Rincewind the wizard isn’t really a wizard—he dropped out of wizarding school when a powerful spell embedded itself in his mind so that there was no room to learn any others. His ridiculous luck pulls him into an adventure acting as tour guide for a small and obnoxiously cheerful tourist named Twoflower and his sentient Luggage. But regardless of luck, Death is determined to catch up to Rincewind eventually.
This is my first time reading Terry Pratchett, and so I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect when I first picked The Color of Magic up. Initially I was unimpressed by the storytelling structure—there were way too many characters introduced in the very beginning, and the timeline was difficult to follow until it looped back on itself and continued linearly. In short, it was confusing, but then it got better.
It became clear that Rincewind and Twoflower are the stars of this particular book, and I enjoyed them individually well enough, but what I absolutely loved was the dynamic between them. Rincewind is constantly beleaguered by life, panicking over every little thing, convinced that the worst is going to happen. Twoflower, on the other hand, is the type to run toward a dragon with stars in his eyes because he’s never seen one before, never mind the fact that the dragon is about to burn him to a crisp. His motto seems to be “I’m sure something will turn up; it can’t be all that bad” to which Rincewind’s reply is often a disbelieving look or sarcastic comment. As you can imagine, there is a lot of really entertaining dialogue because of this. Throw in an ancient magical sword who is extremely full of himself, a barbarian who loves posing for photo-shoots, an extremely loyal treasure chest who eats anyone who tries to steal its contents, and things get even better. That’s not even the end of the great characters—it’s just the beginning.
One aspect of Rincewind’s character I’m particularly fond of is the fact that in his own life, magic is more inconvenient than it is helpful. He’s convinced there must be something better than magic out there, something that makes more sense, and at one point on page 44 he daydreams about “harnessing the lightning” and is gently rebuked by the painting imp inside Twoflower’s camera. This scene acts as a kind of backward parallel, showing that in this world magic is the irrefutable logic, while science is something fanciful and mysterious. Rincewind would like to be a scientist, and in one parallel universe he’s thrown into, he actually is a scientist on an airplane flight. It’s a wonderful, playful melding of the same fascination different people take in science and magic—either way, it has to do with the way we make sense of the intricate operations of the world. Atheists exist in Discworld, but the resident gods don’t look kindly on these people who are determined to ignore reality.
Although the Discworld begins as a typical sword and sorcery fantasy (granted, one which takes itself much less seriously than most), it quickly becomes clear that the Discworld, a literally flat world floating through space on the back of a giant turtle, is supposed to exist in our universe—it’s just one of those worlds that hovers on the very edge of what is possible, even if it can’t be fully explained. In the same way that The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is science fiction on the edge of fantasy, Discworld seems to be fantasy on the edge of science fiction, making easy reference to space-faring adventures and alternate dimensions in one sentence, and in the next, launching into an explanation of how dragons become real through concentrated imagination. Both make room for the ridiculous and are confident in their a priori explanations of The Way Things Are. I think I really enjoy this subgenre.
I caught myself thinking that the adventures of Rincewind would make an excellent TV series. And it’s not all humor either. At some points I found myself genuinely entranced and excited by the imaginative and beautiful places in Discworld. After so often seeing the same things over and over in fantasy, I always appreciate when something can pull me back to that wide-eyed wonder I found in my favorite fantasy books as a child. Discworld manages to feel fresh and exciting even while making use of old beloved fantasy tropes. So thank you, Terry Pratchett. I’ll definitely be seeing you again.