“The Colour of Magic” by Terry Pratchett

How to Break the Rules and Make Millions

Warning: I would never post this on Indies Unlimited, because there are too many beginning writers who think they are geniuses, and they should be able to do this sort of thing and still sell books. Believe me, folks, you can’t. I post this review in awe of someone who could, and did.

We are talking about Terry Pratchett, here. A true genius. And just for fun, I thought I’d take a look at “The Colour of Magic,” the first book in his famous Discworld series (40 books, 80+ million sold). So I hauled it out of the dusty back shelves of my library and read it again.

Imagine my surprise when I found all the mistakes.

The Errors

  1. It’s written in some messed form of Omniscient. He head-hops all over the place, jumps from place to place from one sentence to the next with little warning.
  2. The whole book is exposition. Pratchett constantly leaves the action (sometimes in mid-battle) for digressions into subjects like philosophy, metaphysics, economics, metallurgy, and wild combinations of them all.
  3. There is very little strong emotion. Oh, sure, people are regularly frozen with terror. But nothing really bad happens to them except in a slapstick kind of way, so we quickly stop worrying about them and how the newest conflict will turn out.
  4. He leaves huge chunks of the plot out. The last chapter starts with a whole sequence with pirates on the sea near the Rim, but the beginning details are left off, and we only find out about what happened through oblique references later on. Really gives you that went-to-the-kitchen-for-a-beer-and-came-back-to-find-the-score-has-changed feeling.
  5. This book isn’t really a novel, just a series of four short stories, strung together by common characters. The structure is all wrong, the emotional builds out of place.
  6. He often uses the passive voice. A no-no in all writing, especially action sequences.
  7. He uses way too many commas. (But everyone argues about commas, and this was written in the eighties, so I’ll let that one ride.)
  8. The ending (no spoiler here) doesn’t end. It’s a transparent come-on for the next book.

The Result?

If you know who Terry Pratchett is, you won’t be surprised. People loved it, warts and all. Probably because of the warts. I have a 20-year-old copy, and at that time the book was in its 28th printing.

So how does it work? I have been known to remark that the geniuses create, leaving the critics to figure out how they do it. And the best I can do is this.

All of the errors above should cause us to be distanced from the characters, to keep us from forming that emotional attachment to the story that is essential for enjoyment. But they don’t.

Why?

Because we become attached to the Discworld itself. The great Disc, suspended on the backs of four elephants, in turn standing on the back of a great turtle swimming through interstellar space, is the main character. Every digression from the plot, every new character, reveals one more element of the Disc’s character, one small tic or endearing quality. The great city of Ankh Morpork is a festering pimple on a fascinating face. Each character is one facet of the great multiple personality of the Discworld.

A Case in Point

Rincewind is a failed wizard. In Wizard School he never managed to memorize one spell. But he ran afoul of one of the Eight Great Spells, and it jumped into his brain, from where it keeps trying to get itself spoken. Which will mean the end of the world as he knows it. So he bumbles along, doing his best to survive. He is manipulative, petty, selfish and several other mildly unpleasant things. And we can’t wait to find out what Pratchett has cooked up for him next.

Obviously it worked. 40 books later, people are still buying in the millions.

 

And the other key factor is that this book is comedy. It’s a parody of both Fantasy and the real world. There are references to ancient philosophies, recent trends, modern technology, Shakespeare and on and on. All of them creative and funny. I chuckle out loud. I read passages out to other people. I enjoy every page.

Yes, it’s light. Yes, there is a certain intellectual distancing of emotion. But it’s a real page-turner nonetheless.

Highly recommended for everyone, especially Fantasy fans. Highly dangerous and addictive.

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

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