Tuesday, 22 November 2016

The Colour of Magic

Terry Pratchett The Colour of Magic (1983)
Still wondering whether Peter F. Hamilton may have destroyed my love of reading, I picked this up. I wasn't really planning to read any more Pratchett but with The Colour of Magic being the first of the Discworld novels, it seemed a safe bet that it would at least be worth a chuckle. I would have preferred the edition which had the title spelled correctly and the more rustic cover - as opposed to this awful crap clearly designed to appeal to hipster Douglas Adams fans who might be put off by artwork reflecting the actual thrust of the story - but never mind.

Sure enough, it is worth a chuckle - a sort of Monty Python take on Lord of the Rings, or at least something in that genre; doing what Douglas Adams did but with wizards, dragons, spells, and a flat world balanced upon the backs of four elephants, and doing it better. On close examination, there's not a whole lot of story - slightly incompetent wizard is saddled with an amusingly hapless out-of-towner on a quest without any clear objective, so they're really just going from place to place and getting into trouble until it ends - but the key to the tale is its telling: wonderfully peculiar scenarios, big stupid ideas, and wit that never lets up. It takes the piss out of the genre and its conventions like nothing else, and yet does so without the slightest hint of sneering - possibly by virtue of the obvious affection Pratchett felt for his characters and their ridiculous lives, but also by means of pinning the reality of the Discworld to the logic of physics and specifically certain aspects of quantum theory, lending everything a sense of veracity which seems absent from most things involving dwarves, quests, and talking swords; and most important of all, it's very, very funny without feeling like it has to crack jokes all the bleeding time.

The only problem, at least for me, was that Terry Pratchett's detail is so rich, so beautifully written, and so convoluted in the service of its farce, that I found it hard to keep track of the story at certain points, of who was who and what they were up to this time. I think this may be more to do with my reading habits - an hour at breakfast and another before I go to sleep - than with the book. I kept coming back to it and finding myself lost, necessitating a skim of previous pages, so I think it may simply be that this sort of thing is better appreciated when read over fewer sittings, with longer periods of time spent on each occasion. I seem to recall the same thought having occurred to me when I read the others.

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