Terry Pratchett Book Club: The Colour of Magic, Part III

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Welcome back to the Terry Pratchett Book Club! Today seems like a good day to put on your favorite tunes, knit a hat, do a mundane chore that doesn’t depress you, and pick up books that you like!

With that in mind, let’s push on to the next section of our reading party, “The Lure of the Wyrm”.

Summary

The Wrymberg is an inverted mountain. Once in range of it, Rincewind realizes that they are in the presence of powerful magic; this magic dates back to the Mage Wars when the first men fought the gods. The Old High Ones had to put an end to the fighting and banished the gods up high while making men smaller, and sucking a lot of magic out of the earth. But the places that were hit with spells during that war still have magic warping the reality around them because magic doesn’t die—it simply fades away. Rincewind, Twoflower, and Hrun make to leave the area. They are spied by Liessa Wyrmbidder and her dead father, a wizard who is keen to get his hands on Luggage. Liessa wishes to break the deadlock on the throne to Wyrmberg, a throne that would have been hers, had she been born a man. She only needs a man to be the figurehead so she can rule, and she thinks Hrun might be it. She saddles up her dragon to hunt them down.

Hrun tries to fight the dragons head on, while Twoflower is distracted because he desperately wants to see one, leaving Rincewind to attempt at fleeing. He is knocked out, and when he comes to, he finds a semi-transparent dragon and a mostly naked man standing watch. He escapes and come across Kring the sword in the forest. He means to flee with Kring, but the sword wants to rescue their compatriots and resolves to teach Rincewind about being a hero. They hold up the dragon rider K!sdra and his steed, and force them to take them both to Wyrmberg. Once there, Lio!rt Dragonlord assumes that Rincewind is a hero who means to challenge him in combat. They both have magic swords and engage in a duel. As they are fighting, Death appears, and Rincewind starts trying a little harder.

Hrun and Twoflower are in a cell and Liessa barges in. She goes to stab a sleeping Hrun, but he stops her in his sleep and awakens. Liessa explains that Hrun could be of great use to her if he passes three tests—and he’s just passed the first one. The next is to kill her brothers. Twoflower speaks up, so she has him carried off, while Hrun goes to handle his next tasks. Stuck in his cell, Twoflower thinks of how badly he wanted to see dragons, and accidentally summons one into his cell, creating the dragon from his thoughts. It is willing to do his bidding, and helps him escape the cell and continue out. He names the dragon Ninereeds, and as they move through Wyrmberg, they discover Liessa’s father, Griecha the First. Because he is dead, he is unmoored from time and isn’t certain of the order of things.

Griecha explains to Twoflower that he has the Power, the ability to imagine dragons into being. This is something that Griecha himself once did, but his daughter isn’t as skilled with the Power because she doesn’t really believe in dragons (though his sons are far worse). She poisoned him three months back—which is normally how it goes for their line of succession—but he refuses to leave until only one of his three children remains. He tells Twoflower to go rescue his friend Rincewind from one of his sons. Rincewind is in the process of falling to his death and almost gets his entire spell out before being caught up by Twoflower and Ninereeds. In the meantime, Liessa sets Hrun to challenge her bothers, Lio!rt and Liartes, but they choose dragons as their weapons, ruining the gambit for Hrun. He still manages to knock both of them out, but he refuses to kill them when they’re unconscious, so Liessa resolves to banish them. Hrun then must undergo the third test, which is the sleep with Liessa, but he’s snatched away by Twoflower and Rincewind trying to rescue him.

Death appears to take Griecha. Ninereeds travels higher and higher until there is no more atmosphere and they all fall unconscious, which causes Ninereeds to disappear. Liessa catches Hrun on her dragon. Twoflower won’t wake up, so Rincewind tries to imagine a dragon himself, but Death reminds him that he can’t manage it—he doesn’t believe in them. He ends up manifesting a passenger jet instead, or rather, appearing in a passenger jet on another plane of existence that he has always existed on, as a fellow named Dr. Rjinswand. Luggage appears on the plane and breaks the reality, causing them to shift a few hundred miles away and fall into the Circle Sea. They later use Luggage as a raft.

Book Club Chat

Okay, so this section is obviously a parody of Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonriders of Pern, specifically Dragonflight (which, similar to this book, is basically several novellas pasted together into the novel). And that tickles me for one particular reason: the Pern novels are well-known for being very sexy fare, which is the complete opposite of Pratchett’s M.O. In fact, I seem to recall reading an interview with Pratchett once where he chuckled over the fact that he’d never written a graphic sex scene in the entirety of his work, and then wondered if he’d ever end up taking a crack at it. To my knowledge, he never did. And that’s fine, of course—that sort of writing isn’t going to be everyone’s cuppa, and it’s not as though Pratchett ever pretends that sex doesn’t exist in his books. He’s just not interested in depicting it.

But the Pern books are very, very interested in telling you about sex and how people (and dragons) have it, so having this parody show up is extra funny, particularly within the parameters of a first novel. Coming directly after the Lovecraft parody, I appreciate the fact that Pratchett chose to move to a pastiche of a well-known female author, even if the Pern books have never quite been my thing personally. His description of Liessa—which seems like he’s just taking the protagonist name, Lessa, and putting a “lie” into it—feels a bit like he’s poking fun at the “special girl” trope (her hair is red flecked with gold and she’s super hot!), but she is still written as a person with agency, who has clear goals and desires. Plus royal drama that’s centered around needing to off your family members is always good for a laugh. See: Stardust, et al.

My favorite aspect of this is the fact that Liessa frames sleeping with her as the third “test” for Hrun—point being that if he’s not up to snuff, she can still get rid of the guy because she’s smart like that. (They are both equally cutthroat about this arrangement, which is part of why it works.) The Pern books could get a little squicky on that front, at least in hindsight, so giving us a scenario in which Liessa actually has control, and isn’t influenced by a dragon (or anything else), and he’s completely game, is a welcome change up to my mind.

The whole bit explaining how everything is upside-down in Wyrmberg is just… for some reason I cannot get my head around the descriptions, which I’m aware is my own brain’s problem. The visual is still excellent, so I can’t figure out why my brain reads those words and kind of ‘nope’s away from them. It’s strange because I usually only come across this problem with horror books, not with fantasy descriptions? Go figure.

Outside of the parody, this is a great little section to watch Rincewind get roped into yet more things that he wants nothing to do with. His particular brand of cowardice is great because it’s completely understandable cowardice—he’s not without bravery, he just hits a limit and then decides that if people aren’t going to listen to him, he might as well save himself. You can’t really argue with the logic because he does his due diligence. Unfortunately, he’s spending his time with a guy who does big heroing for a living, and the world’s most clueless traveler.

I appreciate this section a great deal because it’s the first time within the story that Twoflower actually proves his usefulness. Up until now, it’s all been about his haplessness and his relative misunderstandings, and needing to be rescued by all and sundry, but we finally get a measure of his strengths… and pointedly, they are tied to imagination. In many ways, it’s sort of lovely that the Disc’s resident “tourist” has such an impressive knack for that because it is, often, what prompts people to travel, isn’t it? We imagine what other places are like, and we want to experience them up close.

But more importantly, I’m a great big sucker for the trope of Believing In Magic Is Itself A Form of Magic. Which is exactly what we have here—Twoflower believes in dragons, and that’s the reason he can manifest one. That belief gives him power, and that’s beautiful because it is one of the only truly layman types of magic, when you get right down to it. It’s an equalizer than has nothing to do with station or skill or even learning.

Rincewind, on the other hand, manifests something truly ordinary by our own standards—a world that is, or is similar to, our own. It speaks again to his desire for rationality, science, logic, things that make sense. It also speaks to his innate sense of the world, which doesn’t really waver. People often believe that good stories require massive loads of character development, and often they do. (I myself am partial to stories that contain boatloads of character development.) But it takes a special kind of skill to tell a story about characters who don’t really change, and still remain interesting. Pratchett has told stories about both types over the course of his career, but often his characters who shine the most are the ones who don’t really change overmuch. Their stickiness is what makes them interesting.

Asides and little thoughts:

  • We learn that Death is coming to get Rincewind because Death comes for wizards—your average folk, Death sends his subordinates for.
  • The detail about the dragons getting more real the closer you get to Wyrmberg is so satisfying.
  • Rincewind’s fear of heights is… ugh, it me. Twoflower’s point about the distance you fall not making much difference is darned sensible, but that’s not really what a fear of heights is about.
  • In calling his dragon Ninereeds, we find that naming conventions for Twoflower’s people, which is charming as all get out.



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