Study Guide

The Color of Magic

By Terry Pratchett

The Color of Magic Introduction

Welcome to a world where barbarian adventurer is a totally legit career path, a dragon-filled mountain can plant its peak firmly in the ground without a care for what geologists might think, Death needs a better daily planner thanks to gambling deities mucking up his system with their dice games, and where a giant turtle swims through the cosmos as four elephants teeter on its shell under the weight of an all-together flat planet. In other words, welcome to Discworld.

An avid reader of fantasy novels in his youth, Terry Pratchett found himself wondering one day why all fantasy novels followed the same rules if they were supposed to be works of the pure imagination. For example:

  • How come all wizards are old bachelors with staffs and ZZ-Top beards?
  • Why are all elves tall, beautiful, and shoot bows, but all dwarves are short, bulbous, and favor axes when they aren't sniffing out gold in their mines? 
  • And why, oh why, is it just a given that magic works in fantasy worlds but not in our own?

Published in 1983, The Color of Magic is Pratchett's attempt to deconstruct and write against this "consensus fantasy" and, while he's at it, tell a few good jokes.

The first Discworld novel chronicles the adventures of Rincewind, a gutter wizard whose talents include a single spell, a gift for languages, and the ability to severely annoy Death. Thanks to equal parts misfortune and his own interference, Rincewind finds himself the guide and protector of Twoflower, the Disc's first tourist. Together they travel from the streets of Ankh-Morpork to the literal edge of the world, and all the while, Rincewind must stay a step ahead of Fate, or else—should he be unable to wiggle away from it—become the hero he was never born to be.

The novel was successful enough to warrant a sequel and a radio drama on BBC Radio 4, but its achievements didn't hint at the massive success story to follow. It won no major awards, and Pratchett wasn't able to devote himself to full-time writing until the release of the fourth Discworld novel, Mort. (Source.)

But The Color of Magic did begin the Discworld phenomena all the same. Since its release, around forty Discworld novels have been published, not to mention a plethora of movies, radio dramas, video games, board games, card games, game games, graphic novels, and miniatures all set in or themed around the Discworld. And if miniatures don't make for a success story, then we don't know what does.

The Color of Magic itself has been revisited in several different media. It became a made-for-TV movie in 2008, and it was adapted into a graphic novel, too. It even made its way into the video game scene as a text adventure for all you old-school gamers out there.

Wow, that's a lot of Discworld goodness to consider. Before all that, though, perhaps it's best to begin with the novel that started it all.

What is The Color of Magic About and Why Should I Care?

Okay, The Color of Magic is all about questioning, deconstructing, and then having a good laugh at the expense of the fantasy genre and its many tropes.

But wait a second… Unless you're horribly (by which we mean wonderfully) nerdy and eat, sleep, and breath fantasy novels, then why should you care about questioning fantasy stories even if for a laugh?

Sure, fantasy stories might not be set in the real world, but they are, in their own way, entirely about reality. The characters of Eragon, The Hobbit, A Game of Thrones, the Harry Potter series, and The Wizard of Earthsea all deal with very real world issues—they're just dressed up as orcs, magic, and the occasional quest or bit of derring-do.

The Color of Magic may tweak fantasy elements for laughs, but it also questions assumptions about how a world should work—real, fantastical, or anything in-between. As such, the following issues and more are all raised in during Rincewind and Twoflower's misadventures across the Disc:

  • The misguided importance people place on wealth, and how silly economic systems can be when you get right down to it.
  • The all-too-marginal roles available to women in societies with serious machismo issues (which are quite a few of them).
  • The power of persuasion.
  • The wonders of science.
  • And, the big one, the relationship between life and death and all the happenings that come between.

To put it another way, The Color of Magic is as much about fantasy as it is about the ups, downs, and horizontal missteps of life. As for the wicked wit and laugh-out-loud moments, think of those as the sweet icing on this hearty literal cake.

The Color of Magic Resources

Websites

The Octarine Mind
The binary gathering place for all things Pratchett related.

Trope-ical Weather
Through this link, you can discover all the tropes The Color of Magic plays with—and perhaps falls unsuspecting victim to, as well.

MUD (Massive Universal Distraction)
Actually, MUD stands for Multi-User Dungeon or Multi-User Dimension. This MUD is a giant text-based video game set to the beat of Pratchett's imagination. Think World of Warcraft set in Discworld and played with only words, and you've got the idea.

Movie or TV Productions

Accents Aplenty
Sir David Jason, Sean Austin, Jeremy Irons, Christopher Lee, and Tim Curry journey to the Disc in this made-for-TV movie. The awesomeness of this cast cannot be overstated.

Articles and Interviews

The Motherload
We could spend all day linking to the many Pratchett interviews out there, or we could let Lspace do it for us. Don't think of it as cheating. Think of it as new standards for creative winning.

Head Explodingly Cool
Boingboing is famous for linking to the greatest things on the Internet, but this is above and beyond the call of duty.

Fantasy is Uni-age
It's a real word (sort of). Find out what it means and how it relates to the Discworld in this interview with Pratchett.

Scaring the Kids
Pratchett is all for it. Find out why here.

Standout Satire
Donna Royston examines just how far reaching the supposedly flat Discworld truly is.

Video

Trailer Blazing
Haven't seen The Color of Magic's made-for-TV movie? This trailer will show you what you're missing.

For Whom the Bell LOLs
A compilation of Death's scene's from The Color of Magic TV movie. Because you know you love him.

Choose Your Own Adventure
The text-adventure video game for The Color of Magic is like writing your very own Discworld adventure. See it in action.

Audio

Scientifiction
Professor Ian Stewart, Pratchett's long time collaborator, discusses the science of Discworld. Here be knowledge to go with your dragons.

(Mis)adventure Awaits
Music from The Color of Magic's original soundtrack. It's sure to add a pinch of epic to the most mundane of household chores.

Images

Epic A'Tuin
You know what they say: big turtle… big aquarium. What were you thinking?

That's Colour to You
The amazing cover art from the British edition of The Color of Magic.

Not So Much
The not-so amazing cover art the Americans got stuck with.

The Brains of the Operation
Pratchett posing with his signature black fedora. That's how you spell style.

Family Portrait
This great fan art features Pratchett with his cast of creations.

Go with the Flow (Chart)
The reading order for the various Discworld storylines can be a tad confusing, but that's why the universe invented flow charts.

All in a Day's Work
Check out the Discworld gods being all godly with their deity dice and god games.

Fodor's Ankh-Morpork
A map of Anhk-Morpork, because you never know where a vacation will take you.