One of the reasons I picked the BBC Big Read list for my reading challenge is that I was looking forward to rereading many of the books I’d read – and that includes all 15 Pratchett books on the list.
#93 The Colour of Magic by Terry Pratchett is the first book in his famed Discworld series. There are currently 39 books in the series, so it’s no surprise that this one isn’t my favourite (that would be Small Gods). In my opinion, all the Discworld novels are above average (particularly for the genre), and The Colour of Magic is an enjoyable read.
The book is a comic fantasy following the misadventures of Rincewind, a wizard who can’t do any magic but is good at running away, and the Discworld’s first tourist, Twoflower.
To fantasy tropes…
The Colour of Magic is broken into four books, which read almost like novellas or episodes in a TV series. In each, Rincewind and Twoflower encounter hostile fantasy characters (the barbarian hero in leather and fur, implausible dragons, the princess in nothing but a sword…) and, of course, have to escape from certain death at least once but somehow manage to live to run away another day.
If the book took itself seriously, it would be hard to stomach but as it is it’s enjoyably tongue-in-cheek and the world – even in this early form – has better explanations and more internal consistency than a lot of the source material, it’s rather good.
Ironically, the characters Pratchett created to play with common fantasy tropes are now better known and better loved than the originals.
While Colour of Magic is, compared to later books, quite raw, it’s still got the wit and care which characterize later books. When Pratchett is spoofing over-used devices from pulpy sword-and-sorcery books, you get the jokes because you’re into that sort of thing, and you get the feeling that he loves the genre, warts and all, and it’s the fan’s mix of enjoyment and frustration which has inspired the book.
I definitely think that you can enjoy the Discworld series without being a fantasy fan or knowing the genre, and I think that’s still true of Colour. However, many of the jokes assume a certain familiarity with the conventions of the genre and as the series doesn’t need to be read in order, I’d strongly recommend you start somewhere else. As I mentioned earlier, Small Gods is my favourite and also stands alone so makes an excellent gateway into the series.