Monday, January 22, 2007

The Colour of Magic (1983) by Terry Pratchett

The Colour of Magic (1983) by Terry Pratchett

Confession: This is the first Terry Pratchett Book I've read. (I really shouldn't put these confession things in here, because I'll be confessing to not having read / watched a load of 'holy' geek properties) For a long time, I knew nothing of Pratchett's works except for the fact that they were fantasy based and sported funky eye-catching cover art. I later discovered that they were comedy fantasy stories with a fairly large fan following - five of his books were in the top 100 of the BBC's Big Read survey, a feat only matched by one Charles Dickens. I determined to give the books a try straight away. Years later, I finally have.

The Colour of Magic (the title refers to the eighth colour of the Discworld, the magical colour Octarin), as with all of the Discworld books, takes place in the fantasy universe of the Discworld (presumably, I can't say for sure since I haven't read any others), a disc shaped world that rests on the backs of four elephants, which in turn stand on the back of a giant turtle that's hurtling through space. That little piece of information is presented right at the start, and you know what you're in for from there on in - outrageous comedy. The 'heroes' of the tale are Rincewind, a greedy, cowardly magician who only knows one spell, Twoflower, a naive, happy-go-lucky tourist from an isolated country, and the Luggage, Twoflower's magical chest with legs.

There is no plot to this tale - it's essentially one long road trip featuring the trio wandering and stumbling from one adventure to the next. They flee a burning city, escape from the clutches of an ancient evil monster, get embroiled in the politics of an upside down mountain state populated by a large number of imaginary dragons, and skirt dangerously close to the edge of the world. Rincewind tries desperately to avoid danger, while Twoflower runs into it headlong because, being a silly tourist, he's ignorant of the danger and wants to experience as much as possible.

The book is written in simple and accessible prose, and the absurdist situational humour and hilarious dialogue come at you thick and fast. The book parodies fantasy clich├ęs and specific fantasy universes, as well as real world concepts like tourism and insurance. It also lampoons technology and science to some extent, by presenting familiar technology that's actually driven by magic and not the laws of the physical world! Another running gag throughout the book is the notion that these characters are pieces in a game that is being played by the gods, their fates determined by the roll of some divine being's dice.

It's a light read, and is a refreshing break from reading more 'serious' books. I've said before that I've found comedy in books to be more miss than hit (that's probably indicative of how little I've read, truth be told), but Pratchett's first Discworld novel definitely works for me. I can see the appeal, and from what I can tell he's set this book up as an introduction to a whole Universe full of comedic potential. I look forward to reading more from this series.

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