In episode fourteen we celebrate 35 years of the Discworld by going all the way back to the beginning! Writer and podcaster Joel Martin joins us for a bumper A’Tuin-sized discussion of the very first Discworld story, adventure, chronicle, tale…The Colour of Magic, published in 1983!
Rincewind, a wizard unable to cast spells, makes a living of sorts in the mighty city of Ankh-Morpork through his gift for languages. But his gift gets him more than he bargains for when he becomes the guide to the Discworld’s first tourist. Fresh off the boat from the distant and obscenely wealthy Counterweight Continent, naïve Twoflower has come armed with a phrasebook, a demon-powered picture box and his magical Luggage full of enormous gold coins, determined to see the barbarians, brawls and beasts he’s read about in stories back home. But seeing them is the easy part – surviving to talk about them is another matter entirely…
Though we’ve often talked about the differences between the earliest books and those that came later, The Colour of Magic introduces Ankh-Morpork, Rincewind, Death and of course Great A’Tuin and the Disc itself with varying degrees of familiarity. Split into four sections – The Colour of Magic, The Sending of Eight, The Lure of the Wyrm and Close to the Edge – it manages to be both homage and parody of multiple beloved fantasy genres, while at the same time trying to establish its world – and author – as something new. Do you think it succeeds? Did you start at the start? Use the hashtag #Pratchat14 on social media to join the conversation and tell us! We’d also love to see some fan art of the Luggage based directly on the text, rather than Kirby’s ubiquitous, fleshy baby-legged version.
This is our final episode for the Year of the Justifiably Defensive Lobster (aka 2018), but we’ll be back in January, when we’ll fire up Queen’s Greatest Hits and kick off proceedings with one of Pratchett’s most celebrated novels: Good Omens! Yes, we’re getting in to cover Pratchett’s collaboration with Neil Gaiman before said co-author and Amazon Prime bring their version to subscribers’ screens in 2019. (Don’t worry, it’ll be on the BBC at some point too.) With twice the authors, we’re expecting twice the questions (though we’ll try and stick to our usual running time of under two hours), so send them in via social media using the hashtag #Pratchat15.
Show Notes and Errata:
- Joel Martin is a fantasy author whose several novellas and novels include his own take on classic sword-and-sorcery, The Broken World (whose protagonist is not Kane, but Karn). For more about him and his work, visit his web site, thepenofjoel.com, or follow him on Twitter at @thepenofjoel.
- Joel’s writing discussion podcast is The Morning Bell, co-hosted by Luke Manly and Ian Laking. It’s recorded live at the Brunswick Street Bookstore. Liz has been a guest a few times, most recently on episode 46 (February 2017), while Ben has been on just the once, for episode 63 (November 2017). Listen to the entire back catalogue and find out more at themorningbell.com.au.
- Joel is director of Melbourne’s new speculative fiction writing festival Speculate, returning in 2019 for its second year; Liz and Ben were guests the first time around and will be again in 2019. You can see both of them in the short film made for the 2018 festival here, or visit specfic.com.au to find out more about what’s in store for 2019.
- A note on this episode’s title: we’ve opted to parody a parody in order to name a discussion of a parody. (Does that make it a parodyox?) The film in question is National Lampoon’s Vacation, which was released in 1983 – the same year The Colour of Magic was published! (Though you might argue our title is closer to the sequel, National Lampoon’s European Vacation, from 1985.)
- Liz’s comment about eye anatomy refers to the fact that as well as the structures found in regular human eyes which are sensitive to light – rods for dim light, and cones for bright light and (normal) colour vision – wizards also have octagons, which can detect octarine. This suggests that there is a genetic (or otherwise biological) component to being a wizard, and since Rincewind can see octarine, it seems inarguable that he really is a wizard.
- Time Team began in 1994, making it much younger than The Black Adder, the first of the four series of Blackadder sit-coms, which was produced in 1983 (there’s that year again!). It also comes slightly later than Tony Robinson’s abridged audiobooks, the first of which – The Colour of Magic, of course – was first released on cassette in 1993. The unabridged versions, initially read by Nigel Planer, are harder to pin down, but seem to have begun a little later in 1997.
- The ethos that “every issue could be someone’s first” is said to be the reason that Marvel comics had so much dialogue explaining stuff the characters already knew – often with accompanying editor’s notes (the asterisked, comic book equivalent of a footnote) pointing the reader to the previous issue in which the thing being explained took place!
- ABBA, the Swedish pop group comprising two couples: Agnetha Fältskog and Björn Ulvaeus, and Benny Andersson and Anni-Frid Lyngstad (the band’s name is an acronym of their first names). They shot to world-wide fame in 1974 after winning the Eurovision Song Contest, but the band and their marriages broke up by 1982, as their staggering popularity caused their personal lives to suffer. They remain incredibly popular in Australia and around the world, with their music being adapted into the hit musical Mama Mia! and its filmic sequel. They announced in April that they had recorded their first new music in more than 35 years, and the new single, “I Still Have Faith in You”, is due to be released this month (December 2018)!
- Japanese avant-garde artist, peace activist, musician and filmmaker Yoko Ono was long blamed by disappointed fans for the break-up of The Beatles in 1969 because of her marriage to John Lennon. These days this is generally recognised as a grossly unfair and simplistic explanation, but her name is still synonymous with the idea of an outside relationship catalysing the end of a creative partnership.
- In cosmology, the steady state model is an alternative to the now generally accepted Big Bang theory. It states that the universe would continue to expand forever, but remain in a “steady state” of density as new matter is constantly created. By contrast, in the Big Bang model, the amount of matter is fixed, and the universe becomes less dense as it expands, so the expansion will slow down either to the point where it reverses and matter contracts into another singularity – the Big Crunch – or keep going long enough for all the stars to burn out and leave nothing behind but black holes – the Big Freeze. Feel free to write your own pun versions of these for Great A’Tuin, but they’ll probably be more depressing than Pratchett’s originals.
- The story about translating Pratchett’s puns appears in various editions of The Discworld Companion, and definitely in the most recent (as of this writing), Turtle Recall. Ruurd Groot, who translated Pratchett into Dutch, ended up tweaking an alternate name for the Big Bang theory so that it could be interpreted as “the Making Love Outwards Model”, a name Terry loved!
- The film Krull is, as Ben mentions, one of a crop of cheap Star Wars rip-offs, and it was released the same year as Return of the Jedi – 1983 again! Critics were not kind to Krull, and it was a huge financial flop (the massive budget blowout caused by huge alterations to the sets didn’t help), but it’s found a cult audience of fans who appreciate its weird mix of fantasy, swashbuckling and sci-fi, outlandish ideas, and ambitious production, as well as early film roles for Robbie Coltrane and Liam Neeson. (Ben had a lot more to say about it, but the episode was already running long!)
- Edgar Rice Burroughs, best known as the author of Tarzan, John Carter of Mars and The Land That Time Forgot, also wrote the Pellucidar series of novels set inside a hollow Earth full of dinosaurs and psychic pterodacyl-men. The first book, At the Earth’s Core, was adapted into another favourite film from Ben’s youth, starring Doug McClure and Peter Cushing.
- You too can enjoy the video posted to Twitter of “Inside Earth Girl”.
- The Monty Python sketch starring John Cleese and a hovercraft full of eels (mentioned only) is usually referred to as “Dirty Hungarian Phrasebook”. It first appeared in the twelfth episode of the second series of Monty Python’s Flying Circus in 1970, and was adapted as part of the film And Now for Something Completely Different the following year.
- While continuity among Discworld books is generally pretty good, Terry’s “don’t worry about it too much” attitude has produced a surprisingly difficult to pin down chronology – in no small part because of the time travel magic employed by Granny Weatherwax halfway through Wyrd Sisters. The most widely-accepted timeline puts the events of The Colour of Magic and The Light Fantastic about two years before those in Equal Rites, three years before Mort, nine years before Sourcery, twelve years before Pyramids and twenty-one years before Guards! Guards!. Assuming Rincewind is 33 when we first meet him, which seems the most likely age, this means he is 41 when he is cast into the Dungeon Dimensions in Sourcery, and that three years pass on the Disc before he escapes in Eric!, though it’s unclear how much he’d have aged in that time. By the time we’ll meet him again in Interesting Times, the timeline has him wandering the Disc for another six years, making him at least 47, and possibly as old as 50 – but still considerably younger than David Jason, who was 68 when he played Rincewind at the beginning of his adventures in The Colour of Magic.
- The Great Fire of London started in a bakery in Pudding Lane and destroyed most of the City of London over four days in September 1666, burning down over 13,000 houses and hundreds of larger structures, including St Paul’s Cathedral. Many older buildings survived the fire, including the Tower of London and several pubs and churches.
- The idea of going on holiday goes back at least as far as the Roman Empire, where wealthy citizens would travel for as long as two years at a time. The more modern version dates back to the “Grand Tours” undertaken by wealthy young European men from the 17th century onwards. By the late 19th century, the innovations of the industrial revolution like steam trains and ocean liners made travel for pleasure more affordable for workers, but just like the other things he brought from the Agatean Empire, Twoflower’s brand of tourism seems a twentieth century idea, rooted in the culture of the 1950s and 60s.
- It’s amazing we didn’t mention this, but Rincewind in this book appears without his signature pointy hat. Well…he has one, of some sort, but he quickly loses it and it’s clearly not the one with “WIZZARD” written on it sequins which is later so dear to him. (It might also seem odd that someone with such a talent for languages is unable to spell his own job description in his mother tongue, but then again spelling on the Discworld is at best described as “informal”.)
- Elric VIII, 428th Emperor of Melniboné – Elric of Melniboné for short – is the most famous creation of fantasy author Michael Moorcock. Physically frail and sickly, Elric is an anti-hero, reluctant ruler of his people and the only one among them to have a conscience. He is also an incarnation of the Eternal Champion, a doomed pawn in the battle between the cosmic forces of Law and Chaos across the multiverse. Early in his adventures he finds the magical black sword Stormbringer – a clear inspiration for Kring – which gives him strength, but consumes the souls of others – including many of those for whom Elric cares most.
- To clarify Ben’s description of who’s keeping Twoflower alive, the Boy Emperor of the Agatean Empire sent the message asking for protection for Twoflower; the message calling for his assassination is from the Emperor’s Vizier.
- Pratchett had published three novels – and numerous short stories – prior to The Colour of Magic. The Carpet People (1971), for younger audiences, was originally written when he was 17; he later revised it, describing it as a collaboration with his younger self. The Dark Side of the Sun (1976) and Strata (1981) are comedy sci-fi novels, and contain the first appearances of a disc-shaped world – no turtle though! – and Hogswatch.
- A mimic is one of a number of classic monsters from Dungeons & Dragons which appears as something innocuous – in the mimic’s case, it can change shape to resemble an inanimate object, most commonly a treasure chest. It first appeared in the original edition of the Monster Manual in 1977, and so was almost certainly an inspiration for the Luggage.
- The Shawshank Redemption (1994, dir. Frank Darabont) is an award-winning film based on a novella by Stephen King. It stars Tim Robbins as a banker who is wrongfully convicted of murdering his wife and her lover, and forced to use his accountancy skills to aid the corrupt prison warden’s money laundering scheme.
- The Kanes mentioned by Joel are Solomon Kane, a Puritan witch hunter created by Robert E Howard, and Kane, Karl Edward Wagner’s reimagining of the Biblical Caine, red-headed son of Adam and his first wife Lilith who is cursed by God to walk the Earth for eternity as punishment for committing the first murder. Neither are traditional sword and sorcery heroes, and Wagner’s Kane has much in common with Moorcock’s Elric. As far as we can tell, there’s no-one named Kane on the Discworld.
- If you want to know more about the Winchester Mystery House, episode 162 of the 99% Invisible podcast is a great place to start.
- Australian spiders – and other deadly venomous animals like snakes and jellyfish, in Australia and elsewhere – probably got so deadly because they need to guarantee a kill when they use their venom. As in so many areas of evolution, there’d be an arms race between predator and prey, forcing venom to become more and more deadly over time. And that’s a race we humans aren’t even in, since we’re so rarely killed by venomous creatures that we’ve not evolved any kind of immunity to them. Evolution thus overcompensated on its potency, because it’s better to expend more energy than strictly necessary on creating super venom to make sure 100% of predators or prey to die, than it is to make a weaker venom which might leave some victims alive, meaning they leave the creature hungry, and also gives the victim a chance to pass on their resistance to their offspring. The BBC article “Why some animals have venoms so lethal, they can’t use them” by Josh Gabbatiss from 2016 is a great exploration of all of these ideas.
- Ralph Bakshi’s Fire and Ice was a collaboration between Bakshi and fantasy artist Frank Frazzetta, best known for his comic book, book cover and album cover art – including a version of Conan the Barbarian which redefined the character from the 1960s on. The film used the rotoscoping technique, in which actors were filmed and then traced to lend realistic movement to the animated characters; Bakshi also used this technique for his other films, Wizards and Lord of the Rings. Fire and Ice was released in – surprise! – 1983.
- The other movie that Ben thought Joel was talking about was The Flight of Dragons, a Rankin/Bass production based on a book by Peter Dickinson, which deals largely with the question of whether magic and science are compatible. It was released in 1982, though, so clearly it was the wrong film.
- The Doctor Who story with people who are naked under their holograms is the 2013 Christmas special The Time of the Doctor, in which the Church of the Papal Mainframe requests that visitors do not wear clothes while visiting. It’s the final story for Matt Smith’s Eleventh Doctor, and occurs soon after the events of the fiftieth anniversary special, The Day of the Doctor.
- Pete’s Dragon is a 1977 live-action Disney musical in which a young boy, Pete, escapes an abusive foster family with the help of Elliott, a friendly, animated fire-breathing green dragon who can make himself invisible. He befriends a lighthouse keeper and his daughter while pursued by his cruel foster parents, and a travelling snake oil salesman plots to capture Elliott and use his organs for potions that might actually work. It was remade in 2016, though in the new version Pete is orphaned in a car crash in the woods and survives there for six years with Elliott’s help before being found by a park ranger. The new one has a fancy CGI dragon that probably resembles Twoflower’s, but no songs.
- Death by the Books is a fortnightly podcast about mystery, crime and other someone-dies books. In episode 9, Death by Pratchett, hosts Kirsti and Lianne out themselves as massive fans of you know who. It’s a great introduction to Pratchett and the Discworld as a whole, and they might cover some of the individual books in the future – after all, someone dies in most of them… They’re also on Twitter at @deathbythebooks.
- Zweiblumen is, in fact, German, and literally translates as “Two Flowers”. (Twoflower would be “Zweiblume”, but presumably Pratchett thought Zweiblumen sounded better.)
- Rincewind is clearly channelling an inspiration particle when he says “This is another fine mess you’ve gotten us into,” though as usual the particles have got it slightly wrong: the famous catchphrase of Hardy, the larger half of comedy duo Laurel and Hardy, was actually “this is another nice mess you’ve gotten us into”, though the confusion is understandable since they titled one of their films Another Fine Mess.
- CW’s The Flash, now in its fifth season, is itself a spin-off of Arrow, both shows based on superhero characters from DC Comics. Along with later addition Supergirl, they started out with just the one main superhero character but have since brought many fan favourites from the comics to the small screen, albeit often with a twist. Case in point: the Elongated Man, who shows up in The Flash’s fourth season, is a lesser known superhero with stretching powers, though the television version draws more on Jim Carrey’s performance in The Mask than anything from the comics.
- A “backronym” is a phrase crafted to turn a specific word into an acronym, as opposed to a real acronym in which the phrase comes first. They are often associated with words that are not normally acronyms, e.g. “Something Posing As Meat” is a backronym for Spam.
- In Greek mythology, Tethys is a Titan, a daughter of Uranus and Gaia, and – as is the way with Greek myths – sister and wife of the sea Titan Oceanus. One of the moons of Saturn is named for her, which makes more sense when we recall that Saturn is the Roman equivalent of Kronos, one of Tethys’ brother Titans.
- Waterworld is a famously terribly 1995 post-apocalyptic action film starring Kevin Costner as the Mariner, a mutant uniquely suited to life on a future Earth drowned under the melted polar ice caps. A trader played by Kim Coates offers the Mariner a paper page from a book as a valuable commodity, repeating the word “paper” over and over; the scene has been parodied and recreated many times as one of many things people find ridiculous about the film.
- The contestants from each district in The Hunger Games novels by Suzanne Collins (and their film adaptations) are given lavish quarters before being forced to fight each other to the death; the winner is also treated to a luxurious lifestyle when the games are over.
- When he says we never meet wizards who aren’t inept, Ben means as major protagonists; The Light Fantastic contains numerous wizards who are extremely ept, but most of them are out to kill Rincewind (and each other). Ipslore the Red in Sourcery is likewise an antagonist, and few of the faculty of Unseen University in that book are trustworthy.