The Discworld Reread: Book IX
Technically speaking, Eric isn’t part of the Discworld series. Guards! Guards! calls itself the eighth book and Moving Pictures the ninth, but Eric is always listed in between them. It’s more of a novella than a novel and seems to be aimed at more of a young adult audience, as an inept teenage demonology hacker finds his summoning rite answered by the worst possible ‘demon’ in the world: the eternally inept wizard Rincewind.
Eric wants the usual: to rule the world, to have the most beautiful woman in the world as his girlfriend and to live forever. Rincewind’s protests that he isn’t a demon aren’t helped by the sudden apparition of the Luggage, complete with its hundreds of tiny feet, its distinctive magical qualities and its inbred viciousness. But somehow, to Rincewind’s astonishment, his attempts to use magic actually work for once. Gloomily, he finds himself and Eric swept off on an adventure which will take them to the depths of the Klatchian jungles, into the direst caverns of Hell and to the feet of Elenor of Tsort, the most beautiful woman in the world. Meanwhile, back in Hell, the Demon King Astfgl is wondering why his carefully laid plans to ensnare Eric’s tender soul have failed, and exactly who has stolen his thunder by answering the teenager’s summons.
Pratchett could never actually be bad, but the simple fact of the matter is that, when compared to the mainstream Discworld books, Eric isn’t very good. It’s essentially one gag dragged out over 163 pages and it feels less like a story that needed to be told and more like one that was written on commission. You can almost imagine the meeting: “Hey, you know Faust? Wouldn’t it be funny if…” Pratchett gamely wheels out the absurdities, but this is situation comedy rather than the character-based comedy in which he excels. Even in what I think of as the ‘concept’ novels – the books which focus on one theme, like rock music or the cinema or The Phantom of the Opera – he populates the story with engaging characters who have a certain depth to them. We don’t really have enough time to get to know anyone here and Eric, although allegedly one of the protagonists, never develops beyond being a lustful, big-headed adolescent.
I’m obviously alone in finding this underwhelming, because Gollancz have picked out Eric as one of their fantasy masterworks (it would be cynical, perhaps, to point out that they had no choice because Eric is the only Discworld story published jointly by Corgi and Gollancz). And it’s certainly good for a light chuckle, but I found it forgettable when I first read it – indeed, it’s the only one of the early Discworld books that I no longer have – and I didn’t find it much more memorable now.
I should add that the edition I borrowed from the library was The Illustrated Eric, rather wonderfully illustrated in full colour by Josh Kirby, with his trademark anarchic explosions of figures over many of the pages.
Paul Kidby hasn’t really done any illustrations for Eric, with the exception of this rather jolly picture of Death as a beekeeper, so I’ve also given you Josh Kirby’s illustration of Elenor of Tsort in all her glory (click on it to enlarge, as there’s a lot of detail).