The Light Fantastic (1986): Terry Pratchett


The Discworld Reread: Book II

We left the hopeless wizard Rincewind in a situation where, quite frankly, things could only get better. To be precise, he was plunging off the edge of the world. As this new novel gets underway, he receives both good news and bad. The good news is that, quite improbably, he’s somehow managed to end up in a tree somewhere on the Disc and that he isn’t dead. Yet. The bad news is that the Discworld is in the path of a huge red star, which is approaching at alarming speed and is due to wipe out the entire world in two months’ time… and only Rincewind can save it. Under these circumstances, as you may imagine, it’s a toss-up whether Rincewind or the world at large is more worried about the prospect.

Reunited with the enthusiastic tourist Twoflower, and Twoflower’s feral, unpredictable and vicious Luggage, Rincewind must shoulder his new responsibility. I should emphasise that his designation as saviour of the world has absolutely no relation to Rincewind’s bravery or technical brilliance. It’s simply that, as an obstreperous young wizard, he found his way into a forbidden room in Unseen University and looked into the Octavo, the most dangerous book in the world (‘It looked the sort of book described in library catalogues as “slightly foxed”, although it would be more honest to admit that it looked as though it had been badgered, wolved and possibly beared as well‘). As a result, he’s managed to get one of the Eight Great Spells lodged in his head. Now the Spell is keeping him safe, but it demands that in return he go back to Ankh-Morpork, where it can be reunited with the seven other Spells, just in time to avert disaster. It’s a perfectly clear course of action. The only problem is that Rincewind isn’t quite sure where he is, let alone how to get home.

There are lots of people who’d be only too happy to help Rincewind get to Ankh-Morpork, but unfortunately many of them have their own agendas in doing so. And none more so than Trymon, the ambitious junior wizard who dreams of greatness. Thus, Rincewind finds himself not only lost, but bedevilled by packs of eager wizards hoping to capture him, not to mention a determined red-haired heroine (Herrena the Henna-Haired Harridan) and her band of rogues. As if that wasn’t bad enough, Rincewind will find that his long and complicated journey will also feature gnomes, trolls, druids and the greatest hero in the history of the Discworld. And a quiet night learning the rules of bridge with Death and the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Not to mention almost certain death.

Pratchett is starting to get his momentum here. Gone is the episodic structure of the first book, and the thieves, rogues and barbarians are on their way out, although this won’t be the last we see of Cohen the Barbarian. The characters are beginning to settle into their personalities and Death, who’s one of my enduring favourites throughout the series, has stopped sounding like the Death of The Seven Seals and is becoming more of an individual. It’s pure Pratchett when, having enacted an ancient rite to summon Death, the quivering wizards of Unseen University find him holding a drink and a cocktail stick:

‘I said I hope it is a good party,’ said Galder, loudly.

This is getting much more like the Discworld I know and love, although we still have a few books to go before all the usual suspects are in place. The Light Fantastic does, however, feature one very significant event in the series, because it’s here that a rogue bolt of magic transforms Unseen University’s Librarian into an orangutan. Ook.

We’ll see a lot more of the Discworld’s wizards in the next instalment of the series, Equal Rites, although it’s interesting to note a few scenes in the present novel that also foreshadow the events of the fourth book, Mort. Pratchett had obviously already realised the promise of his anarchic world and was preparing to dig in for the long haul. And thank goodness he did… Book III may come quite soon, I should add, as I’m engaged in reading a great big hefty doorstop of an historical novel at the moment and the odd bit of light Pratchettian fantasy is a perfect antidote.

Buy the book

Last in this series – The Colour of Magic

Next in this series – Equal Rites

As Paul Kidby hasn’t done any illustrations directly related to The Light Fantastic, here’s a picture of the Librarian – post-spell – with the Octavo itself.

Kidby: The Librarian

The Librarian © Paul Kidby

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