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The Color of Magic

Terry Pratchett

Harper Torch / Harper Collins

US Mass Market Paperback

ISBN 0-061-02071-0

Publication Date: 03-01-2000

Original Publication Date: 11-01-1983

210 Pages; $6.99

Date Reviewed: 09-15-03

Reviewed by: Rick Kleffel © 2003



Fantasy, Science Fiction, General Fiction

10-22-03, 11-08-03, 06-14-04

Twenty years ago Terry Pratchett began beavering away on a massive work I've only just got round to reading. On one hand, I'm rather annoyed with myself for missing all the fuss, even when I read and enjoyed his collaboration with Neil Gaiman, 'Good Omens' in the very year it came out. On the other hand, well, I've got a bunch of good-time novels all lined up, a backlog of patently enjoyable reading that will take me years to work through. This isn't to say I hadn't bought any of Terry Pratchett's Discworld® novels. I actually had, as a gift, on at least one occasion. I've got to admit I was a bit put-off at the time by the "A Discworld® Novel" schtick on the inside. Call me a snob, but novels that flout their trademark tend to make me wary.

I'm the type of person who likes to read series novels in order, when possible. Clearly that's not going to be the case when there are more than thirty of them. But luck was in, and I managed to find a copy of the umpteenth reprint of the first book in the series sitting on the shelves of my local bookstore. Seven dollars lighter, I set home and soon found myself understanding precisely what all the fuss was about. Terry Pratchett is a very funny man.

'The Color of Magic' is merely Pratchett's fourth novel, however, and one can't help but notice some of the Frankensteinian stitching that goes to put the thing together. For those, like myself, who were blissfully unaware of Discworld®, here's a brief précis. Discworld® is a flat disk that sits on the back of four elephants who stand on a giant turtle. Populating the cities that sit on Discworld® are silly fantasy clichés brought to life by very clever and very silly prose. Puns abound, jokes fly off the page as if the writer were manning a gattling gun loaded with wit at the reader, and plot takes a stroll with Death, as well as in the first novel, the very inept wizard Rincewind.

'The Color of Magic' consists of four novella-length stories that follow one another and create a sort-of overall disguise as a novel. As the novel starts, Rincewind the wizard meets up with Twoflower the tourist and his trusty, rather menacing luggage. The two engage in a brief tour of Discworld®, played out in four episodes. Along the way we get to know Rincewind and Twoflower, and learn to respect that luggage. It's not messing about. If you're looking for a snap-tight plot and consistent world building, or are annoyed by silly British humor, you can steer right round Discworld® and never know what you missed. More fool you.

Even in this first novel of the series, Pratchett makes his great talent clear. He is a tireless comedic writer, blessed with intellect and the ability to make the reader laugh out loud. It really doesn't matter if you like or read or are familiar with fantasy. If you like to laugh, then Pratchett's your man. If you don't, then you have a well-deserved Pratchett-less life of misery ahead of you. Yes, some familiarity with the basic tropes of fantasy will aid in your enjoyment, but if you've been able to hide under a rock and avoid any exposure to the Lord of the Rings, then chances are you'll not be reading this review, let alone Pratchett's humor. Pratchett lampoons more than fantasy clichés, however. Discworld® may be wildly inconsistent with our own or even its own reality, but it's consistently funny and observant of those human foibles that tend to do things such as land us in unwinnable wars against an ill-defined enemy. This novel is a bit thinner than his most recent when it comes to topical humor, but then it was written twenty years ago. It's remarkably fresh and funny. The pointed-at-the-stupidities-of-humanity humor is as sharp now as it was back then. The meandering plot is not a great liability when paired with Pratchett's writing skills.

As a book reviewer, I'm certainly willing to turn up my nose at odiously popular entertainment. There's enough of it about that it doesn't need my commentary, and I'm entirely unwilling to give it publicity by whinging about it. Alas, this often leads to me missing a thing or two that I might actually enjoy. Apparently the Discworld® novels, annoying copyright and all, are among the things I've deliberately missed that I would have enjoyed. More fool me. Circumstances have found a way to correct this egregious error on my part and I trust they'll do so in any other cases wherein my own snobbery gets in the way of enjoying a good thing.