The Colour of Magic

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
The Colour of Magic
Written by: Terry Pratchett
Central Theme:
Synopsis: A picaresque across the Discworld
Genre(s): Fantasy
Series: Discworld
Followed by: The Light Fantastic
First published: 1983
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The very first Discworld novel, from 1983. Unlike most of the later ones, The Colour of Magic was primarily a vehicle for Terry Pratchett to directly mock, play with and deconstruct other fantasy series, rather than the much broader field of his later work. Introduced his interest in using nuclear physics (his previous area of expertise as a scientific journalist) as a metaphor and parody for how magic works.

Written as a travelogue in which cowardly failed wizard Rincewind and Fish Out of Water Twoflower, the world's first tourist, travel much of the Disc while running away from things with big teeth and men with swords.

Was adapted (with quite a lot of Adaptation Distillation) by Sky TV in 2007, together with The Light Fantastic (but the whole thing was known as The Colour of Magic). It was also adapted into a graphic novel (again with The Light Fantastic) to celebrate the Discworld series' anniversary. Unlike the TV adaptation, this was mostly a straight adaptation of the book, even keeping significant amounts of narrative and not merely the direct plot.

Unlike later Discworld novels, is split into six parts rather than a continuous chapterless piece.

The titular Colour of Magic is Octarine, the eighth colour, the pigment of the imagination. Depending on the scene, it's either invisible or blacker than black if you aren't a creature that can see magic, like a wizard or cat. If you can see magic, it's a sort of disappointing purplish-greenish-yellow.

Fantasy directly parodied includes:

  • Fafhrd and The Gray Mouser (Bravd and the Weasel, and the whole opening chapters with Ankh-Morpork burning. The initial characterization of Death as an actively malevolent being who directly kills people was also taken from here. The name of the city Ankh-Morpork is only coincidentally similar to Leiber's Lankhmar, though; Pratchett has denied being consciously influenced).
  • Pern (The Dragons of the Wyrmbeg, especially since the riders use exclamation marks in their names in a similar way to how McCaffrey's Dragonriders use apostrophes.)
  • Dungeons & Dragons (The Vancian Magic system, in which spells take up a certain amount of space in one's head, once said are used up, and are usually named after their creator... also a scene in which the gods literally play dice with the fates of men, teleporting a troll into Rincewind's path.)
  • H.P. Lovecraft (Bel-Shamharoth's temple.)
  • Michael Moorcock (The concept of the Eternal Hero and the Companion to Champions. Rincewind as an incompetent Elric who can neither cast spells nor use weapons. The Black Sword that sucks souls to Hell: here, a sword that drags people into a Hell of boredom and ennui as it grabs the ear of the listener and will not let go. Capricious and chaotic Gods playing with human life for kicks.)
Tropes used in The Colour of Magic include:
  • Alien Geometries: Bel-Shamharoth's temple is made up of eight-sided stone slabs. Yes, only eight-sided stone slabs (although it doesn't say they're convex octagons)...
  • All Amazons Want Hercules: Liessa Wyrmbidder and Hrun the barbarian.
  • Anti-Hero: Rincewind, who is not merely cowardly but surprisingly greedy compared with his later appearances.
    • At this point, he hasn't had his fill of cruel and unusual geography and still expects to be a great wizard, with all that entails, so being greedy is understandable.
  • Astronomic Zoom: Literary version. Most other Discworld books go on to start in this way, but The Colour of Magic has the most drawn-out one (unsurprising, as it needs to set the scene and describe the mechanics of the Discworld).
  • Attack of the Monster Appendage: Bel-Shamaroth, which can be considered both type 1 and type 2.
  • Barbarian Hero: Hrun and Bravd.
  • Bilingual Bonus: Zweiblumen = Twoflower.
  • Blinding Camera Flash: The Cosmic Horror Bel-Shamharoth is defeated when Twoflower's camera flashes in his eye.
  • Blow Gun: The leader of the Assassin Guild uses a blowgun as his weapon.
  • Blue and Orange Morality: Bel-Shamharoth. If you see Good and Evil as two sides of a coin, Bel-Shamharoth is the edge of the coin.
  • Chainmail Bikini: Liessa.
  • Characterization Marches On:
    • Death here is a sadistic murderer and casual killer, very very much unlike his later sympathetic portrayal.
    • Could be said of the Assassin's Guild as whole, which here consists simply of dangerous thugs rather than the much more refined hired killers of the later books.
    • The Patrician, to the point where many fans refuse to believe it's the same person as the Vetinari of later books despite Word of God.
  • Character Shilling: Twoflower loves going on about how great a wizard Rincewind is. Rincewind can't even spell the word correctly.
  • Cheap Gold Coins: Played with. Ankh-Morporkian "gold pieces" are actually "gold-ish", containing less actual gold than seawater. The coins Twoflower brings with him, however, are solid gold (he comes from the Agatean Empire, where gold is a very common metal), and he frequently pays for meals with enough gold to buy the restaurant out of business.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The only spell Rincewind ever learned. Subverted, since he doesn't get to use it, at least not in this book.
    • The story takes place on a flat world. As in there's an edge. No points figuring out what happens towards the end.
  • Chest Monster: The Luggage, a walking chest made of sapient pearwood. One of the few good-guy examples... for a given value of "good".
  • Con Man: Rincewind, technically speaking, who takes it upon himself to spin a few tales for Twoflower's benefit in exchange for gold. Unfortunately (for Rincewind) things don't work out as he hoped.
  • Cosmic Chess Game: The gods of Discworld influence the events on the Disc by playing a game that involves rolling dice and moving pieces around a world map.
  • Determinator: Nothing will stop the Luggage following Twoflower.
  • Deus Ex Machina: A few of them, all played for laughs.
  • Did You Just Punch Out Cthulhu?: See Blinding Camera Flash above.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: The dryad condemns Rincewind to death for accidentally peeling a strip of bark from her tree, and doesn't care that he was clinging to it to avoid a fatal fall (have to wonder what punishment she hands out to woodpeckers...).
  • Early Installment Weirdness: A LOT. Let's see:
    • Death acts psychotically, randomly killing people out of spite, unlike his later sympathetic view on humanity and seeing his role as a duty.
    • The Patrician is flabby, capricious and eats rare delicacies. Despite Word of God, many fans refuse to believe it's the same Patrician as the thin, coldly logical, ascetic Vetinari.
    • The plural and adjective for dwarf are dwarves and dwarven respectively, as in The Lord of the Rings (and its many imitators). Pratchett would not switch to 'dwarfs' and 'dwarfish' until a few books later.
    • After encountering dryads, Rincewind reflects he thought they were extinct, and believed that the only non-human races still around were elves and trolls, specifically mentioning that gnomes and pixies had died out. This is almost the reverse of later books, where there are no (pure-blood) elves on Discworld, only occasional extradimensional invaders, and gnomes and pixies are commonplace.
  • Eldritch Abomination: Bel-Shamharoth, the Sender of Eight, is a stock one.
  • Empathic Weapon
  • Everything's Better with Rainbows: The Rimbow, the great rainbow caused by the sunlight shining through the Rimfall as it pours from the Edge, which—due to the magical field—has eight colours: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet and octarine. We finally get to see an artistic representation of this in The Last Hero.
  • Exotic Entree: The Patrician enjoys delicacies like candied jellyfish.
  • Fantastic Measurement System: Rincewind measures the Wyrmberg's magical field in (milli)Primes. In every other book, it's (milli)thaums. This was explained in the Discworld Companion as being two competing measurement systems, like Fahrenheit and Celsius.
  • Fantasy Counterpart Culture: The Agatean Empire here seems mainly based on Japan (both the fact that it is closed to outsiders and has only one port, like Tokugawa-era Japan, and Twoflower's tourist stereotype seems mainly based on Japanese tourists). However, its naming conventions are based on Aztec names rendered literally into English.
  • Fictional Colour: Octarine, the titular Colour of Magic. It's said to resemble a sort of disappointing fluorescent greenish-yellowish-purple.
    • This may be based on the colour of the afterimages one sees after looking into a bright light.
  • Flat World: The introduction of the Discworld.
  • Genre Savvy: Hrun the Barbarian is used to the world being one big dungeon crawl: "You find chokeapples under a chokeapple tree. You find treasure under altars."
  • Gun Twirling: In a blink-and-you'll-miss-it example, the head of the Assassins' Guild spins, then holsters his blowpipe after firing off a poisoned dart.
  • Hawaiian-Shirted Tourist: Figures rather prominently.
  • I Like Those Odds: Hrun the Barbarian declares he'll fight both dragonlords at once:

Liartes: That's pretty uneven odds, isn't it?
Hrun: Yah. I outnumber you one to two.

  • Inadequate Inheritor
  • Incredibly Lame Pun: Noted in-universe when Rincewind has an inner monologue of exposition about Bel-Shamharoth and how wizards never say the number between seven and nine because "you'll be eight alive" as the saying goes (the Discworld Companion later Lampshaded the way that apparently saying 'ate' doesn't summon Bel-Shamharoth despite sounding identical to 'eight').
  • It Runs on Nonsensoleum: An ocean-based hovercraft works by having hydrophobes, who don't hate but loathe water, stare at it and repel it with their loathing. They're very expensive, Rincewind says. Have to be trained on dehydrated water.
  • King on His Deathbed: The ruler of the dragon riders gets poisoned by his daughter. However, since she is still in a power struggle with her two brothers, he refuses to pass on, lingering as a lich until he makes sure she is fit to rule on her own.
  • Magical Land: The whole Disc to some extent, but some regions such as the area around the Wyrmberg are particularly magical. However, this is because they are suffering from the magical equivalent of nuclear fallout from a war at the dawn of time between the gods and the First Men.
  • Magic Sword: Kring, Hrun's (and later Rincewind's) talking sword.
  • Offhand Backhand: Hrun instinctively reaches out and grabs the dagger-holding hand of Liessa in mid-stab... while fast asleep. Then again, a few moments later (now awake), when he stands up and casually disarms and incapacitates the guards 'out of habit'.
  • Our Dragons Are Different: This introduces the two breeds of dragon, Draco(nis) vulgaris the small realistic swamp dragon, and Draco(nis) nobilis, huge dragons as we expect them to be, and can only exist thanks to strong magic or belief (also, because they're not exactly real, they're often mostly transparent). The books describe the dragons repeatedly as having horse-like heads, although the graphic novel adaptation doesn't in any way correspond to that image.
  • Ouroboros: Tethys once passed a world that was an equally common world myth as the turtle-elephant-disc structure, that of a world entwined by a serpent ouroboros.
  • Powers That Be: One of only two Disc novels to mention the Old High Ones "to whom even the gods are answerable", who intervened to prevent the destruction of the Disc in the aforementioned war by banishing the gods to Cori Celesti and remaking men a good deal smaller.
  • Retcon: Needless to say, as this is the first book, there are quite a few later on...
    • One paragraph particularly stands out, when Rincewind is surprised that dryads still exist. His monologue mentions that it's thought that only trolls and elves survived the "coming of men to the Disc" and that gnomes and pixies have died out. Later books instead state that there are no elves on the Disc and gnomes and pixies are very much still there.
      • Considering how badly Rincewind did at University, he may simply have misremembered his history lessons. For that matter, the lessons themselves could've been wrong, given how many other things the UU wizards are clueless about.
    • Hrun says that swamp dragons are extinct; they prominently appear in later books, like Guards! Guards!:
      • Rincewind notes to himself that he's never seen Hrun outside of Ahnk-Morpork before, and when Hrun is out doing the heroing thing, he's very different from the drunken lout Rincewind has previously seen. It's quite possible that swamp dragons are extinct apart from being kept as pets, and he's never noticed them in cities because on arrival in any city, Hrun goes into the first tavern and drinks until he runs out of money or bartender's patience.
  • Scenery Porn: The epic descriptions of Great A'tuin, the elephants and the Disc. This is often briefly recapped at the start of later novels, but The Colour of Magic has such descriptions throughout (particularly called-back at the end, where Tethys holds Rincewind over the Edge and he sees them for himself).
  • Serial Prostheses: Goldeneyes Silverhand Dactylos. His backstory consists of him inventing marvels for various royals, only for his employers to mutilate him so that he couldn't repeat the invention for anyone else. When his latest employer asks why he didn't just give it all up and try flower arranging, he replies "I'm good at it".
  • Shout-Out: Besides the direct parodies noted above:
    • The place name "Ecalpon" ('noplace' spelled backwards) is a reference to Erewhon (almost 'nowhere' backwards).
    • The name Rincewind is derived from J. B. Morton's "Beachcomber" column in the London Daily Express—specifically, it was the name of one of the dwarves in the "Mr Justice Cocklecarrot and the twelve Red-Bearded Dwarves" features.
  • Speak of the Devil: Bel-Sh*mh*roth, the Sender of [6+2]. Inverted with The Lady, the goddess who only aids those who never invoke her, and speaking her name makes her flee away... who, in case you haven't guessed, is Lady Luck.
    • The Bel-Shamharoth example is subject to an Overly Long Gag of Rincewind dancing around the number:

Rincewind: Hrun, listen. If you add four to four, or take two from ten, you get a number. In here, whatever you do, don't say it, and we might get out of this alive.
Kring: Strange. Why can't he say eight?
EIGHT, Hate, eight, eight, eight...

  • Title Drop: "It was octarine, the colour of magic. It was alive and glowing and vibrant and it was the undisputed pigment of the imagination, because wherever it appeared it was a sign that mere matter was a servant of the powers of the magical mind. It was enchantment itself. But Rincewind always thought it looked a sort of greenish-purple."
  • Wacky Wayside Tribe: The book is a constant stream of them.
  • Weaksauce Weakness: Bel-Shamharoth. So ancient that most of his kind have gone extinct long ago, so repulsive that Time itself dares not touch his temple or its surroundings, and it's stated (though in jest) that Death might not have dared to touch him. So powerful that his existance is the reasons why wizards should not say the word eight, so alien that looking at him drives to insanity... and cripplingly weak to bright light.
  • Wide-Eyed Idealist: Twoflower.
  • You All Meet in An Inn: Rincewind and Twoflower meet in the stereotypical fantasy inn the Broken Drum, which is also filled with heroes and adventurers. The name, incidentally, is explained in another Pratchett book Strata: "Because you can't beat it."
  • Your Princess Is in Another Castle: Subverted, as the words "THE END" are followed immediately by a few more pages of story.
  • You Said You Would Let Me Go: This was the reward the High Priest of Krull promised his architect, a man so brilliant, he had already been mutilated by three previous employers so he could never surpass his work for them. Unfortunately for the architect, I Lied.