The Color of Magic
January 6, 2017 3:30 PM - by Terry Pratchett - Subscribe

Book 1 in our Publication Order read through of the Discworld novels by Terry Pratchett.

Welcome to the long-ago days of 1985, when Terry Pratchett had just started writing novels and was largely unknown, before the Discworld sensation started, back when publishers were still advertising his books by comparing him to Douglas Adams. Apart from its earlier incarnation in the stand-alone novel Strata, The Colour of Magic was the first appearance of the Great Turtle A'Tuin, the four elephants that stand on its back, and the bizarre plate of a world that they carry. It's a world with so much magic that the eighth color is visible. The sea falls off the edge of the world in an endless waterfall. Medieval kingdoms attempt to determine the sex of Great A'Tuin with primitive spaceships. And a tourist shows up in Ankh-Morpork.
posted by lazaruslong (21 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
General housekeeping: Kindly avoid major spoilers if you have already read other Discworld novels out of the publication order, but small easter eggs and linkages that others might miss are very welcome. Just none of the major stuff!

Book 2 will be The Light Fantastic, going up in two weeks.
posted by lazaruslong at 3:38 PM on January 6, 2017 [1 favorite]

The rare Discworld book with chapters.
posted by Chrysostom at 4:33 PM on January 6, 2017 [1 favorite]

I finally got a bunch of jokes in Nethack when I read this last year.
posted by octothorpe at 5:41 PM on January 6, 2017 [5 favorites]

The Color of Magic has aged poorly and pales in comparison to Pratchett's later works, but I still hold a special place for it in my heart. It was the first Diskworld book I read, which I came to after reading most of Robert Asprin's comedic fantasy series.

I mainly like The Color of Magic for how Rincewind is in it. He's portrayed as a wizard of no great talent who wanted merely to achieve the minimum required to live a comfortable life, but ends up turned sideways thanks to getting an incredibly powerful spell lodged in his head. His personality changes in later books, largely for the worse, I can't imagine Late Rincewind even having the curiousity required to read a forbidden tome. I like unambitious Arthurian (Arthur Dentian) heroes rather than actively resistant heroes. He and Twoflower play well off each other, and the episodic plot serves the comedy better than some of Pratchett's less-beloved titles who could've benefitted from a breezier pace.

I certainly don't think Color of Magic is one of the best in the Diskworld series, and maybe I wouldn't reccomend it as a starting point for someone unless they were really committed to reading more than one Diskworld book before passing judgement on it. Still, there's plenty of Diskworld I'd put above it if I had to rank them.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 6:09 PM on January 6, 2017 [8 favorites]

I realize that his writing got more confident and skillfull as he went along, and yes, the first few Discworld books are somewhat noticeably different than the late ones, but I'll still always have a special appreciation for "The Color of Magic" and "The Light Fantastic" just because I love The Luggage.

on edit: Apropos of which, the cover image linked from this post is a travesty. that's a suitcase, that's not The Luggage.
posted by Nerd of the North at 7:44 PM on January 6, 2017 [4 favorites]

THIS is the Luggage.
posted by Chrysostom at 8:10 PM on January 6, 2017 [7 favorites]

It's notably rougher around the edges and more formulaic than the later Pratchett books, but I have an odd fondness for The Luggage too, and for Rincewind and Twoflower, so it's hard to be too down on it. It's one of my comfort reads.

Every time I re-read this (and the next) book, it strikes me how sort of unformed and ambiguous Ankh-Morpork is. It's a rough sketch of a city, but it doesn't have the heavy presence - like another character - that it does in later books.

The whole idea of a camera demon, painting as fast as possible, is probably what sold me on this book in the first place, along with The Luggage of course.
posted by gemmy at 10:11 PM on January 6, 2017 [4 favorites]

My first approach to Discworld was The Color of Magic when I was maybe 10 or 11 - around when I read Sword of Shannara/David Eddings Belgariad something. Likely from the library.

The Asian racism was really offputting - coming from a HK born (Canadian raised) Anglo-gnostic*. Wrote off "Discworld" for a long time.

Bought and read "Thief of Time" in grade 12 not knowing it was Pratchett (completely forgot Color of Magic) and being completely won over by it and then explored and immediately loved the entirety of Pratchett's opus. His "Long Earth" stuff is... erh.

Despite some in-built racism, re: funhouse mirror Buddhism, I feal really strongly for Pratchett's sympathy for the poor - Sam Vime's Theory of Economic Injustice (aka the "boots theory").

*HK people really aspired to be "British-like;" streaky bacon is flat and triangular, cream is splashed into the mug before tea is poured, English words used whenever expedient, and giving oneself ultra-conservative anglo/roman first names.
posted by porpoise at 10:19 PM on January 6, 2017 [2 favorites]

It's been a while and certainly it was an enjoyable read, about halfway I remember thinking how cool a crossover would be if Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser just happened to wander through, snicker, kill a grue and head off. I've read one or two others but the series did not grab me.
posted by sammyo at 11:43 AM on January 7, 2017

Oh, thanks for the reminder. I haven't read a Discworld novel all year.

This is one I have in both ebook and paper format, and I prefer the latter. I just don't care for the way my e-reader (Kobo) handles footnotes (badly, basically), although I don't recall the early ones using them too much. Hated this book so much the first time I read it (the racism porpoise mentioned above, the sheer stupidity of it). This was the second Pratchett I read (after Interesting Times, which I hated because I mistook it for a Tolkien/Howard "serious" sword & sorcery tale), but amazingly I'd forgotten reading that book when I picked this one up. Bought Light Fantastic as well because I hoped it would be better... and it wasn't. Later tried Small Gods, which seemed OK, but still wasn't a fan. Forgot reading all those a few years later, and tried Night Watch, which finally hooked me. I've read them all multiple times since.

I keep trying the same method with Dickens, but no matter how many of his novels I read, I just can't stand his writing. I can't think of another writer that I've so completely turned around about.
posted by GhostintheMachine at 6:37 PM on January 7, 2017 [4 favorites]

that's interesting, Night Watch is one of my all time favourite books, but I would have thought that one would need to have read all the previous watch novels to really appreciate it. Nice to hear that it does stand on it's own, though.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 4:36 AM on January 8, 2017 [1 favorite]

His "Long Earth" stuff is... erh.

To be fair, the Long Earth idea is really great. A lot of neat mechanics and ideas.

The characters are, well. Sort of there.
posted by the uncomplicated soups of my childhood at 4:57 PM on January 8, 2017 [4 favorites]

Isn't the Long Earth basically Simak's Ring Around the Sun with the serial numbers filed off?
posted by Chrysostom at 6:57 PM on January 8, 2017

I love all of Vimes that Pratchett wrote, even semi-retirement Vimes. Night Watch is basically my most favourite thing ever (especially being in-world; wot?! Vetinari with a lilac?).

It can stand alone, but really, it benefits from all before it and it definitely informs everything after. I was kind of disappointed with the later Sam Vimes novels but Thud was kid of a jump-the-shark type deal.

Where. Is. My. Cow?!?!?!!!!!!!

Absolutely, the premise in Long Earth is brilliant, the execution (plot) and the prose was disappointing proportional to how much I love the premise.

Dunno how much Pratchett has a hand in Nation but I recall enjoying that a lot.
posted by porpoise at 12:02 AM on January 10, 2017 [1 favorite]

I think Rincewind's increasing aversion to action is a not-unreasonable reaction to his experiences in the world. He started out wanting the bare minimum to skate by on and was punished quite severely for extending beyond that. As the books progress and he is pulled unwilling into adventure after adventure, his attitude moves from "Why is this happening to me?" to "I've got to get away while I can!" and ends up at an almost heroic "Well, here we go again." The end point of Rincewind's arc, to me, is when they call for volunteers for the dangerous mission and he stands up, answering the shocked responses by pointing out that if he didn't volunteer, he'd probably end up on the mission anyway but only after a series of dramatic and violent and probably quite terrifying coincidental events. And he might not even be right about that; after all, from a meta-narrative perspective, at that point the author had many amusing characters from which to select a protagonist, and if Rincewind didn't volunteer, one of them might have done fine. Rincewind has become brave and heroic, in a way.

From apathy to cowardice and back out the other side.

But yes, "The Colour of Magic" is not Pratchett's greatest moment, nor even a particularly great book, and the lines between mocking the stupid racist/sexist tropes and indulging them is blurry indeed. Counterpoint, the Luggage, who might well be worth all of that just to have in the world as a sort of avatar of the banhammer, a free-roaming agent of chaos who punishes the unworthy without having any particular intent to do so itself.
posted by Scattercat at 9:37 AM on January 10, 2017 [5 favorites]

It's been a while and certainly it was an enjoyable read, about halfway I remember thinking how cool a crossover would be if Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser just happened to wander through, snicker, kill a grue and head off.

At this point I should just link to the appropriate Annotated Pratchett File page and direct you to the entry for page 9 ("[...] two figures were watching with considerable interest."). SPOILER-ish WARNING: the APF explains the in-jokes and allusions, so it's better if you don't read it in advance of the text.
posted by sukeban at 5:42 AM on January 11, 2017 [2 favorites]

Just posting to say I'm having difficulty getting hold of the book - I don't have the early ones and was planning to get it from the library, but both copies were borrowed by others between me checking where they were and making it to the different branches. So still planning to comment but it may be a few days until I can get a copy.

porpoise, I thought Nation is entirely Pratchett, unless you mean the play adaptation by Mark Raverhill?
posted by paduasoy at 7:21 AM on January 15, 2017

Pastiche and parody have always been delightful parts of the Discworld genre, but I think a big part of the weakness of these first few novels is that one gets the sense that pastiche is really the whole point. The Color of Magic is basically about ringing the changes through the various genres of fantasy (as they existed at the time) and gently mocking them each in turn by viewing them through the decidedly un-heroic eyes of Rincewind and Twoflower. I agree with gemmy that Ankh-Morpork is barely a sketch here, but for the purposes of this book it doesn't have to be. At this point it's just a stand-in for Lankhmar, or Greyhawk, or Amber, or whatever other fantasy city you want to read on to it. Only Rincewind, Twoflower and The Luggage are anything more than paper-thin parodies of fantasy tropes (and of course Twoflower is a stereotypical parody of an entirely different sort). And I think it's telling that Pratchett himself didn't feel compelled to revisit any of the other characters or even regard the events of this book as canon. (See, for example, how wildly different the treatment of Discworld's dragons is here, compared to the way they get handled in every other book that mentions them.)

It's really a tribute to Pratchett's comedic talent that it is still such an enjoyable ride. (And although most of the characters are flat as cardboard, The Luggage is wildly inventive and delightful, and is enough to redeem the book all by itself as far as I'm concerned.)
posted by firechicago at 7:57 AM on January 15, 2017 [3 favorites]

And I think it's telling that Pratchett himself didn't feel compelled to revisit any of the other characters or even regard the events of this book as canon.

I feel the wizards of UU and the Librarian in particular might be the longest- lasting inventions of these first books, but it's amazing how some characters from Death to the Patrician change in characterisation from TCOM/TLF to later books.
posted by sukeban at 1:28 AM on January 16, 2017 [1 favorite]

This one is really four short stories together. The first, Colour of Magic, is actually pretty good. It's got the Broken Drum, in-sewer-ants, new guilds popping up to take advantage of the situation, thieves and assassins, the Patrician (proto-Vetinari) and Death (before he starts taking on human emotions), Unseen University, the Luggage, and Rincewind running away. That's a lot of foundation there, and the story itself is fun.

The Sending of Eight is pretty bland. Hrun's forgettable, but the Lady and the gods playing games is a good addition. Nothing else about it is particularly memorable, even immediately after reading.

Lure of the Wyrm is... ugh. Pretty bad. The less said the better, really.

Close to the Edge is better, probably the second best part of the book. The Circumfence and the sea troll are interesting, and the Potent Voyager had potential, but that's about it.

There's nothing that really ties any of it together, other than "here's some stories of Rincewind's early adventures". Taken that way, it's fine. Pratchett hasn't fully committed to his vision yet - you can see flashes of it but he's still too much in parody form.
posted by GhostintheMachine at 2:57 PM on January 16, 2017 [4 favorites]

I'm glad that this wasn't the first Discworld book I read, or I wouldn't've continued on to all the rest. It has some good lines, and the Luggage, but there's a lot to raise an eyebrow at.
posted by The corpse in the library at 1:21 PM on March 24, 2022

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