The Colour of Magic
The Light Fantastic
By Terry Prachett
Unabridged editions published by ISIS Audiobooks
Read by Nigel Planar
The following of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series attained cult-status long ago and I admit freely to have imbibed that particular flavor of Kool-Aid. These two stories, however, are the ones that started it all. Mister Pratchett had been writing science fiction and fantasy with his own particular slant for over a decade before The Colour of Magic was published, but I think it is safe to say that this was the beginning of his super-stardom in the fantasy genre.
The Discworld is a large flat world that rests on the backs of four giant elephants which, in turn are perched on the back of an even larger, space-going turtle named A’Tuin. It is, of course a parody of various flat world beliefs from the ancient world. He somehow missed having a giant hold the sky up on his back, but you cannot have everything, I suppose.
The series itself is a little uneven, but with so many volumes, that is understandable. Also the series itself is further broken up into subseries, some of which have only a passing relationship to the others save that they are happening on the same world, although if a subseries continues on long enough there are inevitable crossovers between some of the subseries. There are also a few books that stand entirely on their own because they happen in the distant past of the main series, but each book does build on or support the rest (depending on chronology).
The nature of the series has necessarily evolved over time as well. It has always been a collection of satirical parodies, but these first two books parody some of the staples of SF and fantasy such as Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonriders of Pern series and Robert E. Howard’s Conan, to name just two. Later stories tend to parody real life situation more frequently than the works of other authors.
The Colour of Magic and The Light Fantastic involves an inept wizard named Rincewind and a tourist from the other side of the Discworld, named Twoflower. Twoflower is a wide-eyed, naïve and trusting character who has no idea of the value of all the gold he his carrying around with him. (In his homeland, gold is very common and therefore not worth much) Nor has he any notion of how rare his trunk of sentient pearwood (the trunk follows him around the world –and beyond – on hundreds of tiny feet) is, and so he just trustingly bumbles into all sorts of situations because he would love to see and photograph (yes, he has a sort of camera) simply because he has heard of such things.
Twoflower hires Rincewind, a somewhat cynical and worldly-wise coward and incompetent, as a guide and Rincewind starts out by lying his way through the tour, making stuff up so as to show Twoflower whatever he wants. Twoflower, an insurance account executive back home, introduces the concept of insurance to the City of Ankh-Morpork, most of which immediately burns down in an attempt to collect the benefits.
This causes Twoflower and Rincewind to wander out into the rest of the world where Twoflower would like to see such sights as “The Temple of Bel Shamharoth,” from which no one has ever returned, dragons, what is beyond the edge of the world and Cohen the Barbarian, to name just a few.
In all, these two books are a comic romp all over the fantasy genre, trampling merrily over clichés and memes on the way to telling an engrossing and amusing story.
I have mentioned before that my favorite reader of Terry Prachett’s books is Stephen Briggs. However, Nigel Planar is no slouch at reading audiobooks either. He uses intonation more often than vocal pitch and timbre to differentiate characters, but it works. A listener should never have trouble being able to tell one character from another.
My only complaint is that he seems to read a bit too quickly. I have complained about that before and I di not know if his readings were speeded up digitally or else he just speaks faster than average. Unlike the readers I have reviewed in the past I find I can keep up with Mister Planar, but even so I feel like he was rushing me through what are among my most favorite books.
All told these two stories have the right to be called modern classics of both fantasy and parody. And while I did feel rushed, Nigel Planar’s readings detracted little from my enjoyment of them. Both are recommended.