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Literature / The Light Fantastic

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As it moves towards a seemingly inevitable collision with a malevolent red star, the Discworld has only one possible saviour. Unfortunately, this happens to be the singularly inept and cowardly wizard called Rincewind, who was last seen falling off the edge of the world ....

The second Discworld novel, from 1986 and a direct sequel to The Colour of Magic. It opens with the Octavo saving Rincewind and Twoflower from their No One Could Survive That! fate in the first book by changing the entire world around them to stop them from falling off the edge of the Discworld. They are dropped in a secluded forest where they befriend a gnome named Swires.

At the same time, power struggles rage at Unseen Universities when Ymper Trymon schemes to take the job of Deuteragonist Arch-Chancellor Galder Weatherwax. After summoning Death to question about the sudden changing of the world, the wizards set out on their own quest to find Rincewind.

And unbeknownst to the citizens of the Disc, Great A’Tuin continues to travel straight towards an inevitable collision with a malevolent red star.

Rincewind and Twoflower eventually meet and team up with Cohen the Barbarian, an elderly barbarian who was once a legendary hero known widely across the Disc, and a young woman named Bethan, whom Cohen rescues from being sacrificed by a group of druids, not that she’s grateful about it.

The Light Fantastic shows itself to be a much more developed Discworld story than its predecessor: the novel abandons the episodic format of the first novel in favour of a single interconnected plot.

This book is also notable for introducing several characters and concepts that would later become pillars of the Discworld series, including Unseen University (mentioned in passing in The Colour of Magic, but explored as a setting here) and the Librarian (who gets turned into an orangutan by the Octavo’s Change spell), the Weatherwax family (through Galder Weatherwax, believed to be a cousin of the much more well known character Granny Weatherwax of the later novels), pixies, trolls, dwarves (and Swires, who would go on to become a member of the City Guard in later novels), Cohen the Barbarian, and Death's Domain and family (through the character of Ysabell, Death’s daughter).

Preceded by The Colour of Magic, followed by Equal Rites. After a brief cameo role in Mort, Rincewind next went on to star in Sourcery.

Contains examples of:

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    Tropes A-B 
  • Alliterative Name: "Herrena the Henna-Haired Harridan".
  • All Trolls Are Different: The first Discworld book to introduce the idea of trolls being silicon-based life forms made of stone that simply stop being able to function in the heat of day.
  • Anachronism Stew: The druids use computers... well, rocks. They compute using rocks, mixed with the sort of terms heard from tech support folk the world over.
  • The Anticipator: Galder manages this by being Crazy-Prepared:
    "A floorboard creaked. Galder had spent many hours tuning them, always a wise precaution with an ambitious assistant who walked like a cat. D-flat."
    • That meant he was just to the right of the door. However, his Anticipator status kicks in when he automatically recognizes who it is.
    "'Ah, Trymon,' he said, without turning, and noted with some satisfaction the faint in drawing of breath behind him. 'Good of you to come. Shut the door, will you?'"
  • Anti-Magic: The room where the Octavo is kept is highly resistant to magic. Trymon locks the other wizards in there, rendering them powerless.
  • Apothecary Alligator:
    Like all wizards' workshops, the place looked as though a taxidermist had dropped his stock in a foundry and then had a fight with a maddened glassblower, braining a passing crocodile in the process (it hung from the rafters and smelt strongly of camphor).
  • Arbitrary Skepticism: Rincewind refuses to believe in talking trees, even though he's a wizard who lives on a disc carried by four elephants standing on the back of a gigantic space-turtle.
  • Assassin Outclassin': Trymon tries killing Galder via means of knife to the head. Galder effortlessly defends himself, since wizards don't get to be old by being easy to kill.
  • Astrologer: Trymon orders an astrologer to make Rincewind's horoscope in order to find him. Unlike most examples the advice is pretty helpful and specific: "Beware of druids [...] We really mean it about the druids."
  • Ax-Crazy: Ysabell.
  • Barbarian Hero: Deconstructed/parodied with Cohen the Barbarian, an octogenarian hero who's still at it because he's had a lot of experience at not dying.
  • Battle in the Center of the Mind: Eventually, Rincewind hauls the Eighth Spell out of hiding within his psyche, despite its attempts to conceal itself among dusty old memories and anxieties.
  • Better than Sex: When Rincewind accidentally casts some real magic, he suddenly discovers why wizards don't care that much about being celibate.
  • Big Bad: Ymper Trymon, the first major antagonist of the series.
  • Book Burning: The star people, a cult that blames magic for the star, starts to burn books of magic.
  • Born in the Saddle: Lampshaded;
    Cohen explained that the Horse Tribes of the Hubland steppes were born in the saddle, which Rincewind considered was a gynaecological impossibility.
  • Brick Joke:
    • The introduction for Herena says she probably isn't wearing leather. Some pages later, the narration mentions she's actually allergic.
    • Cohen paying Lackjaw to craft some dentures for him after Twoflower explained the concept to him.
  • But Now I Must Go: At the end of the book, Twoflower decides once and for all to return home.

    Tropes C 
  • Caught in the Ripple: A Change Spell affects the entire world, beginning in Unseen University and rippling outwards to encompass the entire world. The wizards, who are trained to recognise and act on this sort of thing, realise what's happening and speed to a high vantage point to watch the ripple in reality spread out first over the city and then onwards. note 
  • Cave Mouth: Twoflower's kidnappers inadvertantly settle in the mouth of an enormous troll, mistaking it for a cave. They probably would have been fine if they hadn't lit a fire inside it, ironically to ward off trolls.
  • Chainmail Bikini: Averted and parodied, Herrena the barbarian heroine is introduced with a long aside mentioning how the cover artist is expected to start slavering over black leather and whips and chains and thighboots, before noting how impractical such things are and that she's in fact dressed quite sensibly. "All right - maybe the boots are leather. But not black!"
  • Characterisation Marches On:
    • The Librarian here is a very passive and nonthreatening figure, and even gives up dangerous, world-ending information to Trymon in return for a banana.
    • Death is transitional here. Rincewind's still scared of him, but he's much closer to the character we all know and love than the psychotic version from The Colour of Magic. Strangely enough, it's his daughter Ysabell who comes across as creepy and crazy this time, and her characterisation again changes when she next appears in Mort.
    • Rincewind jumped straight into Jerk with a Heart of Gold territory in this book. He's much more sympathetic in both senses of the word, so much that all the greed from the previous book is very much gone.
      • It's acknowleged as Character Development when Twoflower gives Rincewind gold to deliver to Cohen and Bethan.
    "I'll hand it over the first chance I get," he said, and to his own surprise realized that he meant it.
  • Character Shilling: Twoflower still loves going on about how great a wizard Rincewind is. Rincewind can't even spell the word correctly.
  • Clap Your Hands If You Believe: Rocks are flown through the air via the power of persuasion (which druids believe is one of the binding forces of the Disc). It only works so long as the rock thinks it can work, so people are advised to never say things like "but that's impossible!" around it, lest the rocks start to agree.
  • Combat Pragmatist: One way that Rincewind manages to stay alive and avert being a Squishy Wizard, by fighting dirty.
  • Commonality Connection: Trymon and Rincewind are completely different people, but they both think the magic rules The Disc rely on are incredibly silly. At the climax the former tries to tempt the latter by offering a future with a more sensible set of physical laws but Rincewind recognizes Trymon is just ranting by this point.
  • Complaining About Rescues They Don't Like: Bethan says that instead of drinking mead with the moon goddess, she's got eight years of staying at home on Saturday evenings down the drain.
  • Conditioned to Accept Horror: Bethan is actually rather upset when she's saved from being a human sacrifice. (Partly, it would seem, because she'd maintained her chastity in anticipation of being a sacrifice, and could have been dating instead.)
  • Cosmic Egg: One of the many origins of the Discworld universe given by the Great Spells
  • Cult: The Star People, who also engage in book-burning sessions - as the books in question include Tomes of Eltrich Lore like the Necrotelicomnicon, this would be rather dangerous if the star wasn't reducing the strength of magic on the Disc.
  • Culture Clash: Rincewind hears what the Agatean idea of priests are: Harmless old folk who go around begging for money, and don't sacrifice anyone to anything. He thinks the idea is weird.

    Tropes D-F 
  • Dark Action Girl: Herenna, who would be a straight up Action Girl if not for Trymon hiring her.
  • Decoy Protagonist: Galder Weatherwax is the main protagonist for the Unseen University storyline for the first quarter of the book, until he is suddenly devoured by the Luggage.
  • Demonic Possession:
  • Desperate Plea for Home: When Rincewind recovers from his vision of the Great Spells telling him he has to save the Disc, he tells Twoflower "I want the feel of honest cobbles under my feet, I want the old familiar smell of cesspits, I want to go where there's lots of people and fires and roofs and walls and friendly things like that! I want to go home!" Much to his surprise, Twoflower agrees.
  • Determinator: Rincewind Lampshades this quality of the Luggage to intimidate the hell out of Weems.
  • Did We Just Have Tea with Cthulhu?: Twoflower teaching the Horsemen of the Apocalypse Bridge.
  • Did You Just Punch Out Cthulhu?: What Rincewind does in the climax... as well as elbow him in the ribs, bite him, Groin Attack him...
  • Disney Death: Twoflower, sort of. After being poisoned by a druid, he's sent to Death's house with his lifeline still attached and Rincewind has to get him back.
  • Dropped a Bridge on Him: Galder Weatherwax is unceremoniously devoured by the Luggage about a quarter of the way through the book. It's a Blink-and-You-Miss-It moment, he's there one second and the next, the Luggage is there instead.
  • Druidic Sickle: When Rincewind and Twoflower encounter a druidic ceremony, many or all of the druids appear to be carrying sickles, and some of them try to employ them as weapons against Cohen, with unfortunate consequences for them.
  • Early-Installment Weirdness: Death and his nature still have some fleshing out ahead, with Ysabell mentioning people coming there to rescue their loved ones all the time. Later instalments establish that the dead don't go to Death's home, but to somewhere else entirely.
  • Eldritch Abomination: The Things from the Dungeon Dimensions.
  • The End of the World as We Know It: What is believed will happen as the magic fails.
  • Evil Chancellor: Ymper Trymon to Galder Weatherwax.
  • Failed Attempt at Drama: Galder tries putting some drama into summoning Death, but even aside from his just coming from a party, Death asks him to knock it off with the dramatic speeches and proclamations, putting Galder out, since he rather likes being a ham.
  • Fantastic Measurement System: This is the first book where thaums are mentioned (Rincewind talking about the gingerbread cottage) as a unit of magic, rather than Primes as in the previous book. This would be explained by the Discworld Companion as being two competing units of measurement, like Fahrenheit and Celsius.
  • Fictional Zodiac: The Discworld version of astrology is mentioned. It's much harder than on our world, because the constellations keep changing as Great A'tuin swims along. The wizards try to locate Rincewind by working out his exact horoscope; Rincewind's birth sign is "The Small Boring Group of Faint Stars", which later features in The Last Continent, set thousands of years in the past, as a much larger nebula in the sky.
  • Foreshadowing: At one point close to the end of the book, the Octavo uses Rincewind to say "The star is life, not death." At the end of the book, it's revealed that the red star is producing baby Discworlds. This also explains why Great A'Tuin was so eager to reach the star.
    • More subtly, although he's aware of what will happen if things go wrong, Death is puzzled by the red star's wider significance, indicating that it's a harbinger of birth rather than of anything in his purview.
  • For Halloween, I Am Going as Myself: Death was summoned from the middle of a party, presumably because someone is going to die at it. He tells the wizards that it will all go downhill at midnight because "that's when they think I'll be taking my mask off."
  • Flyaway Shot: A rare - perhaps one of the first - instance of this kind of ending in prose.
    They headed along the quay and into the city, two dots on a dwindling landscape which, as the perspective broadened, included a tiny ship starting out across a wide green sea that was but a part of a bright circling ocean on a cloud-swirled Disc on the back of four giant elephants that themselves stood on the shell of an enormous turtle.
    Which soon became a glint among the stars, and disappeared.

    Tropes G-L 
  • Gaslighting: One Luggage, one nervous henchman who's already seen it eat someone. One wizzard who knows what's happening and is enjoying it a lot. The Luggage spends several miles tormenting Herenna's last henchman by running ahead of them and just sitting there.
  • Genius Loci: Several of the Disc's mountain ranges are actually trolls who've gone philosophical. It's noted there might be some bother if they ever woke up.
  • Genre Savvy Narrator: The narrator starts to describe the mooks following the female warrior Herrena, and goes ahead Breaking the Fourth Wall by saying there's no point describing them in a story like this in which they're all going to get killed anyway.
  • Girl with Psycho Weapon: Ysabell with her father's scythe.
  • Heroes Want Redheads: Then they prefer brunettes, then blondes, then what they look for in a woman is... patience.
  • Horsemen of the Apocalypse: The remaining three make their first appearance, playing Thing You Put Over A River in Death's house. Pestilence speaks in italics, at least until Thief of Time.
  • I'll Take Two Beers Too:
    "Yes, it probably does it good to get out and meet people," said Rincewind, "and now I think it'd do me good to go and order a couple of drinks."
    "Good idea," said Twoflower. "I'll have a couple of drinks too."
  • Insane Troll Logic: Rincewind starts talking to a tree (which talks back). He then reasons that only mad people talk to trees, and since he isn't mad, he can't be talking to a tree. Later on, when the tree starts trying to correct him on some matters, Rincewind glowers at it.
  • In the Back: Twoflower runs Thing!Trymon through this way.
  • In the Local Tongue: Discussed. For example, Mount Oolskunrahod ("Who is this fool who doesn't know what a mountain is?") in the Forest of Skund ("Your finger, you fool," after an explorer pointed and asked a native "What's this?").
  • Killed Off for Real: Galder Weatherwax.
  • Killed Offscreen: Galder Weatherwax is unceremoniously devoured by the Luggage about a quarter of the way through the book. It's a Blink-and-You-Miss-It moment, he's there one second and the next, the Luggage is there instead.
  • Kill It with Fire: Druids do not take to people going on about that modernisation nonsense very well. Young druids who start getting uppity tend to find themselves on the bonfire pretty quick.
  • Least Is First: It's Twoflower who sets out to save the day at the end, with only a sword he can't really use, while wizards dither.
  • Literally Shattered Lives: Unfortunately for one of the petrified wizards, his stone form was accidentally dropped all the way down to the cobbles at street level when they were moving him.
  • The Little Shop That Wasn't There Yesterday:
    • Twoflower reveals that he bought the Luggage from such a shop.
    • A shop the group stumbles into while on the run from some cultists. It turns out the owner pissed off a sorcerer who cursed his shop to wander around and in and out of existence, never able to stay in the same place for long. It becomes a very convenient way for the group to get back to Ankh-Morpork in a hurry, as the shop is able to just materialize on an empty wall there.

    Tropes M-N 
  • Mad Mathematician: Ymper Trymon believes language should be replaced with an easily understood numerical system. This is the least disturbing thing about him.
  • Magic A Is Magic A: Galder Weatherwax magically lifts himself to the top of the Tower of Art by using stone falling from it as a counterweight.
  • The Magic Goes Away: Starts to happen as the Star's solar wind begins to strip the Discworld's magical field away.
  • May–December Romance: The very old Cohen and the much younger Bethan decide to get married.
  • Metaphorgotten: Played With. It is mentioned a few times that past Patrician Olaf Quimby II passed measures that required authors to be literal, so Pratchett must either further explain his metaphors or take them back.
    • As the ultimate example, he describes light, which moves slowly on the Disc due to magical fields, as "pour[ing] like molten gold," but then has to clarify.
      Not precisely, of course. Trees didn't burst into flame, people didn't suddenly become very rich and extremely dead, and the sea didn't flash into steam. A better simile, in fact, would be "not like molten gold."
      • He later replaces it as "like golden syrup" instead.
  • Moment Killer: A grumpy Death shoots down Galder Weatherwax's attempts to instill drama into his summoning, since he'd been dragged away from a party. Mind, he'd already killed the mood just by showing up - summoning Death is slightly less impressive when he shows up holding a nibble.
  • Monster-Shaped Mountain: Some mountains in Discworld are revealed to be very old trolls who simply sat down to think and never got up again. Old Grandad is one such troll, and Herrena's band make the mistake of setting up camp inside his Cave Mouth.
  • Mortality Phobia: Greyhald Spold, the world's oldest wizard, begins worrying about the encroachment of death, and devises an elaborate hiding place, magically and physically impermeable, in the hope of keeping the Grim Reaper at bay. Unfortunately, he neglected to take into account the problem of obtaining fresh air in an impermeable chamber...
  • Multipurpose Monocultured Crop: The Horse Nomads evidently eat very little besides horse, although one warrior is mentioned to have spiced up his mare's milk with snowcat blood.
  • Mushroom House: While traveling through the Forest of Skund, the protagonists meet Swires, a gnome living inside a mushroom with a red cap with white spots. The mushroom itself is described as belonging to a kind that a shaman they met previously, who habitually consumed hallucinogenic fungi to trigger religious experiences, would only eat "after tying himself to a rock".
  • My Skull Runneth Over: Wort says that a single wizard trying to cast the spells of the Octavo will get this reaction, not just dying, but tearing a hole in the fabric of the Universe.
  • Noodle Implements: It's unrevealed what Chancellor Weatherwax planned to do with silver tweezers, cat blood, a whip and a small chair. Or what would've happened to the volunteer, had any been available as an alternative.
  • Nothing Is Scarier: All over the place after Trymon steals the Octavo. And again when Rincewind gets a good, long look at the Things. The ones Pterry does describe look like a hideous mix of an octopus and a bicycle, and apparently there are much worse behind them.

    Tropes O-T 
  • One-Winged Angel: An Eldritch Abomination-possessed Trymon near the end. Subverted in that he's still a pretty frail and a lousy fighter even after transforming, given that Rincewind is able to punch him out anyways. Not quite a Clipped-Wing Angel though, since the sprouting claws and tentacles do give him a boost (he was very much a Squishy Wizard before transformation).
  • Our Dwarves Are All the Same: The first appearance of Discworld dwarfs; industrious and quiet, but very handy with an axe if you cross them.
  • Our Fairies Are Different: Twoflower is initially excited at the thought of fairies being around. Swires informs him, to no avail, that they don't have that kind of fairy. They have the other kind of fairy.
  • Portal Cut: Implied to have befallen one of the pursuing UU wizards, who activated his Seven League Boots without the proper safety precautions.
  • Prophecy Twist: The prophecy written on the wall of the pyramid of Tsort states that the one who says all eight of the spells of the Octavo will get his greatest wish fulfilled. Naturally Trymon thinks it means that great power will be given to anyone who fills that role (himself for example) but it is simply and accurately describing that once Rincewind says all eight spells then the one that has been riding around in his head will no longer be there, getting rid of it is his greatest wish.
    • "The star is life, not death."
  • Red Shirt: After introducing Herrena, the narrator mentions she has a couple of mercenaries with her who will probably die soon, so there is no reason to introduce them. Although most of them last about as long as Herrena does. They don't die, however, but are written out of the story when Rincewind and Twoflower escape, and Herrena is later mentioned in passing as being in Ankh-Morpork in Eric.
  • Self-Fulfilling Prophecy: Greyhald Spold finds out that he's about to die, so in an attempt to ensure that Death can't get to him, he locks himself in a small box with all sorts of wardings to ensure it can't be opened. He neglects to drill any airholes in the box.
  • Shout-Out:
    • Mostly to the film Conan the Barbarian (1982), from which direct quotes are satirized and some plot elements, lifted wholesale.
    • Early on, Rincewind and Twoflower find a nice gingerbread house once owned by a witch, until two punk kids killed her.
    • The manner in which the Librarian makes his first appearance is a reference to classic BBC radio comedy show Round the Horne, which would often reference invented, surrealistic, public holidays such as, for instance Immerse An Orangutan In Pineapple Jelly Week. BBC radio comedy was one of many influences on Pratchett's writing.
    • Death being at a masquerade party where it will go downhill when everyone realizes he's not wearing a mask is a reference to Edgar Allan Poe's The Masque of the Red Death.
  • The So-Called Coward: Not for the last time, Rincewind saves the world by accident.
  • Society-on-Edge Episode: A large part of the plot is caused by a very bright, malevolently red star appearing in the sky, and this drives the inhabitants of the Disc to start doomsday cults (Death himself finds them creepy).
  • Squishy Wizard: How Rincewind is able to beat Trymon in the end. While Rincewind is a wizard at heart, he's more physically fit than the average wizard (and a dirty fighter).
  • Strangely Specific Horoscope: The University's astrologer reads Rincewind's horoscope in hope of tracking down his location. It rambles a bit, but warns those born under the Small Boring Group of Faint Stars not to annoy any druids twice, which is very good advice for someone in Rincewind's circumstances that day.
  • Technicolor Science: Invoked. Galder's workroom includes a complicated arrangement of colored liquid bubbling through pipes — which is there entirely for effect.
  • Throw the Dog a Bone: Rincewind actually manages to cast a spell at the climax. He nearly passes out from the sheer strain, but he casts a spell.
  • Title Drop
  • Tome of Eldritch Lore: The Octavo.
  • Turned to Stone:
    • This happens to the heads of the eight orders of wizardry after they go to 'congratulate' Trymon on making contact with the Dungeon Dimensions.
    • And, in the movie adaptation alone, this is also what happens to Trymon by... himself.
    • Inverted, then played straight, with the trolls, who are temporarily paralyzed by daylight and revive again at dusk.

    Tropes U-Z 
  • Unexpectedly Real Magic: The hitherto incompetent wizard Rincewind, pursued by a mob intent on wreaking revenge on all things wizardly, throws his usual desperate bluff to gain time. Rincewind's tactic in a fight is to strike the pose of a wizard about to cast a lethal spell, knowing Genre Savvy pursuers will realize exactly what it means when a Wizard strikes a pose with arms extended and fingers poised to deliver death. It usually buys Rincewind enough time to run and get away, or else to do the unexpected and deliver a more mundane punch or kick. But to his surprise, for the very first time the magic ignites, his fingers crackle with octarine fire, and people get killed. He just wasn't expecting this.
  • Watch the World Die: One of the evacuees claims that's why he's heading for the mountains: the Red Star will kill everyone there too, but at least the view will be better when it happens.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Lackjaw the dwarf jeweler, last seen climbing aboard the Luggage with Cohen, is absent without explanation when the latter two arrive at the Tower of Art.
  • Who Will Bell the Cat?: when one member of the Star People cult tries to intimidate Cohen by saying that that if he is killed, more will take his place. Cohen replies that it doesn't matter since he will be dead anyways. The cultist wisely backs off.
  • Yank the Dog's Chain: At the end of the book, Rincewind declares his attention to re-attend the Unseen University, figuring that without the Eighth Spell in his mind, he might be able to learn magic for real. Later books show he doesn't, and remains a hopeless failure of a wizard.
  • You Can See That, Right?:
    Shaman: You didn't just see two men go through upside down on a broomstick, shouting and screaming at each other, did you?
    Apprentice: Certainly not.
    Shaman: Thank goodness for that. Neither did I.
  • You Can't Fight Fate: When one of the wizards realizes Death is coming for him, he locks himself inside a specially prepared box woven with spells and materials designed to bar Death from entering. Only when he's locked inside does he find out that Death simply slipped inside ahead of him.
  • Your Size May Vary: A rare literary example. When Old Grandad wakes up, his fingers are the size of ships... and a few paragraphs later, his hand is the size of a house.