Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Hear Me, Heretic! An Introduction to the Discworld

It has come to my attention there are heretics among us. Yes, heretics. Some of you have not read the Discworld series by Terry Pratchett!

*Pause here for shocked gasps*

If you’re sitting there thinking ‘I haven’t read it’ or ‘What the hell is the Discworld?’, then yes, I’m talking to you, heretic!

Don’t feel too bad. My Dad is also a heretic. It has become one of my life’s ambitions to convince him to read just one Discworld book. Just one. The Australian one didn’t work. I’m currently trying the science angle. 

The original and subsequent covers in Australia and the UK
If you don’t know the greatness that is Terry Pratchett, then you don’t know what you are missing. It is one of the world’s greatest tragedies that Mr Pratchett is suffering from early onset Alzheimer’s. The loss of his genius will be a cruel blow to literature. Go forth immediately, infidel, and beg, borrow or steal (or hey, even buy!) a copy of The Colour of Magic. It’s got dragons. I promise.  

I am here to introduce you to the magical wonders of the Discworld series via the first two books, The Colour of Magic and The Light Fantastic. Since there are two books, I’ll be doing this over two posts.

Unlike the rest of the Discworld books, you really do need to read both of these together. You don’t get a real conclusion to The Colour of Magic without reading The Light Fantastic. And, like many other series I’ve read, I didn’t start with the first book. Are you surprised? No? Didn’t think so. Someone bought me The Light Fantastic and in ignorance I read it and had to backtrack to The Colour of Magic. One day, we will find a series where I started at book one. What a novel idea...

Here’s the blurb from The Colour of Magic.
On a world supported on the back of a giant turtle (sex unknown), a gleeful, explosive, wickedly eccentric expedition sets out. There’s an avaricious but inept wizard, a naive tourist whose luggage moves on hundreds of dear little legs, dragons who only exist if you believe in them, and of course THE EDGE of the planet...
OK, that’s maybe not how I would have put it. The Discworld really is a disc, carried on the backs of four elephants, standing on the shell of the giant turtle swimming through space. The wizard is Rincewind, who is my most favourite Discworld character of all-time. He’s a wizard, but he is well and truly inept. He wears a pointy hat that reads ‘Wizzard’ just so people know what he is. He only knows one spell (but obviously not how to spell, ha ha) and he can’t use it. As for the luggage on ‘dear little legs’... Possibly my second favourite character. A box? Yes. However, if I had to describe the Luggage, I would probably have said ‘walking sentient box with homicidal tendencies’.  The word ‘dear’ wouldn’t feature.

This is our introduction to Rincewind, fleeing from a burning city and waylaid by two barbarians. He has just called one of the barbarians a ‘shadow-loving fleabag’ and the barbarian objects. How does Rincewind respond?
‘You don’t understand at all,’ said the wizard wearily. ‘I’m so scared of you my spine has turned to jelly, it’s just that I’m suffering from an overdose of terror right now. I mean, when I’ve got over that then I’ll have time to be decently frightened of you.’
That’s Rincewind, our friendly cowardly hero. He’d really prefer you dropped the ‘hero’ part. He introduces his companion as Twoflower, the man who started the fire. The barbarians ask if he is an arsonist.
‘No. Let’s just say that if complete and utter chaos was lightning, then Twoflower’d be the sort to stand on a hilltop in a thunderstorm wearing wet copper armour and shouting “All gods are bastards”.’
Twoflower. Typical tourist, right?
I have to say that is a pretty fair description of Twoflower. Everywhere he goes, he draws trouble without meaning to. For example, he introduces the citizens of Ankh-Morpork (the burning city) to the idea of insurance (or in-sewer-ants as the locals say it). In his well meaning fashion, Twoflower insures the local pub, not realising all the pub owner understands is if his pub burns down, he gets gold. Do you start to see how the city caught fire? Not so good for Rincewind, who would like a quiet life followed by a quiet, painless death. 

Twoflower is a tourist from ‘the Counterweight Continent’, so-called because it has so much gold it makes up the weight of all the other continents combined. Needless to say, gold there doesn’t have quite the same value it does elsewhere, and Twoflower flashes far too much of it for his own safety. He is also looking to experience ‘authentic’ heroes and describes the pub as ‘a genuine Morporkian tavern.... All these quaint old beams’. 
Rincewind glanced around quickly, in case some leakage of enchantment from the Magicians’ Quarter across the river had momentarily transported them to some other place. No – this was still the interior of the Drum, its walls stained with smoke, its floor a compost of old rushes and nameless beetles, its sour beer not so much purchased as just hired for a while. He tried to fit the image around the word ‘quaint’. His mind reeled back from the effort.
You can see that Twoflower’s perception of things doesn’t really match reality. A very dangerous tendency. He also doesn’t speak the local language. Rincewind, poor wizard that he is, happens to know multiple languages and signs on as his tourist guide. Although he does so purely for the massive amount of gold Twoflower is offering, Rincewind is, at heart, a nice enough fellow trying to get Twoflower out of trouble. 
‘Stranger,’ said Rincewind levelly. ‘If you stay here, you will be knifed or poisoned by nightfall. But don’t stop smiling, or so will I.’
OK, himself as well. 

When Rincewind starts to discover how much gold Twoflower really has he knows he’s gotten himself into trouble.
Artist's impression of the imaginary dragons
As a student wizard, Rincewind had never achieved high marks in precognition, but now unused circuits in his brain were throbbing and the future might as well have been engraved in bright colours on his eyeballs. The space between his shoulder-blades began to itch. The sensible thing to do, he knew, was to buy a horse... But what would happen to Twoflower, all alone in a city where even the cockroaches had an unerring instinct for gold? A man would have to be a real heel to leave him.
Look for Part 2 to meet some more of the characters (including an up close and personal encounter with the Luggage!) and to learn if Rincewind is, in fact, a heel. 

What do you think? If you’ve read the books, don’t give it away for those who haven’t!

All quotes are from The Colour of Magic by Terry Pratchett. Go buy a copy or follow Terry Pratchett on Twitter @terryandrob


Marjorie McAtee said...


Richard Denning said...

Good article. I am a huge Pratchett fan too. Read The Colour of Magic in about 1985 at university. What a ride it has been over 25 years.

Prachett it not just a superb fantasy writer, veyr funny BUT he also examines OUR world through the diskworld. Sport, movies, war, even the internet have been looked at by him and given a twist,

Ciara Ballintyne said...

The best fantasy always examines real world issues, but The Discworld allows a lot more scope than most. I'm a personal fan of The Last Continent, but then we Aussies are good at laughing at ourselves :-)

Sher A Hart said...

I'm here from twitter as a diehard Pratchett fan. I didn't find an old copy of The Colour of Magic until I'd read many of his newer books. I still loved it. I discovered Piers Anthony's Xanth when I was much younger but for some reason didn't find Pratchett until years later. I try to incorporate both in my fantasy world. I may have overdone it. Now my husband claims he gets a headache from reading my puns. 

Carrie Butler said...

Ah, gotta love Pratchett. My favorite book of his was Mort. :)
Great post!

Ciara Ballintyne said...

I couldn't even begin to pick a favourite out of the 40+ books he must have written by now. The Rincewind books are always my favourites, but the Death books are also funny. The Last Continent would be up there, if only because it's Australian.

Ciara Ballintyne said...

I read the Discworld books in whatever order I could get my hands on them. There were a lot already written when I started. Mum would walk past and give me a look and say 'You're reading one of THOSE books aren't you?' It must have been the hysterical, choking laughter that gave it away.

Ciara Ballintyne said...

You have excellent taste!

Tom Stronach said...

Have to confess to not having read Mr Pratchett, have watched the TV representations and found them enjoyable and have always meant to get round to him, but there are just so many good authors and books out there.  Really enjoyed your introduction to it though  

Ciara Ballintyne said...

The books are sooo much better than the TV representations, although they are a fair enough interpretation of the books that I can watch them and enjoy them.

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