the light fantastic

It’s strange to me how so many important events occurred that shaped me on such an elemental level in both of the academic “junior” years of my life. It’s even odder to think that soon, I won’t even have that measurement; it’ll just be time, passing as time does.

But that’s another topic entirely.

I picked up my first Discworld novel during that first junior year of my life, the most harrowing and tumultuous time that is high school. There’s not much point in rehashing that mess, because let’s be real, everyone kind of had a crummy high school experience because it’s high school. But this isn’t about a crummy high school experience. This is about The Colour of Magic.

I had never read a book like The Colour of Magic before: a fantasy that was so light-hearted and funny and aware of itself in that most beautiful way where it’s not pandering to the audience at all, but it’s smart, and it’s alive. And it’s not childish: there is a way Terry Pratchett treats his readers, a very gentle way, a way that lets you in on the joke instead of being outside of it. I remember being in Physics class, reading instead of paying attention to the lesson (oh shush, we all did it at some point), and trying so hard not to just burst out in laughter; genuine, meaningful laughter. There was a tone to the work that I hadn’t experienced before: I loved each little tangent in the footnotes, the hilariously-accurate metaphors. I would stand outside of my German class with friends and read them passages out of the book that were particularly great. Even today, whenever someone is looking for a reading suggestion, a Discworld novel is my go to, because there really is something for everyone in them.

And the settings! Ankh-Morpork captivated me like no fantasy city has before it, because it had a feeling that Redwall Abbey, the Shire, or Diagon Alley didn’t have: it felt real to me. It was a real city full of heroes and adventurers and thieves and criminals and it smelled like New York City on a hot summer day, but my gosh, that made it the most wonderful place in the world to me. There’s a moment, and I can’t remember which book it’s in, but Rincewind returns to Ankh-Morpork after his travels, and experiences this utter joy at the grime and the odor and the chaos that the city is, because it’s his city, Ankh-Morpork is his home, no matter how dirty or on-fire it is.

And perhaps it’s my penchant for lanky, inept heroes, but Rincewind was immediately endearing to me. He wasn’t just the underdog, or an unlikely hero, he was just a guy. A failed wizard looking to save his own skin, like most of us are (maybe not the wizard part, but you catch my drift). He almost falls off the edge of the world, pulled into all sorts mischief and mayhem, and throughout the whole thing, he just remains this guy who is torn between wanting to go home and live a normal life, and wanting to prove Something to people. And because of that, the moments where he does something remotely heroic, they’re awesome. He survives by common sense and instinct, not flashy magic and tricks, and that makes him such a great character. I’m pretty sure he knocks a guy out with a brick-sock at one point. Maybe I’m remembering that wrong though. I’m fairly certain there was a brick-sock involved at some point.

Discworld changed me. It changed how I approached fantasy and writing. It made me realize that you can be silly and whimsical and funny and still have those serious and real elements in a story, in fantasy. It showed how fantasy doesn’t half to be these high-brow epics reserved only for the most dedicated of fans: it can be silly and comforting, lighthearted and quiet. It can be home, in the humble and cozy way that only home can be. And he was able to say all of those feelings in a simple sentence.

Thank you, Sir Terry Pratchett. Rest in peace.

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