the-colour-of-magic-1

I still don’t understand this cover.

“Fire roared through the bifurcated city of Ankh-Morpork.”

The Discworld series is an unstoppable force of nature. Everyone with even a passing interest in literature, no matter what your genre preference, has undoubtedly heard of the series and may know one or two things about it. It’s fairly common knowledge that one of the recurring characters is Death, and the the flat planet is carried on the back of four elephants that stand on a giant spacefaring turtle. It’s also well known as a parody of other fantasy books, as well as roleplaying games. It’s a series that even now, thirty years after it was born, still burns brightly throughout the libraries of the world.

As it is, I’m not a fan.

It’s sacrilegious to say it, perhaps, being as I am such a huge fan of Neil Gaiman, Douglas Adams and Jasper Fforde, writers who have built amazing universes from scratch, but I simply cannot get my head around the Discworld novels. It defies all logic. I’ve watched and enjoyed (to various degrees) the TV films that have been shown so far, and will probably watch more if they arrive. One of my favourite computer games ever is Discworld Noir, which is a hard-boiled detective adventure game set in the grimy streets of Ankh-Morpork. I love the character of Death so much. But despite all of that, I cannot get my head into the books.

I better just give you a run down of what happens in this book before I get to a proper discussion.

In the very first of the Discworld novels, we meet Rincewind, a failed wizard who, after forty years at university, has only managed to learn one spell, a spell that is so dangerous that other spells refuse to share his mind. Greedy and trying to keep himself alive, he is perhaps not the nicest of characters. He soon meets Twoflower, a curiously dressed man who has become the disc’s first tourist, from the fabled Counterweight Continent. Oblivious to the danger he keeps getting himself into – this is a man who thinks nothing of asking barbarians to stop a brawl fight so he can have a picture taken with them – Rincewind takes it upon himself to save him.

The two are suddenly catapulted into a fight of their lives as they travel most of the disc with the simple aim of staying alive. They pass a number of incredible things, from the temple of the Soul Eater, dragons that only exist if you believe in them, a troll made of water and the most dangerous thing of all – the edge of the planet.

The Colour of Magic Sir David Jason as Rincewind ©RHI/Bill Kaye

Rincewind: the worst wizard on the Disc

There is absolutely no denying that Pratchett can build a world. There appears to not a single aspect that he hasn’t considered, from the nature of seasons on a flat planet, to the workings of magic (which seems to send up the rules of the Dungeons and Dragons universe) and the notion of hovercrafts that float simply because hydrophobic wizards are staring at the water, willing it to go away.

The ideas presented are great, intelligent and funny, but the book is so dense (not literally, it spans only 280-odd pages) that is becomes difficult. You’re so busy trying to work out what certain races are, what certain words mean, how to pronounce most of the names (Hrun, Lio!rt and Ymor, to name three) that you become distracted from the story as a whole. As someone who can never sleep during the day, I think it’s important to note that I fell asleep twice during this book.

There are no chapters, although the book is split into six parts (unusual for a Discworld novel, I’m told) and it really feels like three or four book’s worth of stuff squashed together. There is no time for a breath between various adventures and you can quickly get confused about what is happening.

In short, I didn’t enjoy this book but I am quietly cursing myself for that fact. Everything in the universe screams that Pratchett should be one of my favourite authors, but the denseness of his writing makes it difficult for this to become a reality. I appreciate that, as the first book in the series, there is a lot to set up here, and it’s regularly stated that this is probably the worst of the Discworld canon, so I’m probably not being entirely fair. I did earlier read a later book called Mort, which I enjoyed rather a little more, but still not very much. If you love fantasy then go for it (although I would assume that you’re already involved in this world), but for the casual reader, there are easier series to get into.

I appreciate that I’m in a minority with these opinions, and with thirty-nine books in the canon so far, he’s cearly doing something right. But for me, it’s a no. I’ll bid the Discworld books a farewell for the foreseeable future.

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