Book Review: Discworld #1 – The Colour of Magic

Title: The Colour of Magic
Author: Terry Pratchett
Year of Publication: 1983
Series: Discworld; Rincewind
1; 1
Goodreads Rating (Avg.): 3.94
Goodreads Rating (Mine): 3

Not Spoiler Free

The Colour of Magic

Plot Description: A failed wizard named Rincewind is hired to take a Tourist from the Agatean Empire (situated on the Counterweight Continent) around Ankh Mopork. Unfortunately for Rincewind, who is a certified coward (and proud of it), Two Flower happens to have a knack for getting into adventures and cheerfully facing Death.

Along with Two Flower is The Luggage, a sapient wooden trunk that runs along on hundreds of little legs all by itself. The Luggage has the ability to store everything neat and dry, and also a penchant for eating anybody and anything that seems to threaten its master. The Luggage quickly seems to realize that Rincewind’s lack of prowess in wizardry is beaten by nothing but his ability to get out of dangerous situations unscathed. Lord Vetinary, Patrician of Ankh Mopork, comes to the same conclusion, and poor Rincewind is pressganged into the role of bodyguard as a result.

A long time ago, people used to believe that the world is flat and round, like a disk, and that the sun orbited the Earth. Even longer ago, people believed the world was held up by a turtle, or by four elephants, or by a Titan who was serving a life sentence.

In a distant and second-hand set of dimensions, in an astral plane that was never meant to fly, the curling star-mists waver and part…
Great A’Tuin the turtle comes, swimming slowly through the interstellar gulf, hydrogen frost on his ponderous limbs, his huge and ancient shell pocked with meteor craters. Through sea-sized eyes that are crusted with rheum and asteroid dust He stares fixedly at the Destination.
In a brain bigger than a city, with geological slowness, He thinks only of the Weight.
Most of the weight is of course accounted for by Berilia, Tubul, Great T’Phon and Jerakeen, the four giant elephants upon whose broad and startanned shoulders the disc of the World rests, garlanded by the long waterfall at its vast circumference and domed by the baby-blue vault of Heaven.
Astropsychology has been, as yet, unable to establish what they think about.

This is the Discworld, which is shaped like a disk and orbited by two suns. It is held up by four elephants, who in turn stand on the shell of a mighty turtle called Great A’tuin. Terry P. explains it by saying that in a world of multiverses and parallel universes, the Discworld exists so far away on the probability curve that we can’t really see it – but since the probability curve does go that far, then it probably exists. And since it constantly balances on the point of probability, its existence could easily be wiped out.

It is said that when a wizard is about to die Death himself turns up to claim him (instead of delegating the task to a subordinate, such as Disease or Famine, as is usually the case). Rincewind looked around nervously for a tall figure in black (wizards, even failed wizards, have in addition to rods and cones in their eyeballs the tiny octagons that enable them to see into the far octarine, the basic colour of which all other colours are merely pale shadows impinging on normal four-dimensional space. It is said to be a sort of fluorescent greenish-yellow purple). 

This is why the Discworld works on magic, and this is why Magic is so important to this world. Now that I’ve explained all the secrets of the Discworld, I will let you in on one final secret. There is a colour of magic, and that colour is known as Octarine. It is invisible to the naked eye, but if you could see it, you’d identify it as a sort of fluorescently green-ish yellow purple.

I sound daft, don’t I? The truth is, after weeks of reading nothing but Discworld, I’d be prepared to bet everything that I have that the world I’ve been reading about is far more real than the one I’m living in. Such is the magic of this world, which is like a reflection of ours when seen in a convex mirror. Or perhaps a concave mirror. Or perhaps just a very old mirror that has turned wavy with age. It’s the same and yet it’s not. It’s been coloured in with magic where all the grey bits ought to go in our world. What’s ridiculous to us is perfectly sane to them, and notions of economics and insurance wreak havoc in their world.

Satire is a weapon in the hands of a master, and Terry P. is undoubtedly one of those masters.

“It was all very well going on about pure logic and how the universe was ruled by logic and the harmony of numbers, but the plain fact of the matter was that the disc was manifestly traversing space on the back of a giant turtle and the gods had a habit of going round to atheists’ houses and smashing their windows.”

This being one of his earlier novels, Terry P. stands out more as philosopher than comedian, which I believe is one of the reasons why a great many first time readers get put off by this novel. He examines everything as though the secret of the universe lies under it, and in many instances, he’s completely right.

He also takes subversion of tropes very seriously, and this makes for a good combination in the company of caricature. Rincewind is a wizard who has never shown the least bit of magical talent. Two Flower is the typical tourist, completely oblivious to everything going on around him, being taken for a ride, and yet somehow coming unscathed out of each adventure. The Heroes are all brawn and completely dimwitted, the goals of their lives being booze, hidden treasure, slaying whatever is evil, and overcoming insane odds. Oh, and getting the girl. When he reduces tropes to their completely literal essentials, one sees why those tropes were stupid to begin with.

I wouldn’t recommend The Colour of Magic to someone who has never read Terry Pratchett before, but once you’ve read some of his other books, I think you’ll find that The Colour of Magic helps with all those unanswered questions, like “What in the world is ‘hubwards’?” or “What happens if you fall off the edge of the disc?”

If on the other hand, you’re not a Terry P. fan (yet), but love philosophy, magic and fantasy, then this is definitely the book for you.

Next: Discworld #2 – The Light Fantastic


4 thoughts on “Book Review: Discworld #1 – The Colour of Magic

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