There is always some amount of comedy right the way through.

Although you can technically start from almost any book in the series (with a few exceptions: “The Light Fantastic” is a direct sequel to “The Color of Magic,” and some of the very late books such as “Raising Steam” would be confusing without some basic background knowledge of a few of the characters), I still highly recommend beginning with “The Color of Magic.” It does an excellent job of introducing the zany, comedic tone of the series and gives you a good baseline for what Discworld is like. If you are looking for a book to take you on an adventure that is fun and colorful and rejects the idea that absurdity and happiness are only for children while adults must enjoy gritty realism, Discworld is where you want to go. Find it at the library at go/bookingit

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Booking It: “The Color of Magic”