This is a book that I had heard about often but had never read before. It is the first book in the Discworld fantasy series, a series that is comprised of an astounding 40 books (which means my reading list has just increased by 39). In fact, this is the first actual Pratchett book that I’ve read. I did read Good Omens, but that was a collaborative book written by Pratchett and Neil Gaiman.
I loved this book!! It worked on multiple levels for me. As a work of fantasy, it was extremely imaginative, weaving together magic, science fiction, mythology, and fairy tales. But it is also a very funny book, overflowing with puns and satire. I literally laughed out loud during certain sections of the book. Finally, Pratchett’s writing is impeccable. There was never a moment when the characters and the fantastical realm did not come to life for me.
The basic plot is that a failed wizard named Rincewind grudgingly accepts the responsibility to guide a “tourist” named Twoflower around the Discworld, a flat, circular world that rests upon four giant elephants who ride through the universe on the back of a gigantic cosmic turtle. The two characters move through a series of adventures and interact with an array of interesting beings. That’s all I’ll say—you know how I hate spoilers. I will include a few quotes, though, and share my thoughts on them.
There is a great paragraph early in the book where Twoflower is trying to explain to Rincewind the logic of insurance, a concept that is foreign to Rincewind. Twoflower, who is from a different world, works calculating insurance risk. The passage has some great puns and pokes fun at the insurance industry.
“Inn-sewer-ants,” repeated Rincewind. “Tha’s a funny word. Wossit mean?”
“Well, suppose you have a ship loaded with, say, gold bars. It might run into storms or, or be taken by pirates. You don’t want that to happen, so you take out an inn-sewer-ants-polly-sea. I work out the odds against the cargo being lost, based on weather reports and piracy records for the last twenty years, then I add a bit, then you pay me some money based on those odds—“
I can’t help having an image of an insurance company as a hive of sewer dwelling insects, racing around like worker ants.
Another scene that stands out for me is the depiction of the gods playing a game of dice. It is a great metaphor for human existence being a strange blend of chance and fate, where anything can happen. During the game, which is played by the god Fate and an unnamed goddess who is only referred to as the Lady, there is a great interaction between the two about the desire cheat one’s fate.
Fate raised an eyebrow.
“And no cheating, Lady,” he said.
“But who could cheat Fate?” she asked. He shrugged.
“No one. Yet everyone tries.”
The following passage is one of the most resonant symbolic scenes for me.
On either side of him, two glittering curtains of water hurtled toward infinity as the sea swept around the island on its way to the long fall. A hundred yards below the wizard the largest sea salmon he had ever seen flicked itself out of the foam in a wild, jerky and ultimately hopeless leap. Then he fell back over and over, in the golden underworld light.
I see the water here as symbolizing both existence and the collective unconscious. Every drop in the ocean is an individual thought, or an individual being, all swirling together in this existence before rushing over the edge in a waterfall to become part of the ineffable and the infinite. The salmon represents an individual, caught in the currents of life. With a hopeless futility reminiscent of Sisyphus, the salmon tries to challenge Fate, to go against the flow, but fails. Ultimately, Fate always wins in the end and you become part of the greater mystery.
I’d like to finish up with one last quote, which I think beautifully sums up life. There is so much to do, to see, to experience, that it is impossible to do everything that is on one’s bucket list (especially if you accept the idea of parallel universes). I know that I will never do all the things I want to do, visit all the places I’d like to see, or read all the books I want to read. But I won’t despair; I’ll just make the best of the time I have and enjoy as many of life’s wonders as I can.
“Sometimes I think a man could wander across the Disc all his life and not see everything there is to see,” said Twoflower. “And now it seems there are lots of other worlds as well. When I think I might die without seeing a hundredth of all there is to see it makes me feel,” he paused, then added, “well, humble, I suppose. And very angry, of course.”
(pp 230 – 231)