Study Guide

The Color of Magic Society and Class

By Terry Pratchett

Society and Class

"No-oo. But magic of a kind, I think. Not the usual sort. I mean, [sound-as-of-underground-spirits] can turn gold into copper while at the same time it is still gold, it makes men rich by destroying their possessions, it allows the weak to walk fearlessly among thieves, it passes through the strongest doors to leach the most protected treasuries. Even now it has me enslaved—[…]." (1.1.57)

"The Color of Magic" satirizes the value we put on gold (it's just a metal, people). The satire centers on the fact that Rincewind can only think of gold's power in terms of magic, and it's an oddly accurate way to do it.

"Um. Is everyone in the Agatean Empire as rich as you?"

"Me? Rich? Bless you, whatever put that idea into your head? I am but a poor clerk! Did I pay the innkeeper too much, do you think?" Twoflower added. (1.6.14-15)

Rich for one part of the world isn't exactly rich in another part. Being rich is more a relative term, as in relative to the wealth of those around you.

"I may as well tell you, Rincewind, that there is some contact between the Lords of the Circle Sea and the Emperor of the Agatean Empire, as it is styled," the Patrician went on. "It is only very slight. We have nothing they want, and they have nothing we can afford. It is an old Empire, Rincewind. Old and cunning, and cruel and very, very rich." (1.7.37)

The differences between the Empire's society and Ankh-Morpork are so great that they have very little contact with one another. Thanks to Twoflower's arrival, though, that's about to change and both the societies will shift along with it.

The Watch were always careful not to intervene too soon in any brawl where the odds were not heavily stacked in their favor. The job carried a pension, and attracted a cautious, thoughtful kind of man. (1.8.38)

In a fit of awesome comedy—awesomedy?—Pratchett brings in aspects of our own society and slaps them in a place they don't belong. Members of the Ankh-Morpork Watch are a little more cautious than their counterparts in other fantasy societies thanks to that pension waiting for them. To die before receiving that pension would just be leaving money on the table.

At the Temple of the Seven-Handed Sek a hasty convocation of priests and ritual heart-transplant artisans agreed that the hundred-span high statue of Sek was altogether too holy to be made into a magic picture, but a payment of two rhinu left them astoundingly agreeing that perhaps He wasn't as holy as all that. (1.12.3)

Satire returns to us. This time, the novel plays on the values of organized religion in our modern society. You can agree or disagree, but the satire is there.

The Patrician nodded. It was all rather a relief. He agreed with Nine Turning Mirrors—life was difficult enough. People ought to stay where they were put. (1.15.19)

The Patrician is a combination of various societal leaders throughout history. Machiavelli's The Prince, anyone? Of course, it's easy to enjoy people staying where they are put when you're the one standing on the tippy-top of the pyramid.

"Well, my point is, you see, that gold also has its sort of magical field. Sort of financial wizardry. Echo-gnomics."

Rincewind giggled. (1.27.8-9)

We return to the novel's satire on the value society places on gold, and then enlarge the satire's target to include economics. It's literally just a numbers game, people, smoke and mirrors and no real substance.

[The throne] was rightfully hers, of course; but tradition said that only a man could rule the Wyrmberg. That irked Liessa, and when she was angry the Power flowed stronger and the dragons were especially big and ugly. (3.6.1)

Yes, Liessa did kill her father, but that's the way of succession in Wyrmberg. She's also the most qualified for the position. That she can't become queen without marrying a strapping man suggests the blindness of unquestioned gender politics.

"Oh," [Hrun] said, "I expect in a minute the door will be flung back and I'll be dragged off to some sort of temple arena where I'll fight maybe a couple of giant spiders and an eight-foot slave from the jungles of Klatch and then I'll rescue some kind of a princess from the alter and then kill off a few guards or whatever and then this girl will show me the secret passage out of the place and we'll liberate a couple of horses and escape with the treasure." Hrun leaned his head back on his hands and looked at the ceiling, whistling tunelessly. "All that?" said Twoflower. "Usually." (3.12.19-21)

Again we find the idea that what's normal for one society will often be vastly different from the norm of another. In this case, Hrun's nine-to-five job is a little different from what Twoflower considers typical, and certainly distinct from the computer-shackled employment we think of as average.

[…], and the manner in which Krull had become a land of leisure ruled by the most learned seekers after knowledge, and the way in which they sought constantly to understand in every possible particular the wondrous complexity of the universe, and the way in which sailors marooned on the Circumfence were turned into slaves, and usually had their tongues cut out. (4.5.34)

Of course, it's easier to be the most learned land of knowledge if you have slaves doing all those pesky chore thingies (cooking, cleaning, and such) for you. A satirical play on unfair social tier systems? Oh, yeah.

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