There are many ways to experience Terry Pratchetts’ first entry to the Discworld Universe and in all probability it’s for the best I went about it an unorthadox way. The sad truth is that this literary beast, an ongoing series that has over many years grown to something of herculean proportions, started as something simple, trivially light and lacking in key areas.
As a teenager I first discovered the Discworld in the form of a graphic novel; an excellent adaptation which brings an extraordinary level of light and colour to the vivid world Pratchett has concieved. As a comic strip the adventures of Rincewind and Twoflower feels episodic in nature, the pair moving from one adventure to the next, and the format of the story flows most naturally here. Many years later came the television adaptation starring David Jason and Sean Astin, which offers an entirely different take on the two characters, turning them into an elderly innofensive bumbler and an american style tourist. Enjoying that I returned to the source material with an abridged audiobook read by Tony Robinson, who invests such wit and life into the characters his voice feels like the definitive voice of the series. But when, some months later still, I finally decided to read the original book, I found that there was yet more to discover. As good as the audio books are they are heavily abridged. Each iteration of this story contains something the other’s don’t and I’d struggle to call the original book the definitive take, as despite containing the most material it also shows just how far the author has come as a writer in it’s inherent weaknesses.
Presented here the story feels extremely episodic but the flow between segments is almost non existant. The opening portion of the book is told in flashback by Rincewind, to two onlookers watching the city of Ankh-Morpork burn trying to fathom how it happened. This opening segment is perhaps the strongest part of the novel as it has a natural flow from the arrival of Twoflower, the chaos his very presence brings and the all too inevitable fallout that leads to him and Rincewind fleeing the scene. Sadly after they leave the city details become rather sketchy, their absence only half excused by Terry Pratchett’s frequent rambling asides where he explores a magical or theoretical concept with wry humour. In fact at one point, for no reason, the story just stops completely as the story skips forward almost a year to show a bedraggled and haggard pair of adventurers arrive at their final destination complaining about the exciting/ thrilling journey the reader’s been kept oblivious of.
Each individual segment works on it’s own but they all feel isolated; aside from the presence of Rincewind and Twoflower (who move through the story with the grace of a brick passing through a slab of butter) there is little through line. Characters appear and vanish with little consequence, most appearing well written and with appealing characteristics that prevent them being one note bit parts, but few will leave a last impression. What does leave an impression is the world itself, the unending overwhelming sense of chaos that permeates the book, that doesn’t let up to the end.
The concept is great but the execution less so. It’s not badly written, far from it, and largely comical but the written text is perhaps the weakest format of this story. Particularly as it is only half of an adventure, ending in a particularly brutal cliffhanger (and duff joke) that will only get picked up on properly in ‘The Light Fantastic’.