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The Color of Magic

A book by Terry Pratchett

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Magic of a Sort

  • Apr 4, 2009
Pros: Funny and imaginative

Cons: Having trouble with this...

The Bottom Line: Don't push me because I'm close to the edge.

In terms of number of books sold, Terry Pratchett is the English equivalent of Stephen King. His books all take place in a fantasy land known as Discworld, a revolving disc carried on the backs of four elephants who are in turn carried around on the back of the giant turtle A'tuin, who is carried by absolutely nothing. The Discworld books actually contain several series featuring different characters and they basically are a smaller series within one larger, single universe. The Color of Magic was the first discworld novel ever written. In The Color of Magic, we meet our first great "hero" of discworld, Rincewind. 

Rincewind is a wizard. Or at least a wizard of sorts. The nutshell version of his story is that he was kicked out of the most prestigious (read: only) institution of higher learning on Discworld, Unseen University. (School motto: Now you see it, now you don't.) In his pursuit of higher education, he only managed to learn a single spell, but this one spell is capable of causing such great destruction that he really can't just walking around casting it at will. Without even basic wizarding knowledge, Rincewind is a constant victim of Murphy's Law. 

On one fine day on the disc, Rincewind makes a purchase with an unknown form of currency which is made of solid gold. He gets caught and is punished by being made into a tour guide for the tourist, Twoflower, who gave him the gold, and Twoflower's walking homicidal Luggage. Rincewind grudgingly agrees and him and Twoflower go on a fantastic and dangerous journey into a tree, into a dragon lair, and over the edge of Discworld. They get captured time and time again and always manage to escape mainly because the villains can be so incompetent. 

Rincewind and Twoflower aren't the brightest bulbs on the planet. Rincewind is a pessimist who keeps expecting very bad things to happen and would prefer it if Twoflower were to just lock himself up in a hotel for a couple of weeks. But no, that pesky optimism of Twoflower makes him want to see everything the disc has to offer. Twoflower wants to see dragons, and he ultimately creates one. (Dragons are apparently created mainly by wizards imagining them.) This is better than what Rincewind can do, as he doesn't even believe in dragons. Twoflower wants to meet a real hero, andhe gets to meet the barbarian Hrun, ultimately leaving Rincewind to come to his rescue using Hrun's talking sword at one point. 

The Color of Magic gets to a point where you can't help but feel sorry for both of the characters. Rincewind can't stand Twoflower's yearning to have a real adventure, which would be annoying even if Twoflower weren't such an idiot. Twoflower's annoyances include talking about how he's always wanted to see dragons even as a dragon baring down on both of them is going for the kill, and being excited about going over the edge of the disc. And yet, you can't help but feel bad for Twoflower mainly because he is stuck with Rincewind and Rincewind's fist reaction in a crisis situation is to panic or talk about how he's going to die. This is definitely going into typical odd couple territory. 

The Color of Magic is more about Rincewind than Twoflower. It isn't written with a first-person viewpoint, but it still spends more time trying to get you to relate to Rincewind than Twoflower. An early conversation between the characters lets us know what Twoflower does - he sells insurance, a concept which is unheard of where Rincewind lives - and Rincewind isn't familiar with the concept of tourism either. After the initial conversation in question, Rincewind ultimately figures out that "tourist" basically means "idiot," and Twoflower's behavior does nothing to dispel that notion. Twoflower, for all his idiocy, is also the one who manages to keep his cool in bad situations, reasoning that if you're going to die no matter what happens, then what's the use in panicking about it? He almost seems to believe being in certain death situations is fun.

Terry Pratchett is a satirist, like fellow Englishman Douglas Adams or Mark Twain or Kurt Vonnegut. He is mainly lampooning the tourism industry in The Color of Magic, though he takes a brief shot at the insurance industry too. While Rincewind may be a pessimist by nature, The Color of Magic doesn't have a pessimistic tone, but rather an absurdist tone. It's designed strictly for laughs, and that's what you get. Belly laughs. But Pratchett isn't trying to use his sense of humor as a substitute for his imagination, and so Discworld pops to detailed life for those looking for a funnier version of Middle-Earth or Arrakis. The Color of Magic is the best meeting of fantasy, humor, and satire I've seen yet.

The Color of Magic was my first Discworld novel and I can honestly say I'm now trying to book a flight of my own there. Since The Color of Magic was first released in the early '80's and Pratchett has written a lot of Discworld books since, I don't think that will be too difficult. While I peruse the bookshelf at the Unseen University library, you can read The Color of Magic and jump up and down with glee.


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Nicholas Croston ()
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Keeping humorous fantasy fresh and funny is tough. Somehow, British writer Terry Pratchett has managed it: his long-running Discworld series becomes more savagely hilarious with each volume. The Discworld novels take place on (naturally) a disc-shaped world which rests on the backs of four elephants standing on the back of the turtle Great A'Tuin, who swims through the inky void. The books parody not only the standard tropes of fantasy novels, but (particularly in the later volumes) our own historical, political, and cultural institutions. The first of the series, THE COLOR OF MAGIC, concerns the misadventures of the utterly incompetent wizard Rincewind, the hopelessly good-natured and na?ve tourist/inn-sewer-ants assessor Twoflower, and Twoflower's homicidal, many-legged sentient Luggage. Together, the three of them are a magnet for misfortune as they travel toward the very edge of the Disc itself.
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ISBN-13: 978-0613277730
Author: Terry Pratchett
Publisher: Bt Bound
Date Published: September 01, 2000

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