I’ve read upwards of ten books in Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series, but until recently I hadn’t actually read book one, The Colour of Magic. It’s one of those series where you can really drop in at any point (though some books are better starting places than others). I think there are over thirty books in the series, so if you, like me, feel a little baffled at where to begin, don’t bother–just grab something and go (though I recommend Guards! Guards! or The Truth as good starting points). Or, of course, you could start with #1.
The Colour of Magic introduces us to Discworld, an alternate world which exists as a flat disc, riding on the back of four elephants, who are on the back of a giant turtle. That right there may give you some idea of what we’re dealing with–a truly bizarre and wonderfully hilarious world.
The Colour of Magic begins in the ancient and cheerfully corrupt city of Ankh-Morpork, where Twoflower has come as the Disc’s first tourist, thrilled by the quaint bars and eager to meet heroes and see real Ankh-Morporkian brawls. Rincewind the not-very-good wizard ends up roped in as his guide, and they embark on a perilous and hysterical adventure around the Disc.
It sounds almost reasonable, until I mention that Twoflower is followed everywhere by an animate trunk with hundreds of legs known as The Luggage, Death shows up every so often and is rather put out that Rincewind keeps stubbornly not dying, and at one point they encounter imaginary dragons who live inside a giant inverted mountain. And that, of course, is only the half of it.
If you’re having a gloomy, depressing day, read a Discworld novel. It will brighten everything. Pratchett’s books are gritty but hilarious, have a grown-up feel but aren’t really inappropriate for young adults either.
There’s a vast cast of characters who wander in and out of the Discworld novels, and there are some subseries within the larger series (although good luck finding a comprehensive, helpful list of which books fall into which subseries), which focus on particular groups of characters. There are the witches; the City Guard; the magicians; and let’s not forget Death. I’m especially attached to the City Guard, led by noble but cynical Sam Vimes.
The Colour of Magic doesn’t focus particularly on any group of characters I recognize from later books, but it will definitely give you a solid introduction to the world of the Disc.
And, a random story: years ago I was on a bus, and overheard a couple of people talking about a book. A wizard wound up in a tree, and was being visited by what seemed to be Death, but turned out to be a non-fatal disease. The wizard objected that no one died of that disease, and he couldn’t be killed by him. Sounds fun, right? Of course I didn’t hear the book title, and I didn’t ask, and despite a little Googling I never could figure out what the reference was. But now I’m reading along through The Colour of Magic and lo and behold: Rincewind lands himself in a tree, a cloaked figure appears with a scythe–but it’s not Death, it’s Scrofula. Death was busy. Rincewind objects, “I can’t die of scrofula! I’ve got rights.”
Long-time mystery solved. And almost as randomly as Discworld itself.