I have long wanted to read this, but the sheer number of volumes in the series was intimidating. I started it last year (or the year before) but was put off by the incessant silliness of it all. Which isn’t to say I don’t appreciate silliness, but I do have to be in the mood for it.
And to that point, Terry Pratchett’s voice is unmistakable, here. It is equal parts Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and Terry Gilliam, with a splash of bumbling charm that Martin Freeman has made a career of. Freeman, incidentally is now inescapably tethered to the protagonist of The Colour of Magic (and a number of the other books, I understand), due largely to the fact that he is how I imagine Rincewind to look.
This is the first book in the monumental Discworld series, which (as of Pratchett’s death in 2015) numbered an astounding 41 books. As someone who grew up reading epic fantasy, and grew accustomed to having to wait years in between installments (and am still waiting for some authors…), I’m gobsmacked by how prolific Pratchett was. I imagine, in 30 years or so, we’ll be saying the same thing about Brandon Sanderson.
At any rate, The Colour of Magic, along with the rest of the series, I’d imagine, is a delightful send-up of the fantasy genre. You have the hero’s quest (though, Rincewind is an avowed coward), an aging, Conan-type barbarian, meddling gods, Anne McCaffrey style dragons, magical oddities, and the requisite fantastical setting: a world shaped like a flat disc and sitting atop four magnificent elephants riding the back of a large turtle, which is, in turn, sitting atop another turtle. Because, as we all know, it’s turtles all the way down….
But it’s also an extraordinarily detailed world. This is a series that is almost extensive enough to give someone a Cannonball all by itself, and the first book in the series was written with its world fully-formed. It’s impossible to imagine not only that more oddities aren’t waiting, in future books, for my discovery, but that Pratchett doesn’t expound on those already hinted at, here.
But this isn’t the world building of, say, Tolkien or Robert Jordan, who tended to leave rich and detailed history as vaguely hinted at set decoration for the larger story. Even when these vague hints are given thorough examination by their authors, they always felt like seasoning to the overall meal. Here, the details are focused on with such attention that the narrative comes to a screeching halt so that a brief aside can be made for whatever curiosity happens to be passing the notice of our travelers. And this happens so often that each one quickly disappears into the mists of faded recollection. These details aren’t atmosphere, they are the natural result of an imagination brimming with substance. They are the blood that gives this story life.
With all that said, this isn’t my particular brand of humor – at least not anymore. If I read this when I was 13, I would have loved it and eagerly sought out Pratchett’s entire oeuvre. But I was also obsessed with Monty Python when I was 13. Now? I had some chuckles, but I mostly appreciate the wit more than I laughed uproariously at the jokes.
Ultimately, I really enjoyed the book, and think it’s a fair introduction to the series (near as I can tell), but though I do plan on reading more, I didn’t love the book.