The Light Fantastic is the second book in the Discworld saga. Published in 1986, it’s the second part of the story of the tourist Twoflower (a native of the Agatean Empire) accompanied by the wizard Rincewind in Ankh-Morpork and its surroundings. This makes it unique already, being the only book in the saga that cannot be read independently. In fact, it’s important to know what happened immediately before the beginning of the book where the Octavo changes reality in order to ensure that one of its spells is not lost when Rincewind finds himself floating in Space (it sounds complicated, if you haven’t read The Color of Magic)!
Although it’s only a sequel, I find The Light Fantastic to be far superior to the previous book. It could be that it took Pratchett three years to write it, but compared to the other book in which the story is almost just an excuse for the jokes, here the plot is much tighter and there’s a clear sense of direction. All the ideas that were presented in The Color of Magic which were not resolved in any way, find here a worthy conclusion. And, as if that weren’t enough, there are also plenty of opportunities to laugh, once again at the expense of the fantasy literature (and even classic fairy tales) that Pratchett knew so well and that he enjoyed making fun of so much.
First of all, the fil rouge of the plot is the appearance in the sky of a red star towards which Great A’Tuin seems to be headed. On the one hand, this drives crazy part of the population who, thinking that the end of the world is approaching, begins to exterminate the wizards believing them responsible. On the other hand, it sets in motion the wizards who understand that in order to avoid the end of the world (that actually IS approaching!) must pronounce the eight spells of the Octavo. There’s a problem: one of those spells is in Rincewind’s head, and no one knows where he is! So here’s a desperate search for Rincewind and Twoflower (and Luggage) who continue to travel to the most absurd places in the world.
Among other things, I’d like to mention the first appearance of another barbarian (after Hrun of The Color of Magic) since he’s destined to return a few times in the rest of the saga (in Interesting Times and The Last Hero): Cohen the Barbarian, Pratchett’s version of Conan the Barbarian. Cohen is an octogenarian hero and has to fight against sciatica and toothlessness more than against epic monsters.1 His relationship with the beautiful sacrificial virgin Bethan is beautiful, and she’s yet another Pratchett character who turns out to be very different from what we might initially think (and it’s a pity that he decided not to reuse her in subsequent books).
As for the places visited in the book, the reign of Death stands out, together with the Octavo itself who speaks with Rincewind on several occasions to make him understand the importance of the spell he carries with him against his will.
Overall, I find The Light Fantastic to be a very successful book. Rincewind completes his story arc by freeing himself from the spell in his head and is finally able to try to become a wizard like everyone else at Unseen University (although we know from subsequent books, starting with Sourcery, that he won’t succeed). And Twoflower returns home because it doesn’t make sense to visit new and exotic places as a tourist if you don’t go home afterwards to talk about it.2
And even the wizards fulfil their task by saving the world somehow. The theme of the wizards being power thirsty is also briefly touched upon (through the character of Trymon) and Pratchett explored it thoroughly in Sourcery, the fifth book of the saga. In fact, there’s even a vague hint of the following book of the saga, Equal Rites…3
I conclude by briefly mentioning the graphic novel based on the first two books of the Discworld (here it is on Goodreads). It’s very faithful to the original books, the drawings are beautiful4, and the style matches well the tone of the story. On the other hand, I don’t think that Pratchett’s sense of humor fully translates to other media (be it series, movies or comics), and at times it seems to read a Discworld story devoid of the comic part, which is a bit weird. I’m happy to have read it, being an avid devourer of anything related to Pratchett, but I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone who’s approaching his works for the first time. And there’s also a TV movie, but it didn’t blow me out of the water (despite Terry Pratchett’s cameo!)… Ciao!
1. Here’s his first lines misquoting Conan the Barbarian (1982):
-“What is it that a man may call the greatest things in life?”
-“Hot water, good dentishtry and shoft lavatory paper.“
Conan invece rispondeva con “Crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and hear the lamentation of the women.”
2. “The important thing about having lots of things to remember is that you’ve got to go somewhere afterwards where you can remember them, you see? You’ve got to stop. You haven’t really been anywhere until you’ve got back home.”
3. Unseen University had never admitted women, muttering something about problems with the plumbing, but the real reason was an unspoken dread that if women were allowed to mess around with magic they would probably be embarrassingly good at it…
4. Here’s a page of it!