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Behold the Discworld
on June 15, 2006
In The Colour of Magic, Terry Pratchett introduces us to the Discworld, a flat planet held aloft by four great elephants, all of which ride on the back of the cosmic turtle called Great A'Tuin as he (or possibly she) purposely plods through the universe toward his (or her) unknown Destination. Having read many of the Discworld novels, I was rather struck by the fact that so much of what was to come was incorporated into this original novel, not only in terms of the characters but also in terms of the unique geological, geographical, and meteorological characteristics of the most unique world in the multiverse, from the grandeur of the Rimfall "close to the edge" to the singular city of Ankh-Morpork to the previously mythical Counterweight Continent. In terms of characterization, which is one of Pratchett's most gifted abilities, many of the individuals we encounter here are easily recognizable and described in the same exact terms in later novels. The humor, which is really what makes the Discworld series so wildly popular, is also here in great abundance. Pratchett can make something very funny with a mere word, deftly structuring sentences in a seemingly simple yet utterly brilliant way that few writers can match even on their best days. This book isn't as funny as most of the Discworld books that followed, but it can still make you laugh out loud at any given moment. One thing this book does lack, in comparison with its younger Discworld brethren, is Pratchett's brilliant and heavy use of satire. It may be wrong of me to judge this novel in comparison with other Discworld novels, but I certainly think the absence of constantly biting satire explains why this book is only incredibly funny rather than downright hilarious.
In terms of characters, we meet many important denizens of the Discworld. First and foremost among these is Rincewind, the most inept wizard ever to walk the halls of Unseen University. He is not even very good at failing, which says a lot in itself, but he somehow keeps managing to elude Death, which is fortunate because his attempts to stay out of trouble virtually always backfire to land him in hot water. Rincewind is a fairly taciturn individual, living his life for the sole purpose of not dying. Thus, when he finds himself serving as a tour guide of sorts to Twoflower, Discworld's first tourist, a man who finds enjoyment in the most precarious situations for no other reason than his belief that no harm will come to a tourist, he is in for a hard time indeed. Of course, he is helped as well as hindered by the Luggage of Twoflower. The Luggage is made of sapient pearwood, which means it will follow its master anywhere (and I do mean anywhere), employing a multitude of little feet for its transportation and unhesitatingly attacking any one who gets in its way. The novel basically relates four adventures of this unlikely trio of characters, taking us from Ankh-Morpork to the temple of Bel-Shamharoth, the hideous Sender of Eight, to the inverted mountain Wyrmberg where dragons exist (well, sort of anyway) and finally to the land of Krull right on the edge of the disc. Along the way, we are introduced to such wonderful characters as the Patrician of Ankh-Morpork, Hrun the Barbarian, and Tethis the water troll.
It is difficult to describe Pratchett's humor; it is simple yet complex, sarcastic yet meaningful, flippant yet philosophical, and often deviously subtle. Certainly, there will be some who don't "get" Pratchett or who honestly do not find him amusing in the least--such poor souls are to be pitied. Pratchett's popularity is ample proof of the fact that most people who pick up one of his books do find it highly amusing. The Colour of Magic isn't Pratchett's best work, but it sets a beautiful table for the huge buffet of laughs and joy to come from the Discworld books that would follow it.