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Fantastic by Name, Fantastic by Nature
The Light Fantastic - Terry Pratchett
Member Name: SWSt
The Light Fantastic - Terry Pratchett
Advantages: Brilliant characters and some very funny sections
Disadvantages: Need to have read The Colour of Magic, sags a little when main characters split up
Whilst there's no doubt that The Colour of Magic launched a modern publishing phenomenon, it's a book I always personally find a little disappointing. As a first novel and series opener, it's fine but inevitably, there are parts which are a little underdeveloped where it is clear that Pratchett is still finding his feet.
In many ways, The Light Fantastic is the beneficiary of the groundwork laid by Colour. Having established the parameters of his universe and introduced the reader to The Discworld, Rincewind the Wizard and his style of humour, Pratchett can focus in a little more on the characters and the humour. This second book shows that the author has found his distinctive voice and bears many of the hallmarks you expect from Discworld books: a mad plot, odd, amusing characters and a slightly skewed look at life that make you laugh out loud and think.
In many ways, you could argue that the Discworld series is the spiritual successor to the Hitchhikers' Guide to the Galaxy books by Douglas Adams and there are passages which could almost be taken from one of those books. It shares that same sense of the absurd, the ability to create humorous moments from fairly mundane situations and a wonderful turn of phrase that can turn an ordinary observation into something that will make you laugh loud. Yet, whilst Discworld might share some DNA with Hitchhikers', it's also clear that Pratchett is becoming far more confident at asserting his own distinctive style and has a much better idea what he wants to do with his various creations.
A mainstay of the Discworld series has always been the humorous observations on human nature and this is one of the real highlights of The Light Fantastic in particular. Pratchett is a keen student of people and has a superb ability to capture all the failings of human nature in his characters then use those observations to poke fun at all sorts of targets. His characters might be exaggerated and over-the-top, but they all contain elements of behaviour that will be familiar to most of us.
It's really the cast of characters who make The Light Fantastic stand out. The characters Pratchett creates are relatively standard for the fantasy/sci-fi genre, yet Pratchett is able to use the conventions to his advantage, without producing stereotypes. From Cohen the aged and arthritic barbarian, Rincewind, the world's most incompetent wizard and Twoflower, the naïve little tourist they are a fantastic bunch. Pratchett uses their various world outlooks to create culture clashes and hilarious misunderstandings aplenty, and it's noticeable that when the pace of the book sags a little, it's because the main cast are split up and sent along different plotlines for a while.
The Light Fantastic even has a more coherent plot (of sorts), more so perhaps than later books which tend to rely on increasingly bizarre plotlines. In this one, The Discworld is being threatened by the appearance of a red star, which is on a collision course with the Disc. Only by saying the Eight Great Spells at exactly the right time can disaster be averted. The problem is that one of them is lodged in Rincewind's head and no-one (including Rincewind himself sometimes) knows exactly where Rincewind is
OK, it might not sound like the most cohesive plot in the world, but it works surprisingly well. It's a reasonably satisfying story in its own right (impending doom is always a good plot), but it also gives Pratchett the opportunity to subvert the traditional science fiction/sci fi genre and poke fun at some of its clichés. Sure, the plot might be inconsequential in the overall scheme of things, but it gives the author a chance to expand on both his characters and the Discworld setting.
Unusually for a Pratchett book, The Light Fantastic is a direct sequel to The Colour of Magic, picking up directly where the previous book left off, so you will need to read The Colour of Magic to full appreciate many of the references in this one. You could just about read it as a stand-alone title, but you would be missing out on an awful lot of important (and funny) background information. On the plus side, if you have read The Colour of Magic, you will immediately feel at home with this one, because you already know most of the main characters and the events that have befallen them.
Although actually the second book in the series in a way, The Light Fantastic marks the real birth of the Discworld since it's really sets the tone and style of all the books that followed. As ever, if you don't buy into Pratchett's brand of bizarre humour, funny (but oh so accurate) observations and sci-fi send-ups then you won't get on with this. For fans of the series, it's a great early title and one you will want to read time and time again.
The Light Fantastic
Corgi New Edition, 1986
© Copyright SWSt 2012
Summary: A much more confident entry in the Discworld series