DISCWORLD DISCUSSIONS: ‘The Light Fantastic’ (1986)

The Light Fantastic

I remember liking The Light Fantastic more than ‘The Colour of Magic’ the first time I read them, and nothing has changed about that this time around (although I enjoyed TCOM more this time too). TLF feels much more familiar, more similar to the later Discworld novels. This makes sense, of course; Pratchett was bound to feel more comfortable after having already had one go at Discworld.

The first thing I like about TLF is, of course, that it opens up a little and allows for some new characters. This is the first time we meet the wizards of Unseen University and I was not disappointed. As a whole, they seem as though they sprang fully formed from Pratchett’s mind. They have the feel of an institution that has been there forever – after the first encounter, you know exactly who they are and what their priorities are. I’m not saying that they do not develop as characters in the later novels, because I think they do, but they kind of almost don’t need to and I think that’s terribly clever storytelling. Similarly clever storytelling is to make Great A’Tuin, the turtle on whose back the Disc rests, a real character in this early book. As far as I remember, this is the book in which (s)he has an important role – namely, being the only one who remembers what has happened before and the only one who knows what will happen in the future – and although (s)he might never be quite so important again, this book has made sure that the reader knows just how central Great A’Tuin is.

And this is the first appearance of Cohen the Barbarian, which deserves a mention just because it is Cohen. I like Cohen!

I feel like this book, more than the last one, is particularly Rincewind orientated. He is a much more likeable character than I remember him being. In many ways, in the way he thinks and the way he behaves to other people, he reminds me a lot of Sam Vimes (who is my number one, all-time favourite Discworld character); a little bit tired of everything and everyone, a little bit smarter than everyone else if only he stops and thinks about it for a while, and actually pretty funny. I feel much warmer towards him now. I also think that this quote is very important to understanding Rincewind’s character and is perhaps the most important one of all: “But most of all he was angry with Trymon, standing there full of the magic Rincewind had always wanted but had never achieved, and doing nothing worthwhile with it.”

Rincewind is desperately aware of the fact that he does not possess the magic he should and he is desperately aware of what he might do with it, if only he had it. This desperation makes a lot of what he does make sense, but maybe this is a realisation that he only comes to after he has been on his adventure with Twoflower. It certainly seems like a much more profound insight into his own mind than we get from him up until this point. At the very end of the book, Twoflower says, “You haven’t really been anywhere until you’ve got back home.” Twoflower is talking about himself and his trip home, but in terms of understanding himself, this statement is all about Rincewind.

One thing I did notice about this book is that there is a significantly large amount of repetition, in terms of reminding the reader about things such as Rincewind’s spell, Death coming personally for wizards etc. I actually like that Pratchett keeps bringing certain things up, such as the fact that all reports of events must be made honestly, and I like that it happens a lot in later books. Rincewind’s spell and Death’s personal appearances, however, don’t feel very natural or spontaneous when they are repeatedly brought up and I wonder if it is something to do with Pratchett not quite knowing his readership at this early stage in the series. These reminders certainly became less irksome in later books and this is the only reason I can think of, other than Pratchett getting more comfortable in his universe.

All in all, this book, coupled with ‘The Colour of Magic’, feels very cinematic in its scope. Whereas some of the later stories are small and self-contained, this is very large, as one might expect an introduction to this world should be. A few years ago, a TV movie of ‘The Colour of Magic’ was made but not one of ‘The Light Fantastic.’ I haven’t seen the movie, because I’ve heard it is not good, and I wonder how they could possibly have made one half without the other. The mind boggles.

Favourite Quotes:

1. ‘…All the shops have been smashed open. There’s a whole bunch of people across the street helping themselves to musical instruments; can you believe that?’

‘Yeah…luters, I expect.’

2. ‘Once you made the necessary mental adjustments, the gingerbread cottage was quite a pleasant place.’ I feel like this quote entirely sums up how one is supposed to approach Discworld!

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