Rediscovering the Punny World of Fantasy

Monday, May 16, 2011

For a period of a few years when I was in middle school and high school, I read almost exclusively science fiction and fantasy.  My love affair with science fiction started with A Wrinkle in Time, and my first fantasy love was The Wishstones of Shannarah.  I tore through the works of Terry Brooks, Lloyd Alexander, Susan Cooper, Stephen R. Donaldson, Anne McCaffery, and Ursula K. LeGuin.  One of my favorite authors from this period was Piers Anthony.  His Xanth novels were always light and amusing, and better yet, there were a TON of them.  I spent whole weekends ensconced in my room with a pile of Xanth novels, reading non-stop while listening to Abba on vinyl.  That's right, I was a total nerd, but a happy one!

Then I went away to college, and spent my reading time on textbooks instead of reading for pleasure.  Between that and the fact that I'd lost my book supplier (my mother, who was somehow not willing to drive two hours just to take me to the bookstore for more reading material), I didn't read a Xanth book for a long time.  When I finally did get back to them, I was saddened to discover that the puns that I thought were so funny and clever in my teens now seemed a bit immature.  I remember how sad I was at not really enjoying the books as I once had.

Fast forward 20 years, and I am once again in love with a goofy, pun-filled series of fantasy humor.  Terry Pratchett's Discworld series was recommended to me by a friend years ago, but for some reason I never managed to pick up any of his books.  Finally two circumstances fell into place-morning door duty and an iPod Touch.  One morning at school while on door duty, in between buses coming in, I was exploring my new iPod Touch, and there in the iBooks store was Terry Prachett's Color of Magic for less than $5.  The universe had finally brought Prachett and I together.

The Color of Magic is the first book in the Discworld series, though not necessarily the first book chronologically in the Discworld mythology.  In The Color of Magic we are introduced to Rincewind, a failed wizard living a dissolute life in Ankh-Morpork, a large city on the Disc, a world being carried through the universe by four elephants that are perched on a large turtle A'Tuin.  Rincewind chances to meet Twoflower, a tourist from across the sea, who has a magic chest that follows him everywhere.  What Rincewind doesn't know is that he and Twoflower are pawns in a large chess game being played by the gods and goddesses of the Discworld.  Rincewind becomes Twoflower's tour guide and protector, and they travel around the Discworld meeting all manner of magical beings, heroes, and danger.  Despite being completely inept as a wizard, somehow Rincewind manages to take advantage of every piece of luck that comes his way to help Twoflower and himself survive.

The books is full of puns, illogical magical mythology, and humor, just like the Xanth novels.  But unlike Anthony's series, The Color of Magic also feels more mature. A combination of satire and silliness, The Color of Magic is a light read, with layers of meaning that can be thought about-or not-at your leisure.  Pratchett's books are like a big "wink wink, nudge nudge" to the fantasy community, at once spoofing it and enriching it.  If you, like me, loved fantasy as a youth but find it rather immature as an adult, then Pratchett's books may be right up your alley.

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