Discworld: The Colour of Magic
The very first Discworld
novel, from 1983. 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. Unlike most of the later ones, it was primarily a vehicle for Terry Pratchett
to mock, play with, and deconstruct specific
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. And unlike later Discworld novels, is split into six parts rather than a continuous chapterless piece.
It 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.
Fantasy directly parodied includes:
- Dungeons & Dragons (The Vancian Magic system, in which spells take up a certain amount of space in one's head, 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)
- 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. There are also some noticeable similarities between the plot and some of the characters in The Lure of the Wyrm and Leiber's The Lords of Quarmall. The name of the city Ankh-Morpork is only coincidentally similar to Leiber's Lankhmar, though; Pratchett has denied being consciously influenced).
- HP Lovecraft (Bel-Shamharoth's temple)
- Conan the Barbarian (Hrun the Barbarian — note that Robert E. Howard used quite a few Eldritch Abominations, and indeed considered Cthulhu Mythos canonical in Conan's world)
- 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.
- 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)
Followed by The Light Fantastic
, a direct sequel to the story.
- Alien Geometries: Bel-Shamharoth's temple is made up of eight-sided stone slabs. Yes, only eight-sided stone slabs.
- All Amazons Want Hercules: Liessa Wyrmbidder and Hrun the barbarian.
- All Animals Are Dogs: The Luggage shows some instances of dog-like behavior, such as shaking itself to get dry.
- Androcles' Lion: A fairly straight example; Rincewind saves a frog from being swept over the Edge and it later turns out to have had The Lady "riding in its mind". Being that The Lady is...The Lady, it is implied she set this up herself
- Anti-Hero: Rincewind, who is not merely cowardly but surprisingly greedy compared with his later appearances, debuts as a Pragmatic Hero.
- 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.
- Because I'm Good at It: The reason Dactylos keeps designing things no matter how many bits of him his employers remove.
- Bilingual Bonus: Zweiblumen (The name of Twoflower's alternate dimension counterpart) is German for "Twoflower".
- Blinding Camera Flash: 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. "He was not Evil, for even Evil has a certain vitality; Bel-Shamharoth was the flip side of the coin of which both Good and Evil together make up only one side".
- Camera Obscurer: Rincewind uses a camera flash to defeat an Eldritch Abomination and later finds out that he only has a photo of his thumb to show for it.
- Chainmail Bikini: Liessa.
- Chandelier Swing: Mentioned by Twoflower as one of the things he's heard about people doing in tavern brawls.
- Characterization Marches On:
- Death here is a sadistic murderer and casual killer, 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 the 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: A few:
- The only spell Rincewind was able to learn. Subverted, since he doesn't get to use it, at least not in this book. In the next one, though..
- The frog Rincewind saved near the Rimfall in the fourth arc of the book, which is revealed to be The Lady in the book's climax.
- The fact that the Discworld is flat and the exposition about Great A'tuin the World Turtle doesn't become relevant until the end of the book, where our main characters find themselves near the Rimfall, the edge of the world, and are almost sacrificed for the sake of discovering the gender of said World Turtle.
- Chest Monster: The Luggage, a walking chest made of sapient pearwood. One of the few good-guy examples... for a given value of "good"
- Clap Your Hands If You Believe: Dragons at the Wyrmberg only materialize if the one who imagines them believes in them strongly enough, and vanish if their summoner falls unconscious.
- Cliffhanger: The book ends with Rincewind thrown off the edge of the world, and the fates of Twoflower and The Luggage left ambiguous.
- 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.
- Critical Staffing Shortage: The Wyrmberg's halls are mostly deserted, their contents rusting and covered with dust. This is because the level of ambient magic is weaker than it used to be, limiting the ruling family's dragon-summoning powers, which have also weakened over the generations.
- Determinator: Nothing will stop the Luggage following Twoflower.
- Deus ex Machina: A literal example, crossed with a Chekhov's Gun in the reveal that the frog Rincewind saved was really Lady Luck, a literal God. This is, of course, Played for Laughs.
- Did You Just Punch Out Cthulhu?: See Blinding Camera Flash above.
- Disc One Final Boss: The Eldritch Abomination Bel-Shamharoth turns out to be this.
- 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 the 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.
- A peculiar one is that the King of the Wyrmberg calls himself a 13th-level wizard, while the next book will say that there are only 8 levels. Odd because this is the book that introduces and emphasises the number 8 being important, and indeed the idea of wizarding levels is barely brought up in books after Sourcery. In any case, this was justified in the Discworld Companion by saying that levels higher than 8 are just made up by foreign wizards trying to inflate their own titles.
- Eldritch Abomination: Bel-Shamharoth, the Sender of Eight, is a stock one.
- 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.
- Expospeak Gag: reflected-sound-of-underground-spirits->echo-gnomics->economics.
- 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.
- Fantastic Nuke: The Wyrmberg area suffered a direct hit by one during the Mage Wars, and the ensuing magical fallout means that it is home to an upside-down mountain, imaginary dragons, and coins land on their edge or don't come down at all.
- 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. When Pratchett actually sets a book there, it's mostly based on China, with Japanese items thrown in.
- Fate Worse Than Death: When the dryads are going to execute Rincewind for damaging their tree, but nonetheless say he's fortunate compared to Twoflower who is trapped in Bel-Shamharoth's temple—
"Your friend is going to meet Bel-Shamharoth. You will merely die."
- Fictional Colour: 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, Rincewind describes it as a sort of disappointing purplish-greenish-yellow. 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."
- He also specifically requests to fight both of Liessa's brothers at the same time, claiming he'll have them outnumbered one to two. Interesting Times and The Last Hero will confirm that Discworld heroes really do expect for the outnumbered warrior to be the one who triumphs.
- 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.
- Heads Tails Edge: Rincewind confirms his suspicions that they have entered a magical fallout zone when he successfully calls a tossed coin as 'edge'.
- 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: Greicha, ruler of Wyrmberg, who's actually Dead All Along, won't give up his domain until one of his children proves their worth. Liessa, his incredibly headstrong daughter, hires Hrun the Barbarian to kill her brothers so she'll get the position by default. She's also the one who killed Greicha in the first place.
- 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 hydrophobic mages, 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: Greicha, the ruler of the Wyrmberg 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.
- Load-Bearing Boss/No Ontological Inertia: Done interestingly with Bel-Shamharoth's temple—as soon as he retreats, the thousands of years of time that was held at bay by his power comes rushing in and the temple not only falls apart but is ground down to dust in seconds.
- 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 talking sword.
- Monster Shaped Mountain: One of the worlds Tethys passed while drifting in space had a "mountain range" consisting of the spinal ridges of a continent-sized sleeping dragon.
- 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.
- Our Liches Are Different: Greicha, late king of the Wyrmberg, used his wizardly knowledge to stick around after death until one of his children could defeat the other two and thus prove worthy of the throne.
- 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.
- Palate Propping: Rincewind props open the Luggage's lid before he dares remove some packed food and water from it. Soon as he's finished doing so, the Luggage subverts this trope by ever-so-deliberately closing its lid, grinding the wooden prop into powder.
- Pocket Protector: Rincewind is saved from a sword thrust to the heart by a bag of Twoflower's gold he has concealed under his robe.
- 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.
- Quiet Cry for Help: A variation on this trope is seen when Rincewind tries to take advantage of the fact that only he speaks Twoflower's language to warn Rincewind about his choice of lodging.
- Required Secondary Powers: When Ninereeds snatches up Hrun and carries him off, it's specifically mentioned that the dragon "momentarily sychronised their bodily rhythms" so the abrupt acceleration wouldn't hurt him.
- 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.
- Hrun says that swamp dragons are extinct, but they prominently appear in later books, such as Guards! Guards!. But then, 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. For that matter, the description of swamp dragons in this book — as acid-spewing monsters — is very different to the small fire-breathing pets of later books.
- The nature of the Patrician simply changes completely between this and later books, without explanation; see Characterization Marches On and Early Installment Weirdness.
- Ridiculous Exchange Rates: Twoflower's money is made of pure gold, which in his homeland is considered Worthless Yellow Rocks and only used as a fiat currency. As a result an amount of money that would keep going for a month at home makes him effectively the richest man in the city. The Patrician actually points out what this would do to the value of gold if he kept spreading it around, but Rincewind doesn't get it. Twoflower himself apparently never figures this out, and for example rents a room at the Drum for more than the worth of the Drum.
- 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). We finally got to see some of these wonders realised as artwork in The Last Hero.
- 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."
- Shoot The Builder: Dactylos (see above) has been suffering this on the installment plan, as it were. His current employer has promised to let him go free, but he doesn't hold out much hope.
- 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.
- Twoflower mentions having read The Octarine Fairy Book as a child; this is the Discworld version of the Andrew Lang series of colour-named fairy tale compilations such as The Blue Fairy Book.
- Death sawing at the tree in which Rincewind is curled up is an homage to The Seventh Seal.
- Kring the talking sword mentions a notch that came from an enemy wearing an octiron collar. Likely a reference to Gimli and Legolas' Body-Count Competition in The Two Towers, Gimli's axe was notched from the forty-second orc, who had an iron collar.
- Shown Their Work: Before he started Discworld, Pratchett wrote science fiction, and put some thought into the nature of climate and physics for a functional discworld. Hence the hub is arctic, the edge equatorial (because the sun passes close to the edge). It would also have eight seasons (two summers, when the sun sets or rises near you, two winters when it doesn't, two springs and two falls), hence the general affection for the number eight. The earliest books are really the only ones to make much mention of it, thought the characterization lasts. He just focuses more on the stories and people than on The Science of Discworld. With one or two exceptions.
- Every other book ignores the fact that a Disc year is 800 days long and treats 'a year' as being like one on Earth. This was explained in the Discworld Companion as farmers treating the 400 days' single cycle through the seasons as 'a year' and ignoring the fact that the sun rises on different sides in alternating years, and most ordinary people use the farmers' definition rather than the wizards' one. "You plough, you sow, it grows, you harvest—that's a year, no matter what some daft man in Ankh-Morpork says".
- Society-on-Edge Episode: As an Establishing Character Moment for Ankh-Morporkians as a whole: a fire started in the rougher part of town soon spreads. Rich citizens are soon selflessly hacking down the bridges that span the river so the panicking crowds won't be able to invade.
- 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 Running Gag of Discworld and Rincewind, and even the book's narration 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?
- Talking Weapon: Kring the magical talking sword.
- Throwing Your Sword Always Works: Double-subverted in the encounter with the troll on the road from Ankh-Morpork. Rincewind tries throwing his sword at it, and misses it completely... but then, due to divine intervention, the sword ricochets off a rock and strikes the troll a lethal blow from behind.
- Time Travel: Spoofed. As well as the more usual three categories of plants, annuals (you plant it this year, it comes up the same year), biannuals (you plant it this year, it comes up next year) and perennials (you plant it this year, it keeps coming up every year), Discworld also includes re-annuals, which you plant this year and come up last year. Wine made from reannual grapes is highly prized, but gives you the 'hangunder' before you drink it.
- 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."
- Training the Gift of Magic: The book establishes the principle that Discworld magic-worker have a unique gift, but still need training and competence to use it safely. (Even Rincewind has the gift, though he lacks any competence whatsoever.) The gift is defined here as the ability to see octarine light (see above), though that is largely forgotten in later books.
- Translation: Yes: A running gag with the beTrobi language; for instance, the beTrobi for "remarkable" is more literally "a thing which may happen but once in the usable lifetime of a canoe hollowed diligently by axe and fire from the tallest diamondwood tree that grows in the noted diamondwood forests on the lower Slopes of Mount Awayawa, home of the firegods or so it is said".
- Translator Microbes: Twoflower is able to read the words directing travelers to the Temple of Bel-Shamharoth, even after he realizes he's unfamiliar with the language they're inscribed in.
- 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 existence 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.
- Also, when two hydrophobes on Krull try to apprehend the pair, a quick-thinking Twoflower incapacitates one of them by spitting on his hand.
- Weapon Wields You: Kring the magical talking sword does this several times during the rescue it forces Rincewind to carry out.
- Wide-Eyed Idealist: Twoflower.
- World of Pun: Later Discworld novels love their punes, or plays on words, but they are omnipresent here.
- 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.