Review – The Colour of Magic – Terry Pratchett

Well, so it begins. The first entry in the tale of the hapless wizzard Rincewind. The introduction to the world of The Luggage. The first entry in the gargantuan work of fantasy that is the Discworld. The first step in Terry Pratchett’s ascent to becoming one of the greats of Fantasy literature.

I must confess, and this should come as no surprise, to having read this book before. In fact, I own all the Discworld series and have read most of them more than once. But it has been a long time since I returned to the beginning and read The Colour of Magic. My overriding preconception going into this re-read was a memory of disappointment, of dissatisfaction with this compared to the mastery and completeness of Pratchett’s later work and a memory of this being a straight work of parody rather than satire.

I was wrong on only one of these points.

It is a parody, of all the fantasy that came before it, but a loving one. It does lack the finesse of Pratchett’s later works which use his satirical fantastical lens to skewer our own modern society. It was, however, not a disappointment.

The Colour of Magic follow the protagonist, Rincewind (the star of eight Discworld books and a passing character in more) a hapless wizzard whose grasp on any spell is replaced by the knowledge of a single deadly spell he fears to speak. Instead he must follow his wits and instinct, which always compel him to run from danger.

He is, through his own poor luck, through in with Twoflower who is described as the Disc’s first tourist from the counterweight continent and an expert in such unknown magics as inn-sewer-ants and reflected-sound-of-underground-spirits.

The Colour of Magic is more a collection of stories than a fully fledged novel, each of the four parts addressing a separate staple of fantasy literature.

The Colour of Magic (the first part, not the book) addresses the meeting of the two main characters, in the city of Ankh-Morpork, a setting familiar to all Discworld readers. Pratchett introduces here much of that which stays true in later works, the machinations of the Patrician and the dominance of the Guilds in particular.

The second part, The Sending of the Eight, introduces us, and Rincewind and Twoflower, to Bravd the Barbarian in a daring raid on a cursed temple. Bravd especially is the archetypal hero from the swords and sandals era of Fantasy writing.

The Lure of the Wyrm, the third part of The Colour of Magic, is a clear acknowledgement of, tribute to and parody of Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonriders of Pern series. Incidentally, McCaffrey was only six books into her now twenty five book long series at the time of The Colour of Magic‘s publication.

The final part, entitled Close to the Edge, is less of a direct parody of an individual work and where we first see Pratchett’s own creativity shine through. Although many parts would feel familiar to fans of classic fantasy.

It is, all in all, a wonderful love letter to the classics of the genre that Pratchett clearly worshipped himself. At the same time managing to capture the sense of wonder and adventure that makes the works so appealing, while pointing the satirical finger at their flaws.

For a fan of the Discworld series, which I have already confessed to being, there are some inconsistencies between this and his later works, the Discworld that we all know and love. The most glaring point for me wasn’t a difference in how the guild in Ankh-Morpork operate, or the changing nature of trolls or any of the other minor foibles, each of these can be simply understood by looking at the grandness of Pratchett’s creation as a whole and how such a thing is built over time. The most obvious differences for me, and there were two examples, were the narratives flirtations with reality, our reality, and other worlds.

In a sequence during the Lure of the Wyrm, Rincewind and Twoflower are dimensionally shifted on to an aeroplane as different but similar people. This is never something touched upon again in any of the multitude of Discworld novels, and something I’m glad Pratchett later shies away from. The second instance is the example of the water troll, introduced in Close to the Edge. The existence of such a character is not jarring, but when he describes his origins as falling from another world, it felt uncharacteristic for Pratchett. Again, I believe this is the only instance. Please correct me if I’m wrong.

I was, in truth, very pleasantly surprised by The Colour of Magic. It was a thoroughly enjoyable read. I think that perhaps my own greater breadth of reading since the last time I picked up this book left me more appreciative of the works he was parodying, with a greater understanding of what he was trying achieve, and better placed to see the love in which he held those original works.

It is far from his best work, that is true, and the wonder of the Discworld only grows as the series progresses. For a new reader who may be unsure of Pratchett, this is not the best example of his work. But if you’re committing to reading the series, then there is no better place to start than where Pratchett himself did, right at the beginning.

GNU Sir Pterry

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