Review: The Color of Magic (Discworld Book 1 of 53?!)

The Color of Magic - Terry Pratchett

This was my first experience with Terry Pratchett, although I’d seen enough comments about Discworld to have a general idea of what to expect.  I was skeptical about reading it, because I knew it employs the type of humor that I just don’t seem to properly appreciate, but I was also curious about it.  I’m talking about that unrealistic kind of humor that makes you laugh at the author’s cleverness, yet at the same time pulls you out of the story because it’s too ridiculous to take seriously.  Is there a word for this type of humor?  There has to be a word so that I don’t have to write an entire paragraph every time I want to explain it!  Breaking the fourth wall might be one term for it, but I’m not sure that properly encompasses it.  I like the type of humor that feels like a more natural extension of the characters and the story.

So, anyway, back to the book.  I didn’t hate the book, but it also didn’t surprise me by being more entertaining than I had expected.  It made me laugh at times, and I’d say the story held my interest to an average degree.  It did have that “too ridiculous to take seriously” factor that I had expected, though.  If there’s anybody out there who doesn’t already know the basic premise of the Discworld series, the following info might help explain what I mean by "ridiculous".  This is what we learn about the Discworld within the first few pages of the book.  The Discworld is a flat, disc-shaped world.  This world is balanced on top of four elephants.  The elephants are all standing on a really, really large space turtle.  This space turtle is crawling through space.  Slightly ridiculous, yes?

The story itself focuses primarily on the shenanigans of two particular residents of the Discworld.  One is a wizard (sort of) named Rincewind and the other is an insurance agent (I guess?) named Twoflower.  Twoflower is a visitor from a far-off area of the Discworld and he’s fascinated with everything he sees.  He’s often cluelessly oblivious to danger, seeing everything as one big adventure.  Rincewind, on the other hand, has no sense of adventure and he tries to avoid anything that seems like trouble.  That avoidance would include Twoflower, but circumstances conspire to force them together.  Rincewind does his best to keep both of them out of trouble, with little success.

The book is split up into four large chapters, and they read sort of like a series of short stories rather than one book.  The over-all story includes magic and gods.  These are the type of gods who don’t always get along with each other very well and who frequently interact with mortals.  There was also a lot of repetition, and we’re reminded of certain things over and over.  Sometimes repetition can be used as a form of humor, but I’m not sure whether that was the intent here.  Sometimes it seemed like Pratchett thought his readers all had holes in their heads.

The whole story is written with a kind of sardonic tone, and some of the humor was pretty funny.  As an example, Twoflower doesn’t speak the same language and there were some words he couldn’t translate into a language Rincewind could understand.  Rincewind does his best to figure out their meaning based on the context.  This means that he decides the word “tourist” must mean “idiot”.  Throughout the book, Rincewind thinks of Twoflower as a “tourist” several times and that always made me chuckle a bit.  

There was also some more risque humor, although it was fairly subtle and not too frequent.  One example of it came early on in the story, when the narrator was explaining the whole space turtle thing.  We’re told about a couple of the theories people have about where the turtle is going.  One theory is that the turtle is crawling between the place he was born to a mating ground, where all the other space turtles in the universe were also slowly converging and would give birth to new turtles to carry new worlds.  We’re told this is called the “Big Bang” theory.  I was probably a couple sentences past that part of the book before the double entendre suddenly hit me and I have to admit I burst out laughing.

One thing that did surprise me was that the story ended in a classic cliff hanger.  For some reason I’d thought these books were fairly self-contained, each telling a single story.  Maybe that’s true later in the series, but it wasn’t true in this book.  We end with the fate of one of our characters up in the air, with some general confusion about how he got where he is, and with no idea where some of the other characters are.

So I was moderately entertained by this book, probably more than I would have been if I hadn’t been well-prepared for what I was getting into.  I plan to try at least a few more of the books.  I know some people like different book groupings within the Discworld series better than others, so I’m curious to see how they differ.  For those people who follow me closely enough to know that I usually read a series all at once, I can assure you that there is absolutely no chance that I’ll be reading all 50+ of these books all at once!  Not even in the unlikely event that I do get addicted to them.  That’s just too much even for me.  If I do decide to stick with it, I’ll probably just read a few at a time and then move on to other things for a while.