After my experience of watching the wonderfully entertaining Terry Pratchett’s Going Postal, I decided to read some of his work. So I picked up The Color of Magic, which is the first of the 39 book series (the 40th book will come out in a few months). At first, I was not disappointed. Pratchett is a very inventive and and funny writer.
I’ve never been much of a fan of the fantasy genre, so the book amused me above all as a parody. In the foreword to the paperback edition I’ve got, he writes, “If I had a penny for every time someone asked me where I got the idea of the Discworld, I’d have—hang on a moment—£4.67.” Or his clear swipe at Tolkien, “The Discworld is not a coherent fantasy world… There are no maps.” Indeed. I always hated all those stupid maps and more generally I’ve hated how seriously Tolkien (and even more his fans) took his world. That’s why The Hobbit is infinitely better than The Lord of the Rings. But I digress.
In the story itself, Pratchett is equally sharp. The main character Rincewind explains that while there are many reasons to hate heroes (think Conan the Barbarian), “What he didn’t like about heroes was that they were usually suicidally gloomy when sober and homicidally insane when drunk.” Clearly, the man has lived in the real world. The gods of the Discworld—one of who is Zephyrus the god of slight breezes—go around to atheists’ homes and smash their windows. And there is this funny exchange:
About halfway through the novel, I stopped marking the funny bits of the novel and started marking the bad bits of writing. You see, for all of his wonderful creativity, Pratchett is a poor writer. The lack of clarity is stunning. And this was apparent from the start. I think that I had to reread every description two or three times to figure out what was going on. Really, it is that bad.
Let me give you a good example of what I’m talking about. Rincewind and Twoflower are sitting in a boat worrying both about sinking and floating off the edge of the Discworld.
We’ve got major pronoun problems here. The way that I read it first was that Twoflower was amazed to find a paddle and that the fish snapped impotently where itself had recently been. I quickly figured out that this was wrong. Twoflower was surprised by Rincewind’s actions and the fish attacked the spot where the frog had been. The problem with this is that it is very hard to simply experience the story. Normally, one reads the words and they are turned into an image in the mind’s eye. In reading Pratchett, it is a three step process: read, translate, imagine. It is very frustrating.
Still, the book was enjoyable. Pratchett has a fine imagination and I generally found that I was happy while reading it. And given the ridiculous pace at which he writes (two books per year), it isn’t surprising that his books would be a little on the careless side. But it’s sad, because I’m not planning on reading any more of his books despite their many pleasures.