Sourcery by Terry Pratchett
Published in 1988
Genre: Fantasy, satire
“There was a man and he had eight sons.”
While this is an impressive feat in itself for any man and his libido, it is a terrible omen in Terry Pratchett’s Sourcery. The eighth son of an eighth son of a wizard is known as a sourcerer (the intentional misspelling is due to the fact that a sourcerer is literally a “source” of powerful magic) and the one central to this story is named Coin. In order to escape the anthropomorphic manifestation of Death shortly after Coin’s birth, his father inters himself in a magical staff and proceeds to take over Unseen University through his son. Such magic hasn’t been seen on the disc since the mage wars of old and only one non-magical wizard can put a stop to it.
That wizard is none other than Rincewind who, while working in the library of Unseen University, is swept up with a thief who stole the Archchancellor’s hat which, being magical and therefore able to speak and think despite being inanimate, wants to be taken to the country of Klatch. Meanwhile, Coin takes command of the wizards at the university and tries to take over the disc, but he needs the hat’s magic in order to do so. Rincewind is sucked up into adventure again and is able to bring the hat to a worthy wearer. However, this begins a war of magic between the hat and the sourcerer which puts the safety of the entire disc at stake.
Sourcery continues to expand the ever clever dramatis personae of the Discworld series. The aforementioned thief is revealed to be the lovely Corina, daughter of Cohen the Barbarian who was introduced in The Light Fantastic. She wants to be a hairdresser but has a natural inclination toward fighting that comes in handy when she and Rincewind are in a tight spot. Nijel the Destroyer, who Rincewind encounters in a snake pit containing a single snake that doesn’t want to eat anyone, is a polite young man who learned all he knows about being a barbarian hero from an instruction manual on the subject.
Coin, being the eighth son of the eighth son of a wizard and therefore imbued with powerful magic, is the eponymous sourcerer. The reason there haven’t been any sourcerers since the mage wars is due to their lust for power (and habit of trying to destroy the world). To avoid this, the wizards of Unseen University are not allowed to marry or have children; when Coin’s father did so, they chased him with murderous intent.
After a series of mishaps and magical implosions, Coin successfully destroys the Archchancellor’s hat and imprisons the gods of Discworld in order to be the supreme ruler. This releases ice giants who try to destroy the disc as was foretold in a prophecy about the end of the world. Luckily, the four horsemen of the Apocalypse have their horses stolen (unknowingly by Conina, Nijel, and Creosote) and get so drunk in a pub that they forget to show up. Rincewind and Coin eventually unite against the magical staff and are able to stop the destruction of the disc, but Rincewind sacrifices himself to an unknown fate in the Dungeon Dimension (see The Light Fantastic) in order to do so.
The prevailing theme in Sourcery is self identity; finding out who you are, not what other people tell you that you are or are not, is central to the development of the characters. Corina wants to be a hairdresser despite her natural inclination toward fighting; Nijel wants to be a barbarian despite his polite ways; Creosote wants to be a poet despite his lack of talent when it comes to writing, and Rincewind wants to be a wizard despite his having no magical ability. Coin is given his destiny by his father and he is eventually able to cast it from himself in order to do good instead of evil.
Humor is the driving force in the novel, as is to be expected from Pratchett. There is one scene where the Librarian, in the form of an orangutan due to a miscast spell some time ago, has moved all of the magical books from the library to save them from being burned under Coin’s orders. Since they are magic, the books aren’t as inanimate as those in our world and when Rincewind asks what the Librarian is doing while repairing one, the Librarian replies that he is giving the book an appendectomy. Badum tssss.
Goofiness keeps the tone of the book light while dealing with the end of the world (just like in The Light Fantastic…I’m beginning to sense a pattern), and personal themes are more present, bringing the story to another level above general fantasy or simple parody. Sourcery is full of wordplay, satire, and such ridiculous fun that it is difficult to put down (figuratively) and makes for a welcome romp through the wacky world of Terry Pratchett.
Verdict: 4 intentional misspellings of sorcerer out of 5
Recommended for: Fans of fantasy, those who enjoy a story with a theme that isn’t heavy-handed, and you!
Not recommended for: Fans of reality, those who enjoy a story with a theme that is heavy-handed, Virrid Wayzygoose, or the various magical creatures that the Luggage eats.