The Colour of Magic: Tourism, Travel, and Fantasy

More years ago than it feels like, I studied abroad for my junior year of college. Once the plane landed in Heathrow, and I was no longer worried about crashing into the ocean, I was free to concern myself with the more philosophical aspects of international travel.

Wherever I went, I was torn between my desire to take photos and my dread of being marked as a tourist. American tourists, as we all know, are loud, obnoxious, insensitive, and generally awful to a one. I, in contrast, was a traveler.

Whatever that means.

Well, according to past me, there are “tourists,” whose experiences are inauthentic, and “travelers,” whose search for authenticity makes their journeys more noble, somehow. Not as noble as saving a beached whale, perhaps, but not as ignoble as kicking one.

From his anachronistic clothing to his trusty phrasebook, ever-ready iconograph, or luggage (made out of sapient pearwood, one of the rarest materials on the Disc) brimming with gold coins, Twoflower’s tourist trappings mark him as inauthentic: someone who does not belong.

As Gorphal describes him, Twoflower is “a thing out of place.” His goal is to see the city in its natural state, but his very presence in Ankh-Morpork is a disruption. As soon as we visit someplace new, we change the place simply by being there. In Twoflower’s search for an authentic experience, he creates an inauthentic one.The Colour of Magic

Twoflower’s image of the world beyond the Agatean Empire, from children’s books and sailors’ tales, is the image that he wants to see. He is incapable of seeing anything else. Pratchett plays with this idea in “The Lure of the Wyrm,” where Twoflower’s belief in dragons is so powerful that it creates one out of nothing.

This scene raises some interesting questions about authenticity and inauthenticity. Twoflower’s dragon is not real, but it is still able to carry Twoflower, Rincewind, and Hrun through the air. What makes something authentic, then, seems to be a matter of individual interpretation. If Twoflower believes it is real, it is.

But then why do I feel so strongly that Twoflower’s interpretation is wrong? We feel Rincewind’s frustration as Twoflower continually misinterprets the dangerous situations that the pair frequently find themselves in. One hundred and fifty pages later, Twoflower is as naïve as when he started. No amount of experience with Rincewind can change how Twoflower views the world.  

Twoflower, and the stereotypical tourist he represents, wants the world to be the way it is in his head. When it isn’t, he either changes it or ignores it. But the whole point of going to a new place is to see it as it really is—if you’re not going to adapt your picture of the world to what you’re seeing, then you might as well stay home.

Travel, and its role in expanding our understanding, does not just happen between countries. We go on similar journeys whenever we read. This is particularly true with fantasy, where we are confronted with worlds purposely different from our own.

The Disc is truly Authentic, the World that all other worlds are mirrors and distortions of—Ankh-Morpork is introduced as “the twin city of proud Ankh and pestilent Morpork, of which all the other cities of time and space are, as it were, mere reflections.”

In fantasy, we are constantly presented with the question of authenticity. Magic isn’t real, but we use it to understand the nature of power in our own world. The unreal, the inauthentic, can affect our understanding of the ‘authentic’ world, sometimes more than statistics or reports.

By presenting the inauthentic as authentic, Discworld calls the distinction between the two into question. Rincewind and Twoflower have competing interpretations, and while we read through Rincewind’s perspective, neither experience is more authentic than the other. Our experiences are real to us, and our interpretations are valid interpretations.

Still, we need to rely on some sort of shared experience, something that approaches objective reality, in order to function. How do we reconcile our need for objectivity with our dependence on subjective experience? The answer for me, at least, is to work to prevent our expectations, what we think we know, from coloring how we interpret our experiences.

My frustration with Twoflower, and with tourism as I perceive it, comes from seeing people who are either unable or unwilling to put in this effort. Travel, by definition, provides us with new experiences. These experiences can challenge our expectations, but only if we are open to this challenge.

I feel that Pratchett’s aim in The Colour of Magic is to create not just a new and interesting fantasy world, but one that challenges our expectations of the fantasy genre. Throughout the book, Pratchett addresses his readers to “look,” “see,” and “observe,” and I think that this is part of a broader effort to keep us focused on what we are experiencing, not what we’re expecting to experience.

And for all of my talk of authentic traveling, out of the 10,000 photos I took over my nine months abroad, there may be one of me wearing a deerstalker and holding a pipe outside of 221b Baker St, grinning like a tourist.


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