I’ll just dispense with all mystery and tell you right up front that THE COLOR OF MAGIC is a serious contender for the worst novel I’ve ever read - while at the same time bearing no resemblance to anything written by Dan Brown. No - wait - slight correction. There is one resemblance: the story makes absolutely no sense.
Now, you might think that if one’s disbelief can extend far enough to accept the notion of a world consisting of a disc spinning slowly on the backs of four elephants who in turn are riding on the back of a turtle that is not only big enough to support all of this, but also making its way, at its own torpid turtelian pace, across the vast reaches of whatever benighted universe contains this madness, it can accommodate just about anything. “Just about” are the key words here, and that notion is one that author Terry Pratchett set out to probe in this novel - more or less in the manner that a colonoscopy recipient might be probed.
Usually a book review would say something about the story’s plot. Sadly though, there is none. Believe me - I looked. There is no beginning, no middle, no end, no character arcs. Just stuff happening for no apparent reason. Well - there is an end, of a sort - more on that later. In the foreword to the Harper paperback edition I foolishly picked on a recent visit to the local B and N, Pratchett says “The Discworld is not a coherent fantasy world.” Let’s give him full credit for full disclosure. THE COLOR OF MAGIC is not a coherent fantasy novel.
The writing is sprightly enough, and the cobbled together vignettes that comprise this mess, each OK in itself, are delivered with an appropriately light and often humorous touch, which is all good as far as it goes - but unfortunately falls several disc rotations short of being far enough. The connective tissue that utterly fails to unite the various episodes appears to be a sort of Dea Ex Machina, if I’m reading it right. [Note: I did spell it right.] And if I’m not, then there is no connection at all, and it’s just some sort of only partially randomized, partially realized chaos. To call this narrative ‘picaresque” would be to give that lovely word a bloody beating it has done nothing to deserve.
As an example, the first two characters we meet, Weasel and Bravd the Hublander - brigands of some undefined nature - are left behind on page 11, never to be seen nor heard from again. This same fate, in turn, befalls wizards - male and female, alive and dead, dragons, legions of comely [female] and brutish [male] dryads, and numerous other thieves, assassins, barbarians, slaves and demigods.
Our main characters are Rincewind, a hapless and utterly failed sorcerer, his even more hapless traveling companion, Twoflower, an unlikely tourist - in fact the only one, ever - on the disc, and the latter’s persistent and self-propelled article of luggage, made, naturally, from sapient pear wood.
That’s pretty much it. They fall into and then out of a series of more or less increasingly hazardous situations through no fault nor ability of their own, and with no apparent purpose. And, perhaps fittingly, I suppose, the story ends - five and a half pages beyond where the words “THE END,” are printed in large friendly letters - with a cliff hanger. Or, more accurately, a rim fall.
In fairness, this was the first book Pratchett wrote in this series, and it seems he went on to do better. He must have, since there are ca. 40 Discworld novels with millions of copies sold. Pictured below is an illustrated reading guide that identifies THE COLOR OF MAGIC as one of several entry points, in this case leading down the wizard’s path. Evidently, and encouragingly, it seems not to have been the best choice.
One fan of the series has this to say, or rather shout, since it’s mostly in caps: “If you decide to take the path of the wizards: ask someone else for advice? I just. I STRONGLY SUGGEST THAT YOU DO NOT GO THIS ROUTE AND WON’T GIVE YOU ANY ADVICE THAT MIGHT HELP YOU DOWN THIS BLIGHTED PATH.”
Based on my limited experience, this is sound advice. I wavered between moments of enjoyable reading and wanting to fling the damned book into the fire place. That said, though, I am inexplicably rather fond of the characters. Presumably, one can explore and enjoy the Discworld experience without spending much time with Rincwind and Twoflower. But not everyone shares this opinion, as the vid below indicates. I’ll give Pratchett and the Discworld another chance, and seek another entry point - possibly the City Watch series, if I can lay my hands on a copy of GUARDS, GUARDS.
FIRST UPDATE 12/03/16 [There will be a second, if and when I can get a round to-it.]
Despite all my dissing, Pratchett is a certifiable genius, and there is much to marvel at in this book - such as his references, homages and parodies of, to and about fantasy archetypes and well known examples of the genre, in which I am not particularly well versed. And some of that is his humor, some of which is British in the extreme, and can very easily be lost on Americans like me. Further, some of that is based on near puns, which I gather are more typically British-style than American-style. There is help, though. I stumbled across this annotated guide whilst trying to figure out how echo-gnomics could be rendered as reflected sound of underground spirits. Even explained, it's a reach to far, but, whatever.
The circles, if you got to see them, are located in quasi-symmetrically placed vertical words. In each case, they contain the letters P I N, in that order. If we start with the unifier, all will become clear. This is the first puzzle I know of with a split unifier since the first one that C. C. and I did together. 7 D. With 36-Down, what you can't do regarding this puzzle's circled letters : HEAR A.
36 D. See 7-Down ... or, with "a," what you can see in this puzzle's circled letters : PIN DROP. If it's really quiet, you can HEAR A PIN DROP. But you can't in this puzzle, since it's the written, not the spoken word. [Though reading aloud is allowed.] The theme entries each contain the word PIN, and in the vertical orientation, the PINS are DROPPING. 2 D. Flooring wood : PINE. Pretty common. I prefer oak. 5 D. Custody : KEEPING. As in safe KEEPING. 49 D. One of a gripping tool pair : PINCER. Half of this item.
59 D. Go around : SPIN. Demonstrated here by our oldest granddaughter.
Another unusual aspect of this grid is the bilateral vertical symmetry. [There is neither horizontal nor rotational symmetry.] This, along with the very careful placement of the theme entries allows for 5D and 49 D to have a characteristic I don't recall ever seeing before - similar right-left placement, with vertical displacement and different length. This is a very unusual and creative construction. Across 1. Touch off : SPARK. To begin something, but since the implication is something inflammatory, it's generally not pleasant.
6. Electrical unit : OHM. Are you resistant to this entry? Did you want AMP? That's more along the lines of current events, for which there will be a charge.
9. What wind ensembles usually tune to : B FLAT. This hung me up. Not my most typical playing venue. In orchestra we tune to A. In jazz band we tune the reeds to A and the brass to B FLAT. Of course, the trombone has the infinite capacity to play any note out of tune. Meanwhile, the whole NE corner gave me fits.
14. Actress Anouk whose last name means "beloved" : AIMEE. [b 1932] Starting her career at age 14, she later appeared in La Dolce Vita, 8 1/2, A Man and a Woman, and 67 other films, mostly in French, and won many awards.
15. Place for grazing : LEA. A meadow. This relates back to Old English, German, and ultimately Sanskrit words for an open space. 16. Appreciative cry : BRAVO.
17. Travelocity ad figure : GNOME.
18. "Hotel du __": Anita Brookner novel : LAC. A story of disappointment and self-discovery set in a hotel on the shore of Lake Geneva.
19. Still : QUIET. Like a time when you can hear the sounds of silence.
20. Fabulous writer? : AESOP. Author of many fables. In this one we see the silence of the lambs.
21. Roth __ : IRA. Subject to strict contribution limits, but not subject to mandatory withdrawal.
22. Washer function : RINSE. The soap removal cycle.
23. Production capacity review : LINE AUDIT. For trouble shooting or improving the efficiency of a manufacturing production line.
26. Refused : SAID NO.
29. Very deep places : ABYSMS. I had forgotten that this archaic word exists, and was perplexed that ABYSSES didn't fit. It goes back to medieval Latin and came into English ca. 1150, somehow acquiring a Greek ending along the way. It refers to hell, the bottomless pit, the great deep, the primal chaos. Nietzsche advises us to not stare into it.
66. Looked inside, in a way : X-RAYED. Medical imaging. 67. Show the ropes : ORIENT. Help someone get acclimated to a new position or circumstance.
Down 1. It's a long story : SAGA. Or EPIC. Needs perps. 3. "The Cookie Never Crumbles" co-author Wally : AMOS. [b. 1936] Talent agent who started selling cookies in L.A. in 1975. 4. Alter the shape of : REMOLD. 6. Kukla cohort : OLLIE. Along with Fran Allison.
8. Portuguese territory until 1999 : MACAU. Autonomous region on the south coast of China, across the pearl River delta from Hong Cong. 9. Pitmaster's offering : BBQ RIBS. 10. Like dessert wines : FRUITY. 11. "... this skull has __ in the earth ... ": Hamlet : LAIN. Not to be confused with Nunckle Tim's shin.
Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio: a fellow
of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy: he hath
borne me on his back a thousand times; and now, how
abhorred in my imagination it is! my gorge rims at
it. Here hung those lips that I have kissed I know
not how oft. Where be your gibes now? your
gambols? your songs? your flashes of merriment,
that were wont to set the table on a roar? Not one
now, to mock your own grinning? quite chap-fallen?
12. Urban rtes. : AVES. AVEnues are routes, not rites. I was off in the wrong direction. 13. Membership drive gift : TOTE. carry-all bag. 24. "The Thin Man" role : NORA. Nick and NORA Charles, from the indicated 1934 comedy-mystery movie that was based on the novel of the same name by Dashiell Hammett. 25. Have what it takes : DARE. Having the courage to do something. If you have what it takes, you might succeed. Otherwise . . . ? 26. "The Goldbergs" actor George : SEGAL. A program that not only have I never seen, but before now never knew existed. Based on the childhood and 80's family life of the show's creator and producer Adam F. Goldberg. 27. Links legend, familiarly : ARNIE. Palmer 28. Conflicted : IN A DILEMMA. A choice between unpleasant alternatives. 30. Classic golf shoe feature : STEEL SPIKE. For gripping the turf. 31. "Haystacks" series painter : MONET. Claude [1840 - 1946]. 32. Overcharges : SOAKS. 35. "That really depressed me" : I FELT SAD. Expression of woe. 37. Isolated communities : ENCLAVES. A place different in character form the surrounding area. 40. City south of Fort Worth : WACO. 42. Magneto's enemies : X-MEN. A group of superheroes from the Marvel Comic universe. Each is a mutant with a unique special ability. 47. Sharer of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize : AL GORE. [b 1948] Former U.S. vice-president. 53. Trojan War hero : AJAX. Fought with Hector several times. 54. "Hamilton" role : BURR. Aaron. [1756 - 1836] He was sitting vice president at the time of their famous duel. 56. Mocked : APED. Made fun of. Not so much fun on the receiving end. 57. Puzzlemaker Rubik : ERNO. 60. Hall & Oates' "Say It __ So" : ISN'T. Not a fan, so no link. 62. Son : BOY. 63. My __, Vietnam : LAI. That village that had to be destroyed in order to be liberated. Kind of a downer to end on. Well, that wraps it up. Hope the silence wasn't oppressive. Cool regards! JzB
Theme - Do You See What I See? Or My EYES Are Crossed [Up.] or I-Yigh-Yie. An anagramish theme in which the letters of the word EYES are scrambled and tucked into theme answer phrases of 2 or 3 words, in each case spanning two of those words. If you're lucky, you got these letters circled for easy identification.
17. "Gotta go!" : SEE YA LATER. Adios, amigos -- except I can't leave now, I'm just getting started.
24. Peter Parker's alarm system : SPIDEY SENSE. To be a bit pedantic, Peter Parker's SPIDER SENSE is a kind of ESP that causes a tingling at the base of his scull, thus alerting him to danger. SPIDEY SENSE is a slangey generalized derivative phrase applied to anyone's [possibly uncanny] ability to suss out danger.
50. Henry VIII's third wife : JANE SEYMOUR. JANE [1508-1537] was Queen of England for a little more than a year, following the unfortunate Anne Boleyn. Sadly, Jane died of postnatal complications a few days after the birth of her son, who eventually went on to become King Edward VI. Queen Jane is not to be confused with Joyce Penelope Wilhelmina Frankenberg [b. 15 February 1951] from Hayes, Middlesex, England, the daughter of Mieke (van Tricht), a nurse, and John Benjamin Frankenberg, an obstetrician.
58. Sign of deceit, and a hint to this puzzle's circled letters : SHIFTY EYES. Supposedly, a liar cannot look you straight in the EYES. In reality, this only apples to rank amateurs. The good ones can pull it off, no prob - without batting an EYE, so to speak. Here, SHIFTY gives us a clue that the letters of the word EYES have been tampered with.
Hi gang. JazzBumpa here, complete with bifocals. Let's give this puzzle the EYE and see what we can discover.
1. Less-played song, usually : B-SIDE. Takes me back to my yute, when 45 RPM records typically contained a hit song on the A-SIDE and some other less commercially successful song on the B-SIDE.
6. Big name in big projections : I-MAX. Big screen theater.
10. Skips, as TiVoed ads : ZAPS. I guess you can ZAP something to make it disappear.
14. Like Andean pyramids : INCAN. Of or pertaining to the INCA people.
15. Bumpkin : RUBE. Simple farmers, people of the land, the common clay of the new west . . .
16. Touched down : ALIT. Landed, as a bird, plane, or lunar module.
19. Without serious thought : IDLY. As in chattered IDLY.
20. Cuts down : HEWS. HEW is one of those odd English language verbs that means two wildly different things. Here, it means to chop or cut with an AXE or other tool. The other meaning is to adhere to some idea or set of principles.
21. Single : ONE. As a dollar bill.
22. Garson of Hollywood : GREER. Eileen Evelyn Greer Garson [1904-1996] was a very popular movie star with MGM in the 1940's.
34. Kaiser roll topping : POPPY SEED. A pinwheel shaped soft bread roll with a crisp crust, topped with seeds that actually do come from the opium poppy.
38. Hide from a hunter? : PELT. Cute misdirection, hide and PELT both referring to the skin removed from the hunted animal. Cf. 53 A.
41. "Yet cease your __, you angry stars of heaven!": "Pericles" : IRE. From scene I of Shakeseare's play. IRE, of course, meaning anger.
42. E-cigarette output : VAPOR.
46. Firefighter's tool : AXE. For HEWING.
47. Lanai music maker : UKE. Not exclusively for Hawaiian songs - but there are strings attached.
48. Has a conniption : GOES APE. A way of manifesting IRE.
53. "Noah kept bees in the ark hive," e.g. : PUN. Word play based on similar sounds and [often awkwardly imposed] double meanings.
54. __ acid : AMINO. The building block of life. This organic compound has both carboxylic acid and amine functionality. These two reactive groups can react with each other, and thus form long complicated molecular chains. The rest is history. Or maybe chemistry. Or biology. It all gets a little muddy.
55. Capp and Capone : ALS. Two guys names AL. One was a rum-running crime boss and the other gave us Li'l Abner.
56. Poet Whitman : WALT. An American poet [1819 - 1892.] His collection, Leaves of Grass, was considered to be pornographic at the time.
57. Manner : MIEN. From the same root as "demeanor." A way of presenting one's self. This word was popular ca. 1800, and has been in decline since, especially after 1900.
61. Years, to Livy : ANNI. Latin and plural.
62. Navigation hazard : HAZE. It impairs vision.
63. __-garde : AVANT. From Olde French into late Middle English - meaning the most forward part of an advancing military force. Now, by extension, anything at the cutting edge of technology or culture.
64. Establishes : SETS.
65. Fancy jug : EWER.
66. Nutty green sauce : PESTO. Olive oil based sauce containing pine nuts, basil and garlic, typically served over pasta.
1. Vatican personnel : BISHOPS. Also chess men.
2. Show disdain for : SNEER AT. With a contemptuous or condescending facial expression.
3. Dessert drink made from frozen grapes : ICE WINE. The grapes are frozen on the vine, concentrating the sugars and other solids, yielding a smaller amount of concentrated very sweet wine.
4. Weekly septet : DAYS. Check your calendar.
5. Disney doe : ENA. Bambi's aunt appears in alliteration.
6. Modern Persians : IRANIS. Ancient Persia ---> modern Iran.
7. Subdued : MUTED. Even on the trombone.
8. Civil War nickname : ABE. President Lincoln
9. Boomer's kid : X-ER. Those in generation X. The baby boomers are the demographic cohort born from ca. 1946 to 1964, in the aftermath of WW II. Generation X has historically been a disparaging term used to describe alienated youth. It was only after 1991, when Canadian writer Douglas Coupland came out with his novel Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture, that it was applied to the previously unnamed cohort that followed the boomers. There are cultural implications to identifying with a particular cohort, and Gen X-ERs, not specifically limited to the after 1964 crowd, could have been born as early as 1956, and up until some vague date in the neighborhood of 1980.
10. '70s-'90s African state : ZAIRE. Now the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
11. Pasta preference : AL DENTE. Cooked until still firm, and not mushy.
12. Forms a big stack : PILES UP. I'm thinking of all the leaves yet to land in my yard.
13. Compound in many disposable coffee cups : STYRENE. Vinylbenzene, a genuinely nasty chemical that also is found in other commercially important plastics.
18. Easy pace : LOPE.
22. Govt. property overseer : GSA. The General Services Administration is an independent government agency that helps manage and support other government agencies.
24. Corn Belt sight : SILO. Commonly a cylindrical tower used for storing grain.
25. Barely makes, with "out" : EKES. Commonly EKES its way into a crossword.
26. "Geez!" : YIPE. I prefer YIKES!
28. When the NFL's regular season begins : SEPTember brings us football at all levels.