What I'm Reading: The Colour of Magic by Terry Pratchett

This is my third Classics Club review! Once again, this is an after-the-fact addition to my original list. Have I read anything that's actually on my list yet? Yes, but I haven't posted the reviews yet. Anyway, this one also sneaks in just within my criteria of "a classic is any book that's older than me." -M.R.

The Colour of Magic, published in 1983, is the first book in Terry Pratchett's Discworld series. This is a 41 book long fantasy satire series. I feel safe saying that there is nothing else like it in English literature. The name of the series comes from the fact that the world where everything is set is a flat disc, resting on the backs of four enormous elephants, standing on the shell of an immense turtle swimming through space.

My love of Terry Pratchett is well-documented here, I should think. His death on March 12, 2015 was the first and dare I say only celebrity death that's ever made me feel genuine pain. The world was richer when he was in it. I never met the man, but his work has been and remains very, very dear to me.

In the immediate aftermath of his death I reread Small Gods and then read Mort for the first time. After that, I had to take a break and mourn. In 2016, a little over a year after Pratchett's death, I decided I was ready to jump back in, and I read Reaper Man and it make me cry.

I've dipped in and out of the Discworld series depending on what I could find at the library or the bookstore for many years, but now I'm doing a chronological (re)read of the entire series, beginning with The Colour of Magic. I know that I read this book many years ago, but I had almost no memory of it when I picked it up again.

This book is about Rincewind the Wizard who is barely a wizard: he tends to run away from everything and gets by using a gift for languages. He also has an extremely dangerous spell lodged in his mind. Actually the book is more about Twoflower, the Discworld's first tourist. He encounters Rincewind and the two of them fall into a series of adventures that are direct parodies of various heavy-hitting sff series. The only one of those parodies that I recognized or in fact remembered at all on this re-read was of Anne McCaffrey's Dragonriders of Pern series.

It's kind of useless to recap the plot for a book like this. Suffice it to say that it's fast-paced but scattered, and the journey is far more important than the destination or anything I could tell you about it. Kind of like tourism. Which is how I'll segue into saying that while The Colour of Magic is largely a fantasy genre parody, Pratchett is already engaging in the social satire that will eventually make the Discworld series truly special. At this early stage, he's satirizing tourism with the character of Twoflower, so it's not exactly anything groundbreaking, but it's still so damn astute.

I can't wait to see Pratchett's satirical muscles developing over the course of this (re)read. It's interesting to see what's present in this first book that's familiar to me from reading about half of the series already, and how much is just a twinkle in Pratchett's eye. The Luggage, a magical trunk on legs that will follow its master to the edge of the world and all points in between, is fully realized here. Rincewind eventually gets more character development in later books, but I think that in this one he's already pretty fleshed out. The Discworld's biggest city, Ankh-Morpork is similar, in that it's presented here already as a wretched hive of scum and villainy full of people just living their lives and also tons of criminals, but so much more will eventually be said about it. On the other hand, there are a lot of things that I love about the series that either aren't present at all in this book or are faint outlines of their eventual selves. The character of Death, for example, is just ghoulish here, not the complex personification of the end of life he'll eventually develop into. The Patrician is evidently not Lord Vetinari (or is he?), literature's greatest benevolent dictator (or is he?). The plot is, as I mentioned, scattered, not tight and complex. There are chapters for some reason.

Anyway, this has all been very much about me and my previous experience in the Discworld, and it's impossible for things to be otherwise. The Colour of Magic is a fine starting point for the Discworld, but things do get much better. In terms of being considered a "classic," if there were no further books in this series, this book would probably have fallen by the wayside long ago. Frankly it's not The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, which stands alone as an excellent work. (Discworld overall surpasses H2G2 in my opinion, though!) However, The Colour of Magic is notable as being the starting point of something really remarkable, and that makes it worthwhile.

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