The first book of Terry Pratchett’s that I read was a desperation buy. This is nothing against him; allow me to explain. I was in LaGuardia airport, sniffling and feeling very for myself because a freak Spring snowstorm had delayed my flight for over 24 hours. As is typical for me, I sought refuge in the obligatory airport bookstore. The books they had were largely unappealing to me. I sat on the floor — all the better to mope — and a little white book with red type caught my eye. It was Good Omens, the epic and hilarious collaboration between Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman. I had already finished the novels I’d brought with me from home, so I bought it. It turned out to be an excellent decision, as it became one of my favorite novels and made me a fan of each of the collaborating authors. I finished it the same day I bought it, and I’ve read it at least a half dozen times since. (Actually, this makes me realize that I really ought to have reviewed it on this blog, given my adoration of it. Even without a full review, though, know that I highly recommend it!)
As I said, Good Omens led me to read more of Pratchett and Gaiman’s independent works. Recently, I decided to embark on the journey to Discworld, a fantastical universe of Terry Pratchett’s creation. An impressive 39 Discworld novels have been published as of September 2011, so it’s quite a series. Books in the series have won awards, been adapted for television, and regularly land on bestseller and recommended reading lists. After reading about Discworld, including a theory on an alternate timeline/reading order, I decided to keep things simple and just start with the first book. Thus I arrived at The Color of Magic, which was first published in 1983, before I was even born.
The Color of Magic centers on Twoflower, an endearingly bumbling tourist in Discworld. He is grudgingly accompanied by Rincewind, a failed wizard who only knows one spell and is terrified to use it. Pratchett intersperses the story with background and mythology of Discworld, all of which is just as entertaining and amusing as the main characters’ escapades. To begin with, Pratchett explains that Discworld is resting on the backs of four giant elephants, which are in turn riding on the back of A’Tuin, a gigantic turtle that carries the world through space. There is heated debate in Discworld on as to the gender of A’Tuin, though the rest of the heavenly conveyance is common scientific knowledge. This is a world inhabited by not only humans, but also trolls, elves, nymphs, dragons, sentient plants, and of course, magicians.
Twoflower is from a place very different than the city of Ankh-Morpork, which he decides to visit because he wants to meet heroes and villains, and — if he’s lucky — maybe even get into a brawl. His inclination to seek adventure is a major thorn in the side of his hired guide Rincewind, who prefers to run, hide, and otherwise avoid all types of danger. Together, Twoflower and Rincewind make an otherworldly odd couple. Twoflower is happily taking photos of men who are trying to kidnap him, while Rincewind wearily attempts to fend of the myriad threats that Twoflower’s flamboyant behavior attracts. After being involved in the incident that starts a fire that literally burns Ankh-Morpork to the ground, Rincewind decides he and his charge had better cut and run for the forest, where there is slightly less of a chance for calamitous mishaps. This though, however, just goes to show that Rincewind underestimates Twoflower’s prodigious ability to attract trouble and embroil himself in all manner of sticky situations. Twoflower’s saving grace is his thirst for adventure and discovery; he somehow manages to continually come out on top and even get chances to do things he never imagined he’d be able to do.
The Color of Magic is a perfect beach read, summer escapism and fantasy at its humorous best. Pratchett’s world is one that we recognize from many older, heavier traditions of fantasy and science fiction, but his light tone and sharp wit breathe a new life and buoyant attitude into the genre. It’s a fast read: only about 200 pages. Of course, this is just the first step in Pratchett’s decades-long exploration of Discworld and its inhabitants. I definitely plan to read much more of the Discworld series.