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Rereading Terry Pratchett: The Colour of Magic & The Light Fantastic

Back when I was in high school, I somehow stumbled upon Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series. I don’t know if my parents recommended it to me or I found it while trawling through the shelves of the public library (or my high school library, which had a small, but decent collection of SF/F books). As I grew up, I devoured these books and then passed them along to my sister (she loved them, too). But at some point I stopped reading them. I read Good Omens, of course, which led me to read books by Neil Gaiman (I have since left him behind, too, but for other and often more complicated reasons). But I never really returned to Discworld or Terry Pratchett’s writing in general.

That’s not to say it wasn’t around. My sister still read it and after I became a librarian, we always had his new books in the collection and there are a couple of patrons who read anything he wrote, no matter what it was. And when I started ordering YA/teen books, I was always ordering his newest young adult books. But I still wasn’t reading them. Even when Pratchett announced he had Alzheimer’s and talked about his future as finite, I didn’t go back to reread the books. I admired them, he’d created this amazing world, but I really felt that I’d outgrown the series. And when people asked me why I stopped reading them, that was my answer.

But since Pratchett’s death, I’ve begun to wonder if that was the case at all. Ever since discovering audiobooks, I’ve come to realize that the problem is not with the books themselves, but with me. For those who know me personally, I harbor a strong dislike for comedy — especially comedy where people do dumb things and thus make me feel embarrassed for them (called secondhand embarrassment: Urban Dictionary definition and a short, but interesting, article on the topic from Jezebel). This extends, to some extent, to fiction, but not always in the same way. It’s far easier to read through it then to watch it — but I still don’t like reading a lot of comic fiction — either because I don’t find it funny (and instead find it dumb) or I just don’t get it.

I figured out a way to get over this and that was through audiobooks. I discovered this by accident, actually. I’d tried to read some of Wodehouse’s Jeeves & Wooster series, but couldn’t get through the books. But then I picked up an audiobook version and found it utterly hilarious. I’ve listened to several other books that would otherwise leave me unable to finish (including more PG Wodehouse, but also some Horatio Hornblower). I’ve often thought that had I listened to Jane Austen, I might actually like her writing — but that ship has long since sailed. That being said, there are plenty of SF/F novels that I want to revisit (including, but not limited to, Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, which I cannot stand in book form). Of course, I wasn’t sure this was going to work, because not everything translates well into audio, but once Pratchett died, I thought why not give it a try.

And, guys, it totally works. It’s been so long since I read any Pratchett that I’m sure my lack of memory has something to do with it. But I remember enjoying the books — I just don’t remember finding them so incredibly entertaining. Man, audiobooks are awesome and anyone who tells you otherwise is wrong (or, you know, can’t listen, but that’s a different issue). Not all audiobooks are created equally, but these Discworld ones are turning out to be fantastic.

I decided, as with my reading of Murakami’s books, to start at the beginning. I picked up the audiobook version of The Colour of Magic (shout out to the Berrien Springs Community Library for sending me both The Colour of Magic and The Light Fantastic on CD through MeL) for my recent trip to Cleveland. I was astounded on several counts, the first of them being how enjoyable the narrator’s voice was. But what really blew my mind was how utterly hilariously entertaining the book was.

There are a couple of textual features to Pratchett novels that I wasn’t entirely sure would translate properly to audiobook format — the voice of Death (represented in small caps) and all of the fun and amusing asides (depicted as footnotes). Both of these were dealt with quite well using a bit of voice distortion, or something like that, I’m not entirely sure how to explain it. Without any hang ups left, the books are very enjoyable — at least the first two (as I write this, I’ve just started listening to Equal Rites).

The Colour of Magic introduces us to the Discworld itself through the eyes of a failed wizard, Rincewind, and the tourist, Twoflower, he unluckily comes upon, as well as one of the most memorable characters (after Death) in the Discworld universe — the Luggage. Together, The Colour of Magic and The Light Fantastic work hand-in-hand as a very long road trip around the Discworld.

Twoflower wants to see the world and Rincewind doesn’t want to, but ends up going with him anyway (he has little choice and it’s very amusing). Along the way, the two characters make friends — especially in The Light Fantastic and by the end of the second book, they’ve both grown as people and we, the readers, have fallen in love with the world they live in. Pratchett’s love for the world he created is evident from the first page of this series onward.

The adventures that make up these two books help to keep me interested, but what really makes this novels go is the humor. It’s everywhere! As I said to both my dad and my sister, I couldn’t believe how funny these books turned out to be. Sometimes I’d giggle, sometimes I’d chuckle and sometimes I’d just laugh out loud. It’s actually quite enjoyable to drive in the car while listening to something so entertaining. The Colour of Magic lasted me to Cleveland and back again, plus a day or so beyond and The Light Fantastic lasted me to visit my dad and back again, plus a day or so beyond that. I’ve managed to track down copies of the rest of the series and I plan to listen until I get tired of it or want to listen to something else.

If you can find copies of these audiobooks, I cannot recommend the first two enough. And, based on my first half hour of listening to Equal Rites, I’m enjoying that one as well. I play to write reviews, probably not this long, for all of the Discworld novels that I listen to.

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