Eric is fourteen; he is the Discworld’s first-ever demonology hacker. Unfortunately, he’s not very good at it. All he wants is his traditional three wishes granted – nothing fancy: to be immortal, to rule the world, and to have the most beautiful woman on the Discworld fall madly in love with hum; all the usual things. But instead of a nice, tractable demon, he raises Rincewind, probably the most incompetent wizard in the universe, and the extremely intractable and hostile travel accessory known simply as the Luggage. With them on his side, Eric’s in for a ride through space and time that is bound to make him wish – quite fervently – this time that he’d never been born.
Eric, or Faust Eric, by Terry Pratchett is the 9th book in the Discworld series and the fourth book following Rincewind, the world’s most incompetent wizard. The edition I am reviewing was illustrated by Josh Kirby. The book was originally published simply as “A Discworld story” in a larger print format along with these illustrations, but was later reissued as a normal paperback without them. I was notably interested in getting to this book in the series because of how dramatically Pratchett seemed to have changed up the format. Most of his books come to about 300 pages long, give or take, but this was dramatically shorter. I was curious to see what, if anything, got sacrificed to make this tale more condensed.
Despite the title’s overt reference to Faust, a German legend famously adapted into a tragic play by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, the plot appeared to have little do to with parodying the events of that story. The only obvious connection between these two works to me was Eric’s desire to make a Faustian sort of pact with a demon, through which he hoped to achieve power and satisfy other earthly desires. The “demon” he summoned somehow ended up being Rincewind (not a demon), who became bound to the rules of being summoned regardless, and inexplicably found himself able to grant Eric’s wishes…sort of. The summoning was for the most part a catalyst, resulting in Rincewind and Eric being transported through space and time throughout the Discworld. It made for an amusing little romp, with each wish having consequences that turn the wisher’s desires against them.
The hijinks that ensued were funny to behold, the comedy having taken much more prominence in this story. Their journey took them through warped parodies of the ancient Aztecs, the Trojan War, Hell, and the creation of the world itself. Each expanded on the lore of the series in ways that I really liked. Though each location was not deeply explored on its own, there was an interesting narrative through-line between them: the characters’ experiences unveiled nihilistic qualities to things in life we take as sacred or sublime, knocking them down a peg. It was always done in a tongue-in-cheek way, however, introducing levity rather than a resigned, hopeless attitude. My favourite was the idea of the perfect Hell being not one of physical pain, but rather a bureaucratic nightmare, where it is boring monotony that truly crushes the spirit.
In terms of character, there wasn’t a whole lot of depth to anybody. Rincewind was his usual cowardly, hapless self. He didn’t really have an arc, nor did anyone else. He and the other characters were more just along for the ride, pawns in a plot taking place mostly behind the scenes. Eric was particularly weak in terms of characterization, however, the only player in the story that disappointed me in this respect. His parrot had more going for it than he did. He was just a 13 year old who wanted wishes granted and he behaved expectedly incredulous with each twist to his respective wishes. That’s pretty much all there was to him. If this were a longer novel I’d have worse things to say about the way characters were fleshed out here, but considering how short and to the point it is, I really didn’t mind all that much. Everybody, excepting Eric, felt as developed as they needed to be to make the tale work, and characters like Death, the Creator, and the denizens of Hell brought colour to the story that made it all the better.
Josh Kirby frequently does the covers of Discworld novels, so his accompanying art was definitely a style that I immediately associated with the series. It’s humorously grotesque and colourful, and a number of scenes throughout the book got nicely detailed splash pages. The only issue I have with his art is he frequently seems to draw characters the way he sees them, rather than how they are described in the book. I never picture Rincewind the way he draws him, for instance, and in fact the official art for Rincewind I have seen differs significantly as well. It’s always bothered me that while his art is fitting, it’s more caricature than accurate.
What made me happiest about Eric was its connections to a previous novel. Rincewind is coming back to the Discworld in the first place because of what happened to him at the end of Sourcery, which makes this novel the first time since The Light Fantastic that a book in the series has directly referenced the events of a pervious novel. It seems to me Pratchett wanted to get Rincewind back to the world, but perhaps didn’t have an entire novel in mind to do that. I’m happy he seemed to decide to craft something a little different to make that happen, rather than contrive a longer novel out of it. This book was a lot shorter and feels a bit more like a side-story than a numbered book in the series, but it more than earned its place. Most of the characters were simple yet effective, the humour was well executed, and the world was built upon in small but meaningful ways.