The Color of Magic written by Terry Pratchett is the first novel set in the Discworld, a planet like disc sat on the back of four Indian Elephants on the back of the Giant Space Turtle A’Tuin, gender to be determined. It was published in 1983 and can be likened to The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, but in the genre of fantasy. I first heard of the Discworld in a 2013 quiz bowl match at my high school, but would not pick up one of the books until January 2015, when I read The Color of Magic. I would continue with the first two sequels The Light Fantastic and Equal Rites, planning to go in publication order until I got to the then final book Making Steam. This was until after I had finished Equal Rites when on March 12, 2015, Terry Pratchett passed away after an eight-year battle with Alzheimer’s disease. While I had no real emotional connection to Pratchett, I stopped reading the Discworld novels and promptly forgot to pick them back up again. It has been three years since Pratchett’s death and after reading and enjoying Good Omens, I have decided to pick up the Discworld and enjoy in its absurdity. So I raided my local Barnes & Noble and over the past few months have acquired the first six Discworld novels and am beginning today with The Color of Magic.
The oddness that comes with The Color of Magic, and the novel’s greatest weakness, is that it has no real plot. Sure the book is put into a sequence of events and point A goes to point B, but there is no point C for conclusion. The novel reads like a collection of four short stories exploring little adventures on the Disc that involve our two protagonists. The first is “The Color of Magic” where we begin our tale in the twin cities of Ankh-Morpork as it is burning down. The Disc has had its first tourist, the glasses wearing, insurance selling Twoflower, who is determined to see everything the Disc has to offer. Sadly he has brought with him mounds of gold and the Luggage, a suitcase like creature which is sentient and hires wizard Rincewind as his guide. Hilarity ensues as Rincewind, being a wizard who only knows one spell, is told to keep the man safe or else provoke a war, takes his eyes off Twoflower when things go south. A pub owner takes out a fire insurance policy, and then proceeds to burn down his tavern to claim the money. The city burns, Rincewind, Twoflower, and the Luggage escape, and the story is over. It reads as extremely quick and quick witted, with Rincewind being a complete coward through and through, while Twoflower is naïve, and the Luggage is just plain weird. This story also introduces the concept of the Disc which is already creative, and Death. Death as presented here must take Rincewind’s soul personally as he is a wizard, even if he failed at the Unseen University. Death pops up a few more times over these four stories and is entertaining whenever the text begins to become a capital font. “The Color of Magic” has the problem of being a character piece without too much plot which is just fine for the beginning of the novel, but leaves you with some desires for more. 7/10.
The second story in the anthology is “The Sending of Eight” which is included to show how magic works in this universe. The number eight must never be said by a wizard and must never under any circumstances near a temple of Bel-Shamharoth, the Soul Eater. The plot of this one is that some gods of the Disc, mainly Fate and the Lady, have been playing a boardgame controlling Rincewind and Twoflower. Fate is tempted, and Twoflower is naively wandered to said temple while Rincewind is imprisoned by dryads, before meeting up with Hrun the Barbarian in the temple. Hrun mutters the word eight, which summons Bel-Shamharoth to kill them, but the camera Twoflower brought allows them to escape and Hrun begins to travel with our heroes. This story is most definitely Rincewind’s story as we are introduced to his backstory and the significance of 8. In the Unseen University, there is a book containing five plus three spells called the Octavo, and Rincewind, a resident of room 7a, accidentally opened the book and one of the spells lodged in his mind. It will not leave until uttered or the death of Rincewind, and nobody knows which of the spells was read. This and the idea of gods playing a game with our characters is excellent, however, while it is the shortest of the four stories, it is the weakest. Hrun is a funny parody of your standard fantasy hero, and the imp in the camera is a joy with his wit, but the plot itself is weak and the pacing is far too off. 5/10.
“The Lure of the Wyrm” is the penultimate, and by far, the best of the four stories. Our trio of heroes travel to the Wyrmberg, an upside-down mountain. Here there be dragons, as the old saying goes, but these dragons lie in the mind, coming into existence in the vicinity of the mountain. The inhabitants have a tradition where the new lord must kill the previous lord, their father, and their siblings and the three children of the dead lord cannot do it. Liessa, the daughter of the previous lord, has poisoned her father, but she cannot seem to get her brothers to die. She gets Hrun to do it for her and they marry. Meanwhile, Rincewind and Twoflower are captured, Twoflower thinks up a dragon whom he names Ninereeds, and they escape. Twoflower passes out due to lack of oxygen, Ninereeds disappears, and Rincewind magics them to a passenger jet in the real world on the way to the United States of America. Rincewind is a doctor of nuclear physics and Twoflower is a tourist. The Luggage appears and drags them back to the Discworld where they fall to the ocean. This is by far the best story of the novel as it has a plot that grabs the reader, characters who are pretty well rounded (the previous lord of Wyrmburg being a standout in the humor department), and is only brought down by the odd ending. 9/10.
The Color of Magic ends with “Close to the Edge” a story where Pratchett decides as he is setting these books on a flat world, he must explore what that means to fall off. There are astrozoologists attempting to determine the sex of Great A’Tuin in case he/she/it may be going off to mate. Our protagonists are found by a troll, Tethis, on the Circumfence (get it) and are sadly sent to be sacrifices to Fate, who has promised the Krullians that their mission will succeed if these two are thrown off the edge of the Disc. The Lady appears to them promising they will save them, Death is ready to get Rincewind, and they are thrown off the edge. Death comes to meet Rincewind, who insists he is not dead, and recognizes this figure not as Death, but Scrofula. As he feels cheated, (Death is dealing with a plague at the moment and could not attend) Rincewind is allowed to live. This one feels more like it is set up for The Light Fantastic, it does not reach the levels of enjoyment. I want to see just where this is going, but for now it gets 6/10.
As this novel is more like a short story anthology the score will come from an average of the four main stories. The Color of Magic gets a score of 6.75/10.