The Color of Magic
May 9, 2016 3:33 AM - by Terry Pratchett - Subscribe

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 ...
posted by Just this guy, y'know (39 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
As with Harry Potter and the Philosophers Stone, I'm annoyed that Metafilter only allows me to post The Color of Magic and not The Colour of Magic as it should be.
posted by Just this guy, y'know at 3:34 AM on May 9, 2016 [13 favorites]

So, I read this book after reading some other Discworld novels, and I was distinctly underwhelmed. There's much less humanity here than in Pratchett's later works, and the novel itself has a ...disjointedness that feels more like a Douglas Adams pastiche than later Pratchett.

It's probably one of my least favorite Ringworld novels (along with most of the Rincewind books).
posted by leotrotsky at 6:08 AM on May 9, 2016 [3 favorites]

The Color of Magic usually gets the "oh, it was a really early work, he didn't know what he was doing yet" tag, and it's true that Pratchett became a much more polished writer later on. But I still think this is a lot of fun.
posted by Chrysostom at 6:08 AM on May 9, 2016

I read the Discworld books in publication order, starting at some point in my early teens. This book was definitely my introduction to the Discworld, although I *think* I'd already read the Bromeliad trilogy by then, so Pratchett's style wasn't completely new to me.

It's definitely true that this reads very, very differently to the books he was publishing 25 years later, and that's no surprise. A lot of the basic structure of the world is already there, with the overall idea of how the world's logic works, the interplay of magic and belief and physics, and the doggedly off-kilter psychology of its inhabitants. But it's hard to read it as anything other than a pastiche of the fantasy genre: the story is there and the beginnings of proper characters, but mostly just as a skeleton for the collection of scenes and ideas that he wanted to write. There's certainly stuff about the world that changes between TCoM and later books (e.g. DEATH and how he works) which is jarring when going back, but within the actual books it holds together well.

That reads as a criticism, and it sort of is: a lot of what I love about later Pratchett is missing from TCoM and the next few books. But I still enjoy the hell out of it, because IMO the start of the Discworld is Pratchett at his most inventive, spinning out unexpected and brilliant ideas about the world while he still has the space to do so, and footnotes upon footnotes upon footnotes, each one a spark of genius.

I'm very aware that I can't think about any of the early Discworld books' merits in any objective sense. I read and re-read them constantly through my teens, and a lot of my foundational ideas about e.g. morality and compassion coalesced while Vimes' and Weatherwax's words were echoing in my head. So I have no hope of disentangling my opinion of the books from my nostalgia for my first reads. But for all that, I maintain that while it's probably fair to view the first two or three published books as being separate from the rest, they're still brilliantly inventive and entertaining books in their own right, and TCoM in particular -- especially those first couple of paragraphs as A'Tuin swims into view -- is as fine an example of worldbuilding as you could hope to read.
posted by metaBugs at 7:04 AM on May 9, 2016 [6 favorites]

I reread early Pratchett last summer, starting with TCoM, and what I was most struck by was what brilliant comic creations the Luggage and the Librarian are, and how Pratchett had a true gift for bringing non-speaking characters to life. (Well, nearly non-speaking. Ook.)
posted by roger ackroyd at 7:57 AM on May 9, 2016 [4 favorites]

I could never get over the absence of Kevin Matchstick or the phrase "magic is green," personally.
posted by phearlez at 8:33 AM on May 9, 2016

I think that I was in college when I first read TCoM after someone raved about Pratchett to me. I was entirely underwhelmed, especially about the racist-ey tourist bits.

Years later, I picked up the Thief of Time and was enthralled with the Discworld universe and haphazardly caught up and then read every new one that came out.

Never did end up liking Rincewind in any publication.
posted by porpoise at 9:43 AM on May 9, 2016

Never did end up liking Rincewind in any publication.

Put this in Latin and it could replace noli timere messorem (don't fear the reaper) on the Pratchett coat of arms.
posted by Etrigan at 10:07 AM on May 9, 2016 [2 favorites]

Now see, I *do* like Rincewind. Not as the star of every book, but from time to time.
posted by Chrysostom at 10:09 AM on May 9, 2016 [4 favorites]

Yeah, Rincewind appeals to my need to have a main character who's kind of hapless and in over his head. Sort of what I liked about Bob in the early Laundry novels.
posted by Kyol at 10:53 AM on May 9, 2016 [4 favorites]

I really liked Rincewind in Unseen Academicals, but that wasn't where he was a main character clearly.
posted by Carillon at 11:33 AM on May 9, 2016 [1 favorite]

Rincewind is the ultimate unwilling adventurer, one who is pushed to adventure against every effort, to the point where he occasionally volunteers willingly to participate in a dangerous mission because he knows it's easier than trying and failing to avoid it.

This doesn't really gel with the guy whose curiosity was sufficient to get one of the most powerful, dangerous spells in existence lodged in his head. I like this guy better, equal parts cowardly and curious, who at some level wants adventure even if he doesn't ever want to be in danger.

This book and its subsequent conclusion lack the themes and social commentary that Pratchett was so good at, and suffers in comparison, but it's a fun romp through a compelling fantasy world that reminds me of Robert Asprin's early Myth books. I started reading Pratchett here and my advice is to either start here or skip them entirely since going back to them later on isn't going to give you much.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 12:09 PM on May 9, 2016 [1 favorite]

This was the very first book of his I read. I agree it's problematic, but I still over it because my experience, to some degree, was parallel to the tourist. He was discovering this strange world as I was too. And the Luggage! I love the luggage.

Since this was the first book, it doesn't surprise me it doesn't hold up to later books when
the series was far more actualized.

Are we doing the whole series in order?
posted by miss-lapin at 3:44 PM on May 9, 2016

I do love any mix of fantasy and economics; I wish I could find the Patrician's attempt to explain the danger of currency devaluation to Rincewind.
posted by bq at 6:54 PM on May 9, 2016

> And the Luggage! I love the luggage.

Yes, indeed the Luggage is adorable. Was it a fever dream of mine, or did the Luggage knock up another piece of Luggage and there were lots of little Luggages running around?
posted by porpoise at 7:17 PM on May 9, 2016 [3 favorites]

I believe the luggage reproduces in Interesting Times.
posted by Chrysostom at 7:43 PM on May 9, 2016 [2 favorites]

I read Equal Rites first and then went back and read from the beginning.

I'd agree with those who said above that this is just a straight pastiche of the tropes of the fantasy genre, and kind of stands separate from the rest of the series for that (well, this and the sequel). But it is sort of interesting to me...this book is a parody of Fantasyland; as Discworld grows it becomes a burlesque of the world. And the process of this is odd --- the key conceit of TCoM is the idea of bringing an aspect of the modern world, the tourist, to this fantasy-land and using the contrast to highlight the absurdity of fantasyland. And that's still sort of the scheme at first --- the first Guards book is basically sticking a cop (or a noir PI) into the role of palace guard, giving us the workingman's perspective on the kinds of political struggles that usually form part of the background of fantasy novels.

But as the series goes on, book by book and brick by brick, it becomes a re-enactment of the process of modernity, taking this sort of high medieval fantasy setting and gradually bolting on different social and technological advancements until in the end rationality has triumphed almost entirely, and there's this world with wizards and vampires and werewolves...but no magic. (Well, there's a _bit_ leftover in the Wtiches books, but the Witches books are mostly pastiche of the conventions of storytelling rather than pastiches of society itself.) Which is kind of a weird place to end up? Then again maybe not, when you start out the whole thing with your principle character as a wizard who hates and fears and sucks at magic.
posted by Diablevert at 8:10 PM on May 9, 2016 [5 favorites]

Another Team Luggage member here but how could you not be? The luggage is the smartest, most capable, and most heroic character in the book.
posted by Nerd of the North at 12:35 AM on May 10, 2016 [1 favorite]

Are we doing the whole series in order?

We can do if you like.
I had planned to skip around authors a bit, so a couple of Discworld (probably in order? unless we follow some of the reading orders that are floating around on the web) interspersed with other authors and other series, but there's no set in stone plan.

There's a club talk thread to discuss which books we do and in what order.
posted by Just this guy, y'know at 1:20 AM on May 10, 2016 [1 favorite]

I really need to re-read this book. I think I read it for the first time when 11, maybe 12, and finding the swearing quite amusing, and having many jokes go completely over my head (conan gags? Voosh. Cthulu gags? Nope). Hell, I didn't even know what the word quaint meant at this point, which makes me wonder about my 11 year old self.

I think it's fair to say that this isn't a Discworld novel in the way Discworld novels become very established in a particualr style, and I don't think they really become so until around Wyrd Sisters/Guards Guards time. I'm pleased by this re-read, as it will encourage me to catch up on the Aching books, which I have never done past the first couple, which feels like a shame.

I wonder if I'm the only young British nerd who's first exposure to fantasy was via comic fantasy: Pratchett, Holt and Robert Rankin being my go too books at a certain time. I had read Tolkien, of course, but most of my reading up to that point had been science fiction, that being the main thing available in my Father's book collection. As a result my view of the genre was always oddly skewed, and many times I simply wasn't familiar with the things these books were satirising.
posted by Cannon Fodder at 3:13 AM on May 10, 2016 [2 favorites]

(Also, I'm all for moving past the sometimes quite sexist Kirby covers, but jeeze that cover is dull dull dull).
posted by Cannon Fodder at 3:14 AM on May 10, 2016 [1 favorite]

I wonder if I'm the only young British nerd who's first exposure to fantasy was via comic fantasy:

I was basically the same. I had The Hobbit read to me as a kid and got through most (all?) of the Narnia books before I found Pratchett, but otherwise had never touched any fantasy. There was loads of classic sci-fi (Asimov, Clarke, Doc Smith, etc) in the house and local library that I'd ploughed through, though. I'm pretty sure I ended up reading the first His Dark Materials books and The Wizard of Earthsea alongside the earlyish Discworld books, but none of the swords-and-sorcercy genre. So I definitely went into the Discworld blind to a lot of what Pratchett was doing. (And, of course, to what Kirby was doing in his cover designs)

I think it's part of why I've enjoyed re-reading them over so many years. As I read more widely and learned more about the world, every time I came back to the Discworld I'd realise that another couple of things that I'd enjoyed just as flights of fancy were actually clever satire, or allusions to weird things in our world or other bits of fiction. So at least in parts, they really were new books to me every time.
posted by metaBugs at 6:09 AM on May 10, 2016

This book is a parody of Fritz Lieber's 'Fafhrd & the Gray Mouser' books in particular, which tended to be fix-em-ups consisting of existing stories wedged together to make a novel, I think, so that accounts for a lot of the disjointedness.

I think that, with the next novel, Discworld books became a lot more of their own thing - certainly the parodic elements are still there, but they were more in service of the characters and the story rather than the other way around.

The first Discworld book I read was 'Sourcery', which I reread in college until the paperback copy I had fell apart, so I'm a big Rincewind fan -- though his books tend to have a much looser structure, since it's a more difficult task to center a heroic fantasy plot around a character whose basic instinct is to run away, or at least not get involved. The character can be a bit one-note, but I think Pratchett managed to wring some interesting characterization out of it -- though, obviously, as the previous discussion demonstrates, your mileage may vary.

It's sort of like what Douglas Adams said about writing 'Life, The Universe, And Everything' -- he had a particular plot in mind, and at every stage, he would ask himself what the various characters would do, and the answer was mostly: be confused, or get drunk, which ended up being a big challenge.
posted by jwgh at 6:22 AM on May 10, 2016 [1 favorite]

(Also, I'm all for moving past the sometimes quite sexist Kirby covers, but jeeze that cover is dull dull dull).

There's an amusing anecdote about Twoflower being depicted as literally having four eyes on the cover art due to a linguistic misunderstanding.
posted by the uncomplicated soups of my childhood at 6:45 PM on May 10, 2016 [2 favorites]

It's been a long time since I last read this book, but wasn't the characterization of DEATH in this book off from the rest of the series ? He seems more cruel in this book.
posted by Pendragon at 12:45 AM on May 11, 2016

Yes, he's a very different character here than in later books. He definitely changes throughout the later books (well, obviously, given e.g. Mort and Reaper Man), but in TCoM it's not just his personality, it's his function that's different. In the rest of the books, Death is performing an important function; he develops his own style, but he never intervenes, or chooses who should live or die. He's part of the system. But in TCoM he's more of a hunter. He's annoyed when Rincewind repeatedly fails to die on schedule, offers to loan him a horse to get to Pseudopolis and, most out of character, expresses his frustration by snapping his fingers to kill a swarm of flies. It's hard to reconcile this with the Death of later books, who's so dedicated to the Duty.

All that said, the bit about Death offering to loan Rincewind a fast horse so he could get to another city absolutely slew me when I finally got it. I first read TCoM too young, really, so like a lot of other stuff I enjoyed that for the silliness, but didn't get the reference until re-reading it for the nth time years later.
posted by metaBugs at 5:07 AM on May 13, 2016

I'm not sure I get the reference now...
posted by Just this guy, y'know at 5:15 AM on May 13, 2016

I assume it's a reference to "The Appointment in Samarra".
posted by Pope Guilty at 5:24 AM on May 13, 2016 [4 favorites]

Now I get the reference!
posted by Just this guy, y'know at 5:57 AM on May 13, 2016 [2 favorites]

I read Sourcery first and then went back and read the others from the beginning, and I also read "Dark side of the Sun" and "Strata." Strata is obviously a parody of Ringworld, and then the discworld seemed to be a parody of Strata (so fanfic of his own fanfic?)

When you start with Sourcery and there are no more Discworld books available at that time, it is a different experience than for those who got into it later and went back. See, I loved the Rincewind books, because they were wacky and funny and sent up the fantasy style books. I, like several people in this thread have said, we a sci-fi reader, not a fantasy reader: we read The Hobbit at primary school, and I had read all the Narnia books, so this was also my intro to fantasy (although I still haven't really got into it, I am still more of a sci-fi and other styles reader.) So I find all the dislike strange, as when I read the first few books I loved them because they were straight out funny, and didn't have the moralising the later books had. I don't mind it, but I do think the wackiness went out a bit to make way for this.

The writing is stronger later on, but he had developed as a writer by then, which is fair enough, but TCoM has to be accepted as what it is: the first book, where everything is not quite set up properly, and he is making it up as he goes along, or adapting things from Strata and Ringworld to make his own little Discworld.

I think you have to see this as a first attempt, and accept it like that. I loved the ideas, and how Twoflower tries to explain things ("reflected sound as of underground spirits" I think is one of the phrases he uses) and how the inhabitants of Ankh Morpork misunderstand how these things work. Also it is interesting that the wizards are all different to in the later books, and I have wondered about the chronology of the books. The wizards in TCoM are very funny, and he adapts them later into something more formal, but they lose some of the zanyness and become more like parodies of university people (from what I can tell.)

(I was given Sourcery by someone I shared a house with in about 88 or 89, he found it on the bus and gave it to me. I turned it down as I wasn't fantasy reader, but he said I could have it as he didn't want it and if I didn't like it to give it to a charity shop. Little did I know, as I stood in the doorway to my room looking at the crazy cover, that I would still be reading them 25 years later. And I often wonder how the person whose book it was felt when they got home and realised they had left it on the bus, because I would have been so so gutted. I wonder what they read instead!)
posted by marienbad at 5:30 AM on May 15, 2016 [1 favorite]

I remember first reading this in high school and being distinctly underwhelmed. I think I would have given up on Pratchett then and there, if it hadn't been for a friend who told me one of the jokes from Pyramids, the reference of which we'd just studied. I think it was the first written comedy-by-reference joke that I'd ever seen, or at least understood without help. I don't think I particularly liked Pyramids either, but it was enough to get me reading more Discworld.

A few years ago I started re-reading them in publication order. I appreciated TCoM way more on re-reading, but it's still one of the weakest if not the weakest Discworld novels. But that's also because Pratchett reached such a high standard later; if you don't use the rest of Discworld as comparison, TCoM is still a good (but not great) book.
posted by pianissimo at 5:03 AM on May 16, 2016 [1 favorite]

I loved the ideas, and how Twoflower tries to explain things ("reflected sound as of underground spirits" I think is one of the phrases he uses) and how the inhabitants of Ankh Morpork misunderstand how these things work.

Of course, the Ankh-Morporkians take to insurance and insurance fraud like a duck to some strange form of water created according to anatinocentric principles.
posted by Pope Guilty at 6:18 AM on May 16, 2016 [2 favorites]

I am starting this now as my first Pratchett/Discworld read and it is frankly exhausting that he introduces three to five named characters, two or more background/historical incidents, and one to three new locations on every page.

I can see where people used to this rhythm could enjoy that, but it's hard to get into as a starting point.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 9:12 AM on August 7, 2021

Oh yeah 100% do not start here, start with Guards, Guards, Small Gods, or maybe Reaper Man IMO, all standouts from after he'd really come into the voice he'd carry with him going forward
posted by Pope Guilty at 3:22 PM on August 7, 2021

I am also fond of Mort as a place to start

but yes fully seconding "do not start here" because these early Rincewind books absolutely do not resemble what the Discworld is by the time it hits its stride
posted by DoctorFedora at 12:48 AM on August 11, 2021

I ended up finishing this book and being sold anyway. I'm on The Light Fantastic now which is also not at all overly superlative, even if I do also like it.

But each has moments that jump at you that this author knows what they are doing.

Question though: I am a middle aged nerd; is getting into Terry Pratchett the middle aged nerd version of being "basic"? Never mind. Don't care.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 12:33 PM on August 12, 2021 [2 favorites]

It's never too late to get into Pratchett.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 3:48 PM on January 7, 2022 [3 favorites]

I reread this recently; I'm off to Discworld Con this year and thought I'd see if I could get through most of the books again. What struck me was how absolutely solid the first third of the book is. Ankh-Morpork comes into play almost fully formed; sure Pratchett would change plenty about it, but it's such an evocative setting from the get go.

Unfortunately the rest of the book is not so good. It's a plotless trundle from fantasy parody to fantasy parody, and while some of the ideas are fun, and the gags are good, it feels like a trudge. I think it doesn't help that the characters of Rincewind and Twoflower are not very interesting. Neither changes much, and you can guess exactly how they will respond to every situation.
posted by Cannon Fodder at 5:39 AM on May 23, 2022 [1 favorite]

Just got through this one as I do a quick catch-up on Rincewind so I can get back to maintaining the New Discworld Book Club, (I've read it before but it's been a while) and damn but Rincewind books generally are just kind of tough compared to the other throughlines in the series, and TCoM is kind of tough in particular because you get the general Rincewind issue of "This is basically plotless and just jumping from one kind of cute idea to the next" but also in this one the characters (aside from Rincewind and Twoflower, of course) aren't really formed yet. Vetinari isn't quite Vetinari yet (and is just called "The Patrician" but I think word-of-god confirmed that it's a half-baked Vetinari at this point?) DEATH for sure isn't DEATH yet (but still has some funny moments.) I like Twoflower, though. Basically whenever he's involved in a scene, the book gets better. I've started The Light Fantastic now and already it feels tighter just from spending so much time in the beginning setting up antagonistic forces via the Unseen University.

There's still a lot to love here, and it's honestly amazing how well Ankh-Morpork comes out in this first installment. I definitely adored this when I first read it, but yeah, it really can't compare to what comes later. I'd compare it to the first season of The Simpsons, or early Achewood strips or something like that.
posted by Navelgazer at 7:21 PM on August 29, 2023 [3 favorites]

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