Fantasy stories don’t need humourless protagonists and obligatory romance to be good.
Most books in the fantasy-adventure genre tend to be the “hey you’re special, you must save the world” scenario. Which, in all honesty, can be insidiously boring. Stories can be aimless. They can be fun. They can laugh at everything we hold dear in typical heroic escapades.
The Colour of Magic (1983) by Terry Pratchett is a great example. It impressed me so much that I’m willing to read the rest of the 41-book series, of which this is the first instalment.
For context, the story is set in Discworld, comprised of a disc-shaped landmass balanced atop four elephants, clustered on the shell of a massive turtle swimming in space. (Yes. It is awesome.) We follow the adventures of Rincewind, a cowardly wizard employed as a tour guide by the perpetually awestruck Twoflower, the Discworld’s first ever tourist.
If that sounds like a fantasy sitcom, that’s because it is. The Colour of Magic is not a story about saving the world — it’s a story about a wizard saving himself, conscience be damned. It’s this self-preservation and cowardly guile which makes Rincewind an interesting protagonist. This same subversion of the “heroic” is what made me like Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit, as opposed to, say, Thorin ‘Sullen’shield…
Not that I dislike brooding characters. But they brood for a reason, often because of a “darkness” that pervades the wonders of their world. Apparently, this darkness must be either be frowned upon or stopped at all costs! Except in Ankh-Morpork, a place in Discworld where things like slavery, prostitution, tavern fights, raids and swindling are normal afternoon affairs (and nuisances). Had Pratchett treated these as edgy world-building elements instead of things for Twoflower (and us) to sightsee, Ankh-Morpork would not nearly be as interesting.
Discworld, at least in this first book, is not pervaded by the sort of darkness that must be defeated, else one dooms the world. The Colour of Magic is a character-centric story where darkness manifests as misfortune that, typical of sitcoms, is played for laughs. It is our hapless protagonists who need saving, not the world, and it is their reactions to Discworld’s chaos that bring it to life and drive the story forward.
I recommend this book to anyone looking for a light-hearted fantasy-adventure story. There are a few times when the action cuts to seemingly trivial or absurd events, but they are otherwise feasible. The world-building is great though sometimes tangential, with witty dialogue and constant punchlines to keep you entertained. Best of all, the characters are charming, even if some are the flattest 2D stereotypes one can borrow. It’s all thanks to Pratchett’s ability to parody typical fantasy-adventure elements (and throw his characters under the bus).
Overall, a solid start to the series! I can’t wait to start the second book.
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