The Colour of Magic

by Terry Pratchett

Cover image

Series: Discworld #1
Publisher: Roc
Copyright: 1983
Printing: May 1985
ISBN: 0-451-45112-0
Format: Mass market
Pages: 253

Buy at Powell's Books

Welcome to the long-ago days of 1985, when Terry Pratchett had just started writing novels and was largely unknown, before the Discworld sensation started, back when publishers were still advertising his books by comparing him to Douglas Adams. Apart from its earlier incarnation in the stand-alone novel Strata, The Colour of Magic was the first appearance of the Great Turtle A'Tuin, the four elephants that stand on its back, and the bizarre plate of a world that they carry. It's a world with so much magic that the eighth color is visible. The sea falls off the edge of the world in an endless waterfall. Medieval kingdoms attempt to determine the sex of Great A'Tuin with primitive spaceships. And a tourist shows up in Ankh-Morpork.

The start of the Discworld series lacks some of the originality of later books. The Colour of Magic is almost pure parody of sword and sorcery stories, featuring the failed wizard Rincewind, cutpurses and adventurers, and a barbarian hero. It has some of Pratchett's wonderful non sequitur world-building, but not quite as many puns and only a single footnote. It's not always recommended these days as a starting point, since it's more pedestrian fare than much of what follows. But for those who like starting things from the beginning, it's still good fluffy fun.

It's also, despite being usually marketed as the first Discworld novel, really a collection of four somewhat disconnected short stories.

"The Colour of Magic": The first story introduces us to the city of Ankh-Morpork, to Rincewind, and to Twoflower the tourist. Tourism is a new idea for Discworld, and Twoflower is startlingly naive, ridiculously rich (thanks to rather excessive natural resources in his home continent on the other side of the Disc), and possessed of some bizarre ideas. That's not what draws Rincewind's attention, though. What bothers Rincewind is his Luggage.

The first story is mostly a parody of tourists, down to the camera (although in a wonderful Discworld touch the camera is inhabited by a small demon who paints pictures), crossed with a parody of Fritz Leiber's Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser books. The jokes aren't individually that memorable, but Pratchett get a lot of mileage out of Twoflower selectively attempting to apply modern ideas (like insurance policies) to a fanstasy city. In the process, we're introduced to quite a few of the Discworld denizens, including Death. All the best Luggage bits are yet to come, though. (6)

"The Sending of Eight": The second story goes farther into straight sword and sorcery parody (plus a parody of H.P. Lovecraft) and isn't as successful. We do get a look at Discworld's amusing gods and more of Death. But mostly we meet Hrun, a hero who sacks ancient temples, and of course the group ends up sacking an ancient temple and dealing with an elder god. Not particularly memorable, although I enjoyed the scene with the dryad. (6)

"The Lure of the Wyrm": From there, Pratchett moves on to a Pern parody. The fun is still mostly in the sarcasm and great descriptions of Rincewind's emotional states. The dragons themselves and the overall plot I didn't find that interesting. It was nice, though, to see Twoflower come into his own. I wish Pratchett had done a bit more with him and the dragons, but what he did was quite good. (6)

"Close to the Edge": It's with this final story that Pratchett really hits his stride. Rincewind and Twoflower, and the Luggage, end up at the edge of the Disc near the time of launching of a spaceship to investigate the sex of the Great A'Tuin. The descriptions of awe at the scenery near the edge of the Disc are excellent, a beautiful blend of wonder and absurdity. The Luggage also starts to come into its own in this story, although not as much as it does in the following book. Parts of it still drag a bit, but the ending is nicely climactic. Be warned that the story ends on a cliffhanger, though. (7)

Followed by The Light Fantastic.

Rating: 6 out of 10

Reviewed: 2007-12-23

Last modified and spun 2014-12-21