‘Eric’ started life very differently to the other Discworld novels; it was a larger format, illustrated affair, although it is still counted as the ninth Discworld story, and it has since been issued as a normal paperback, which is what I have had the pleasure of reading. I must try one day to get hold of the illustrated version, just to see if it looks anything like I imagine. ‘Eric’ is, because of those original illustrations, about half the length of a standard Discworld. In technical terms, it is probably more of a novella. It moves along pretty briskly because of this, lacking a bit in the usual amount of whimsical detail and philosophical debate that I have come to look forward to. That is a shame, because ‘Eric’ has a cracking storyline that I for one would have loved to see expanded. It starts life as a parody of the ‘Faust’ story and moves on from there, opening up into a panoramic whistle stop tour of Disc history and myth.
‘Eric’ picks up the storyline of Rincewind, the wizard who ended ‘Sourcery’, three books ago, trapped in the Dungeon Dimensions after he helped the young sorcerer escape the influence of the father who was controlling him. Enter Eric Thursley, a teenage Faust, who tries to summon a demon and ends up with Rincewind, who seems none the worse for wear after his time away. With the slew of new characters introduced in the last couple of instalments, it is pretty great to go back to someone that we know as well as we know Rincewind by now.
The thing that struck me first was that this book only emphasises how good Rincewind is with kids; he saved Coin in ‘Sourcery’ thanks to nothing more than the vague conviction that he should. In his own way, Eric is in need of just as much guidance and Rincewind just seems to get that, recognising a soul in need. He has a good heart, better than he knows and I (re)warmed to him straight away.
‘Pyramids’ introduced us to other places on the Disc, and ‘Eric’ spends quite a long time visiting these, as well as others we have yet to see. They spend time in the Tezumen empire (a parody of the Aztec empire), in the jungles of Klatch, which has been mentioned before but not yet made an appearance. In pursuit of the ‘most beautiful woman in all history’, they end up in the city of Tsort, inside the wooden horse that was supposed to distract the people long enough for the Ephebian army to ‘sneak in around the back.’ This story was mentioned in ‘Pyramids’ quite explicitly; Pratchett is crafting a coherent historical narrative here, building layer upon layer and taking full advantage of his loyal readers. None of it is spoon fed to us either; you don’t have to have read the previous novels for these details to build a bigger picture, but if you’re ready to look for them, they are all there ready to be picked out.
My favourite thing about this novel, without a doubt, comes near the end, when Rincewind and Eric find themselves trapped at the beginning of existence, before even time has started. Eric has wished to live forever, not realising that, quite reasonably, living for ALL time means that you have to start at the very beginning. Rincewind has half an egg sandwich that he throws into the sea just before he and Eric make their escape via a visit to Hell. The egg sandwich provides some interesting new food for the little bacterium who live in the sea, and life on the Disc begins to evolve right there and then. The delicious parallel is this; life on the Disc evolves thanks to Rincewind, just as Discworld itself evolved from Rincewind and that very first story ‘The Colour of Magic’. We will perhaps never know if Pratchett intended to make such a statement, but I think that hardly matters; Rincewind may have been slightly scorned by his creator but his importance should not be underestimated.
The shortness of ‘Eric’ does not really lend itself to much discussion but it does have merits. As a kind of fusion parody of ‘Faust’, ‘Paradise Lost’ and the ‘The Illiad’, I would say it is almost as successful as ‘Wyrd Sisters’ in gently mocking its genre. Just like Rincewind, this small novel should not be underestimated.