The Colour of Magic is a 1983 comic fantasy novel written by Terry Pratchett. The novel is the first of 41 total books in the author’s immensely popular Discworld series. The story follows Rincewind, an incompetent and craven wizard who gets roped into escorting the Discworld’s first ever tourist. This tourist is a naïve but rich man named Twoflower from the Agatean Empire, who is accompanied by a sentient luggage chest with hundreds of legs. The book is divided into sections, each section kind of like its own short story, following the pair as they travel across the Discworld to see the sights and regularly get into mortal peril.
Having read Men at Arms years ago, getting through the entire Discworld series from start to finish has been a goal of mine that I’m just now starting to see through. It was a curious experience, reading the first novel in a series I know to be just over forty books long, especially since my first experience with it was reading its fourteenth entry.
With the series being as huge as it is, as well as my experience with the tone and workings of the world, I couldn’t help thinking about the novel as a singular work with nothing but a potential future ahead of it.Thinking about it in this way, I realized that as much it’s meant to poke fun at fantasy clichés, it also serves as a crash course on the Discworld as a whole. Pratchett has a lot to say, and potentially only one book to get it said.
Though the story starts in Ankh-Morpork, twin cities that become the setting of many future stories, catastrophe ensues and we are quickly taken to various points of interest across the disc, where catastrophe continues to ensue. While they are only small, specific areas, they teach a lot about how the world works, lampooning a range of fantasy branches along the way.
“The Colour of Magic,” the first section in the novel, is where we learn the basics of magic and much about Ankh-Morpork: its politics, guilds, culture, and class issues. Not a lot of time is spent here, but there is enough of a solid foundation set and we gain a strong understanding of the place in this short time. “The Sending of Eight” teaches firsthand about heroism and the more Lovecraftian aspects of the world and how they tie into the practice of magic. “The Lure of the Wyrm” expands upon what we learned about magic as a more physical phenomenon, and “Close to the Edge” about the Discworld’s place in the universe and how it works. These sections bleed into each other so that these subjects are not strictly contained, but they do take prominent focus in their respective sections.
The book is of course hilariously written. Pratchett is well known for how well his series pokes fun at fantasy clichés, and much of that was well executed from the onset. The only thing that didn’t quite work for me was how unfocused it was plot-wise. There isn’t a singular plot line that ties everything together in a particularly strong way — beyond Rincewind being the guide and Twoflower the tourist — which I would have enjoyed more, but this is ultimately a minor gripe for me. The writing and characters are more than strong enough to give the story momentum.
Though a little rough around the edges, The Colour of Magic is a strong start to a series that gets even better from here. I’ve already begun The Light Fantastic, and it already feels like the rougher edges have been buffed out. If you love fantasy, reading this book is a must. If you don’t particularly like fantasy, I’d still highly recommend it. It lovingly jabs at the genre in such a way that I think all adult readers can enjoy it.