The Colour of Magic by Terry Pratchett
Published in 1983 (Also known as The Color of Magic in the U.S.)
Genre: Fantasy, satire
“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 . . .”
A disc-shaped world sits upon the back of four elephants astride a great turtle. This is the setting for the Discworld series by Terry Pratchett and is introduced in The Color of Magic. Twoflower, a tourist from the Agatean Empire, has come to the city of Ankh-Morpork with a sentient chest filled with gold. This fortuitous arrival sets in motion events that change the life of Rincewind, a failed wizard, and sends him on an adventure that isn’t exactly what he had in mind.
Our reluctant protagonist, Rincewind, only knows one spell that he accidentally learned and is unable to learn anymore magic due to this, hence his failure as a wizard. He does, however, prove to be crafty and quick to respond in tense situations, even if he is quivering on the inside. Through the direct intervention of Fate, he crosses paths with Twoflower and is charged with protecting the foreigner while he is in the city. As it turns out, Twoflower’s own government wants him dead, making Rincewind’s task all the more difficult. Through a series of blunders and misguided attempts by Twoflower to sell a fire insurance policy, much of Ankh-Morpork is set aflame and the two continue their journey toward another city on Discworld.
As the two travel throughout the land, they meet many dangers and through the aid of luck (literally), survive encounters with malevolent forces. It is during one of these attacks that they find themselves in a magic temple and add another to their party: Hrun the Barbarian. Hrun is a stereotypical hero; he enjoys fighting, saving maidens, gold, and being paid. He especially enjoys being paid in gold. Hrun demonstrates is muscular prowess when he is captured and placed in a dungeon. While negotiating his release, he incapacitates all of the guards and when his alluring captor asks if he is going to kill her, he replies that he took out the guards in order to keep his reflexes in shape, rather than to escape. Through teamwork and Twoflower’s wish to see as much of the world as possible, the three continue on to fight imaginary dragons and their adventure leads them across the vast terrain and oceans of Discworld.
There are many peculiarities that are at home on the Discworld, especially in this book. Frequently throughout the story, Rincewind hears what sounds like skulls rolling across a game board, which is actually the dice used by the Gods who are literally playing a game with mortals as their pieces. The main game is played between Fate, who wants to kill Rincewind and his friends, and the Lady, who is actually Lady Luck and does her best to help keep them alive. Due to this, many strange occurrences of luck keep Rincewind and company from meeting Death before they are ready to do so.
**Sarcastic spoiler alert** The color (or colour) of magic, as referred to by the title of the book, is octarine. Described as the eighth color (or colour) in the color (or colour) spectrum, octarine is only visible to the magically inclined; these include wizards, the anthropomorphic representation of Death, and cats (naturally). We, as readers, learn this through the multitude of exposition found throughout the book. As a rule, fantasy stories require a certain amount of world building (which is exactly what it sounds like, not trying to be clever…for now). Some of the action does get bogged down by this exposition and Pratchett remedies this in later books by adding the facts as funny footnotes.
Being the first novel in the Discworld series, The Color of Magic gives glimpses into the potential of Pratchett’s prose. There is a promise of more humor and goofiness in Discworld, however it remains unfulfilled by this novel. The chapters seem more like connected short stories or novellas rather than one cohesive novel. Though they are presented in chronological order, there doesn’t seem to be any overarching story arc or theme except for the parodies of the fantasy genre. Storylines are presented but don’t reach their logical conclusions. One example of this is the plot to kill Twoflower by his own government that is mentioned in the first chapter; this isn’t followed up on at all past that initial chapter and is simply dropped once the duo escape the city.
The Color of Magic is an entertaining read with silliness and magic abound. The satire is clever and the narrative attempts the daunting task of building a world unlike any we’ve seen. I will say that I am glad that this isn’t the first Discworld or Terry Pratchett book that I have read because it may very well have turned me away. That isn’t to say that the book is bad, it was just a bit of a let down compared to the other 13 I have read. I do look forward to continuing the Rincewind story line, but wasn’t terribly impressed by the flagship novel.
Verdict: 3 hydrophobic Krullians out of 5
Recommended for: Fans of ridiculous fantasy, those who enjoy reluctant heroes/protagonists, and you!
Not recommended for: The easily confused, The Broken Drum Pub, Ninereeds the imaginary dragon, the city of Ankh-Morpork, or those who dislike episodic storytelling.