The Colour of Magic is a 1983 comic fantasy novel by Terry Pratchett. As I told you in Good Omens, I had not heard of Terry Pratchett or his work before learning of his death, so having tried out Good Omens which he wrote with Neil Gaiman, and having liked it immensely, I figured I should start reading his major opus, the Discworld series.
The Colour of Magic is the first book of the Discworld series, and it is amazing. And fun. Let me tell you a bit about Discworld. In Pratchett’s words:
Great A’Tuin the turtle comes, swimming slowly through the interstellar gulf, hydrogen frost on his ponderous limbs, his huge and ancient shell pocked with meteor craters. Through sea-sized eyes that are crusted with rheum and asteroid dust He stares fixedly at the Destination.
In a brain bigger than a city, with geological slowness, He thinks only of the Weight.
Most of the weight is of course accounted for by Berilia, Tubul, Great T’Phon and Jerakeen, the four giant elephants upon whose broad and startanned shoulders the disc of the World rests, garlanded by the long waterfall at its vast circumference and domed by the baby-blue vault of Heaven.
There was the theory that A’Tuin had come from nowhere and would continue at a uniform crawl, or steady gait, into nowhere, for all time. An alternative was that A’Tuin was crawling from the Birthplace to the Time of Mating, as were all the stars in the sky which were, obviously, also carried by giant turtles. When they arrived they would briefly and passionately mate, for the first and only time, and from that fiery union new turtles would be born to carry a new pattern of worlds. This was known as the Big Bang hypothesis.
This volume stars Rincewind, a failed wizard. He could not remember any spells, because he opened a magic book where a fierce and powerful spell jumped off the page into his mind, crowding out all other spells. It is the story of his journey with the Tourist, a small man from across the Disc who wanted to see all the World. the Tourist traveled with his Luggage, a wooden trunk made of sapient pearwood which had a mind of its own and followed the Tourist everywhere on what seemed like hundreds of little feet. In the trunk, among his laundry and food supplies, was a little box which took pictures.
Rincewind got down on one knee, the better to arrange the picture, and pressed the enchanted lever.
The box said, “It’s no good. I’ve run out of pink.”
A hitherto unnoticed door opened in front of his eyes. A small, green and hideously warty humanoid figure leaned out, pointed at a colour-encrusted palette in one clawed hand, and screamed at him. “No pink, see?” screeched the homunculus.
In one dim corner of the little box, Rincewind thought he could see an easel, and a tiny unmade bed. He hoped he couldn’t.
Now this is exactly how I feel about cameras, and computers, and TVs. They are filled with little homunculi. We all know this. We are just too embarrassed to admit it.
Discworld has a pantheon of gods, two of which are playing dice, which creates a lot of the storyline, it has wizards, Death, monsters, dragons, all kinds of odd and eccentric creatures, and of course, that sentient pearwood Luggage which also seems at time to have teeth when it opens its lid.
I love the giant turtle and the four giant elephants carrying the world. It is a reference to the infinite regress problem in cosmology posed by the “unmoved mover” paradox. This represents a popular notion of the myth that Earth is actually flat and is supported on the back of a World Turtle, which itself is propped up by a chain of larger and larger turtles.
A well-known scientist (some say it was Bertrand Russell) once gave a public lecture on astronomy. He described how the earth orbits around the sun and how the sun, in turn, orbits around the center of a vast collection of stars called our galaxy.
At the end of the lecture, a little old lady at the back of the room got up and said: “What you have told us is rubbish. The world is really a flat plate supported on the back of a giant tortoise.” The scientist gave a superior smile before replying, “What is the tortoise standing on?” “You’re very clever, young man, very clever,” said the old lady. “But it’s turtles all the way down!”