About the Author:
Stephen Briggs has adapted a number of the Discworld novels for the theatre, as well as collaborating with Terry Pratchett on various books including Nanny Ogg’s Cookbook, Death’s Domain and The Streets of Ankh-Morpork.
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
THE COLOUR OF MAGIC
ON a world supported on the back of a giant turtle (sex unknown), a gleeful, explosive, wickedly eccentric expedition sets out. There’s an avaricious but inept wizard [Rincewind], a naive tourist [Twoflower] whose luggage moves on hundreds of dear little legs, dragons who only exist if you believe in them, and of course The Edge of the planet . . .
How it all began:
In a distant and second-hand set of dimensions, in an astral plane that was never meant to fly, the curling star-mists waver and part . . .
There was the theory that A’Tuin had come from nowhere and would continue at a uniform crawl, or steady gait, into nowhere, for all time. This theory was popular among academics.
An alternative, favoured by those of a religious persuasion, was that A’Tuin was crawling from the Birthplace to the Time of Mating, as were all the stars in the sky which were, obviously, also carried by giant turtles. When they arrived they would briefly and passionately mate, for the first and only time, and from that fiery union new turtles would be born to carry a new pattern of worlds. This was known as the Big Bang hypothesis.
The twin city of Ankh-Morpork, foremost of all the cities bounding the Circle Sea, was as a matter of course the home of a large number of gangs, thieves’ guilds, syndicates and similar organizations. This was one of the reasons for its wealth.
The stranger smiled widely and fumbled yet again in the pouch. This time his hand came out holding a large gold coin. It was in fact slightly larger than an 8,000-dollar Ankhian crown and the design on it was unfamiliar, but it spoke inside Hugh’s mind in a language he understood perfectly. My current owner, it said, is in need of succour and assistance; why not give it to him, so you and me can go off somewhere and enjoy ourselves?
If complete and utter chaos was lightning, then he’d be the sort to stand on a hilltop in a thunderstorm wearing wet copper armour and shouting ‘All gods are bastards’.
Tourist, Rincewind had decided, meant ‘idiot’.
At about this time a hitherto unsuccessful fortune-teller living on the other side of the block chanced to glance into her scrying bowl, gave a small scream and, within the hour, had sold her jewellery, various magical accoutrements, most of her clothes and almost all her other possessions that could not be conveniently carried on the fastest horse she could buy. The fact that later on, when her house collapsed in flames, she herself died in a freak landslide in the Morpork Mountains, proves that Death, too, has a sense of humour.
The Patrician of Ankh-Morpork smiled, but with his mouth only.
‘I’m sure you won’t dream of trying to escape from your obligations by fleeing the city . . .’
‘I assure you the thought never even crossed my mind, lord.’
‘Indeed? Then if I were you I’d sue my face for slander.’
‘Ah, Gorphal,’ said the Patrician pleasantly. ‘Come in. Sit down. Can I press you to a candied starfish?’
‘I am yours to command, master,’ said the old man calmly. ‘Save, perhaps, in the matter of preserved echinoderms.’
There are said to be some mystic rivers – one drop of which can steal a man’s life away. After its turbid passage through the twin cities the Ankh could have been one of them.
That’s what’s so stupid about the whole magic thing . . . You spend twenty years learning the spell that makes nude virgins appear in your bedroom, and then you’re so poisoned by quicksilver fumes and half-blind from reading old grimoires that you can’t remember what happens next.
Death, on Discworld, is a character in his own right, and throughout the series is recognizable by always speaking IN BLOCK CAPITALS.
Death, insofar as it was possible in a face with no movable features, looked surprised. RINCEWIND? . . .WHY ARE YOU HERE?
‘Um, why not?’ said Rincewind.
I WAS SURPRISED THAT YOU JOSTLED ME, RINCEWIND. FOR I HAVE AN APPOINTMENT WITH THEE THIS VERY NIGHT.
‘Oh no, not—’
OF COURSE, WHAT’S SO BLOODY VEXING ABOUT THE WHOLE BUSINESS IS THAT I WAS EXPECTING TO MEET THEE IN PSEUDOPOLIS.
‘But that’s five hundred miles away!’
YOU DON’T HAVE TO TELL ME, THE WHOLE SYSTEM’S GOT SCREWED UP AGAIN. I CAN SEE THAT.
I’LL GET YOU YET, CULLY, said Death, in a voice like the slamming of leaden coffin lids.
Death sat in His garden, running a whetstone along the edge of His scythe. It was already so sharp that any passing breeze that blew across it was sliced smoothly into two puzzled zephyrs.
‘Run away and leave Hrun with that thing?’ Twoflower said.
Rincewind looked blank. ‘Why not?’ he said. ‘It’s his job.’
‘But it’ll kill him!’
‘It could be worse,’ said Rincewind.
‘It could be us,’ Rincewind pointed out logically.
‘We’ve strayed into a zone with a high magical index,’ Rincewind said. ‘Don’t ask me how. Once upon a time a really powerful magic field must have been generated here, and we’re feeling the after-effects.’
‘Precisely,’ said a passing bush.
‘You don’t understand!’ screamed the tourist, above the terrible noise of the wingbeats. ‘All my life I’ve wanted to see dragons!’
‘From the inside?’ shouted Rincewind.
‘You’re your own worst enemy, Rincewind,’ said the sword.
Rincewind looked up at grinning men.
‘Bet?’ he said wearily.
‘Well,’ said the voice. ‘You see, one of the disadvantages of being dead is that one is released as it were from the bonds of time and therefore I can see everything that has happened or will happen, all at the same time except that of course I now know that Time does not, for all practical purposes, exist.’
‘That doesn’t sound like a disadvantage,’ said Twoflower.
‘You don’t think so? Imagine every moment being at one and the same time a distant memory and a nasty surprise and you’ll see what I mean.’
I’d rather be a slave than a corpse.
Plants on the Disc, while including the categories known commonly as annuals, . . . and perennials, . . . also included a few rare reannuals which, because of an unusual four-dimensional twist in their genes, could be planted this year to come up last year. The vul nut vine was particularly exceptional in that it could flourish as many as eight years prior to its seed actually being sown. Vul nut wine was reputed to give certain drinkers an insight into the future which was, from the nut’s point of view, the past. Strange but true.
‘We know all about you, Rincewind the magician. You are a man of great cunning and artifice. You laugh in the face of Death. Your affected air of craven cowardice does not fool me.’ It fooled Rincewind.
‘What is your name?’ he said.
‘My name is immaterial,’ she said.
‘That’s a pretty name,’ said Rincewind.
‘I hope you’re not proposing to enslave us,’ said Twoflower.
Marchesa looked genuinely shocked. ‘Certainly not! Whatever could have given you that idea? Your lives in Krull will be rich, full and comfortable—’
‘Oh, good,’ said Rincewind.
‘—just not very long.’
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