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August 14, 2017 | by  | in Books | [ssba]

The Colour of Magic — Terry Pratchett

The world is a wonderful place full of crazy nuts. Sometimes, it’s best to escape into a world that reflects our constant low-level panic that our world doesn’t really make sense. That way, we can be reassured that we’re not alone in thinking this — Terry Pratchett crafted us who are perpetual worriers a life raft.

The Colour of Magic (1983) is Pratchett’s first Discworld novel. The Discworld is what it sounds like: a world shaped like a disc, instead of a globe (and carried on the back of four elephants and a giant star turtle). This world contains a whole lot of magic. Rincewind, the main character, dreams of a world that makes sense, and is hugely disappointed when he discovers the world’s first camera is not, as he vaguely suspects, a device that captures light on a chemically-treated paper, but is the home of a small pixie with an easel and paintbrush.

That’s the most obvious thing about Pratchett’s writing, actually. It’s funny. Constantly, irreverently, unpredictably funny. I was too serious, or too sincere, as a child to like it. I thought it was crass and ignoble. Which it is, but I’ve only recently grown cynical enough to take it as the joke it was meant to be.

The other thing is that it’s commentary. Nothing better than a children’s book of wizards and heroes to also be a severe tract on social ills, right? But fantasy novels at the time were known for clichéd writing, presenting within their many, many, many pages a long stream of arrogant heroes, limp-wristed heroines with remarkably sensual yet virginal beauty, overtly sexualised witches who were evil seductresses and somehow also easily thwarted, old, wise white men and not-white pagan savages in need of civilisation (I didn’t do this on purpose, but isn’t that Game of Thrones?). Anyway, Pratchett provides a healthy dose of sense and humour to this pile of boring. Heroes are thugs and illiterates, the main character is a cowardly criminal, wizards are violent and self-aggrandising, and women can be patricidal dragon-tamers. It’s great.

So why would anyone choose to lose themselves in this irrational fantasy instead of pulling up their boots and getting to work fixing the world? It’s a good question for a student to ask (except the English majors — those guys are away with the clouds at all hours). Well, because fantasy creates worlds unlike our own. It imagines things differently, impossibly. It demands that we accept dragons alongside the equality of humankind, and when we believe in dragons we learn to believe in equality. Sometimes it does the opposite, and we learn judgement and revenge. But these things are lodged in our minds and they affect how we see reality. So when you read a good fantasy book, you’re taking the first step for practical change. You’re teaching yourself that change is possible.

Mind you, I don’t agree philosophically with everything that Pratchett wrote. But when I read his books, I build empathy for people who do. And I remember how much I used to adore fantasy novels when I was twelve, and how deeply I would fall into them. And again, it’s really funny. The many-legged Luggage runs around and eats people. How is that a sentence I can write?

I’m already reading the second Discworld novel as we speak — The Light Fantastic. It has programmer priests and a candy house in the woods and Death learns how to play bridge with Famine and War. It couldn’t be further from the real world right now. But I don’t think of it as escapism. It’s just taking the long way round towards reality instead of marching straight there. Read this series if you never did because you thought the name Terry was gross, or if you feel under pressure and need space to breathe, or if you would rather believe in dragons than in guns.


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