The Light Fantastic by Terry Pratchett
Published in 1986
Genre: Fantasy, satire
“The sun rose slowly, as if it wasn’t sure it was worth all the effort.”
Light on the Discworld crawls at its own pace through space and when the crimson gleam of a red star invades, panic swells among the populace. The Light Fantastic, the second novel in Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series, continues the adventures of Rincewind and Twoflower as they try to save the Disc and, since they live on it, their own lives. Cultists, wizards, headhunters and Twoflower’s enchanted Luggage all chase them as Rincewind flees from his prophesied involvement in saving the world.
The Light Fantastic picks up right where The Color (or Colour) of Magic left off with Rincewind and Twoflower falling off the edge of the world. Our heroes are saved by the sentient spell residing in Rincewind’s mind and placed in a forest of talking trees. They are subsequently hunted by wizards who think Rincewind’s knowledge of the spell will allow him to stop the Disc’s course towards doom.
Along with Rincewind, Twoflower, and the Luggage, new and interesting characters join the story and add entertaining situations and allusions to other figures in Western mythology and popular culture. One such addition is Cohen the barbarian, an 87-year-old hero who is missing teeth, speaks with “sh” sounds which initially made me think of Sean Connery, and has chronic back pain. The main antagonist of the book is Trymon, a wizard who weasels his way to the top of the order and has rather nefarious plans for Rincewind and the great spell. In a scene where Rincewind must visit Death’s home, Twoflower teaches the four horsemen a complicated card game before fleeing, a sequence which references the myth of Orpheus (don’t look behind you when you leave Hades, or in this case, Death’s abode) and introduces characters seen again in the novel Mort.
If Rincewind were a knight, his title would most likely be Rincewind the Reluctant (ba-dum tsss…that was supposed to be a drum rimshot at the end of a joke…never mind). We saw evidence of this in The Color (or Colour) of Magic, but he truly earns the name after he learns it was foreseen that he would save the world. This prophecy is referenced by a group of trolls he encounters who say they were told to help a wizard called Rincewind when the red star comes. Everyone around him seems to think he has all the answers because of the Octavo spell in his mind. For those who may have forgotten (or had no idea in the first place), the Octavo is the most powerful magical book in the Discworld which holds eight spells, one of which was read by Rincewind when he was a student. His fate is linked to the book because of this and it even saved him and Twoflower because if he died, so would the spell.
**Spoiler alert** Despite his attempts to deny his part in the conflict, Rincewind is present at the final battle in the book. Trymon performs all of the spells but the one in Rincewind’s head, thereby opening a gate to the Dungeon Dimension where demons and all sorts of terrible creatures are imprisoned. He is confronted by Rincewind, who fights hand to hand since he can’t use magic. Though it is said that Rincewind isn’t particularly adept at fighting, his desperation and willingness to use any means necessary gains him the upper hand and he arises victorious. He says all eight spells but, in classic Pratchett fashion, mispronounces one and has to retry. With the prophecy fulfilled, the Disc avoids the star and Rincewind is finally released from the spell. Twoflower returns home and Rincewind looks forward to his future tutelage in magic.
While maintaining Pratchett’s sarcastic and dry sense of humor (or humour), The Light Fantastic is far less silly than its predecessor. In fact, it sets the tone for the rest of the series and is far more like the later books that I have read in both style and substance. There is an overarching cohesive narrative that takes plot points and aspects of The Color (or Colour) of Magic and weaves them in with delicate connections that feel natural. There are also characters and places (the aforementioned scene involving Death and his home) that are introduced to add credibility and connection to the Discworld and its inhabitants.
The Light Fantastic takes everything successful and enjoyable about The Color (or Colour) of Magic and does it on an entirely different level. The characters are engaging and funny, the situations ridiculous and relevant, and the book as a whole is not only a great work of entertainment but an interesting cross-section of human interaction. Pratchett truly hits his stride and leaves the reader wanting more.
Verdict: 4 large chests made out of sapient pearwood out of 5
Recommended for: Fans of dry humor (or humour), fans of fantasy, people who enjoy allusions to real life and other characters from fiction, someone looking for a funny read, and you!
Not recommended for: Fans of wet humor (or humour), fans of reality, people who don’t enjoy allusions to real life or other characters from fiction, someone avoiding a funny read, Trymon the wizard, or people who dislike Terry Pratchett.