ERIC IS AN UNUSUAL BOOK in the Discworld canon. At just over 160 pages, it’s shorter than most entries in the series, and is the first of two illustrated novels (this one being a collaboration between Pratchett and illustrator Josh Kirby). I wasn’t sure what to expect from Eric, but the struck-through title of Faust hinted at something more complicated than its slim length might suggest.
And it’s a great little book.
I think that Eric’s success has to do with how Pratchett combines a character-driven plot with high adventure, something that has generally been a trade-off in the Wizards stories thus far. Take The Light Fantastic, for instance. Many a Discworld book could be described using the template, “______ comes to the Disc, giving the world ______ at the loss of ______,” and, in a rather meta sense, The Light Fantastic could be described as a book in which Plot comes to the Disc, giving the world a narrative order at the loss of some of The Colour of Magic’s eclectic wonderment. The effect is more pronounced in Sourcery, which is both more plot-driven and the first standalone book in the Wizards story. As we read the Wizards, I’m beginning to see the value of that early unbridled joy, and to miss it.
What makes Eric special to me is how it balances plot with unbounded wonderment so much better than The Light Fantastic did. The book gets the pacing right, tantalizing us with places we want to know more about but moving on just before we’ve quite had our fill. It leaves us wanting more, in a good way.
We run from the rainforested Tezumen Empire (an Aztec parody) to the ancient Tsortian Empire (a Trojan War parody) and the beginning and end (and beginning) of the universe. And that’s another lovely thing about this book. Despite its light page count, the world is epic on a scale hitherto unseen in the series. It’s not just the spatial and temporal distances traveled but the way that Pratchett mines literature, history, and myth to supply Eric and Rincey with places to go. If this were scale and bombast alone, the book would be merely enjoyable; however, Pratchett uses his characters to make the narrative small, focused, and personal.
Eric is just far enough this side of insufferably pompous, horny teenage boy to be likeable, in an annoying, pubescent way. His shortcomings serve to bring out good things in Rincewind. Let’s be honest, Twoflower never brought out Rincewind’s most sterling qualities, maybe in part because the two were set-in-their-ways adults who were never going to see the world in the same way.
Like Twoflower, Eric is naïve. Unlike Twoflower, Eric’s is a youthful naivety, not irreparably steadfast adult naivety. Eric can be guided, influenced, and taught. Yes, Rincewind still makes for a mildly put out traveling companion, but he’s able to drag Eric away from things when necessary, reprimand him, and generally occupy a vaguely mentorlike role. For me, this is prime-grade Rincewind.
Overall, Eric excels at straddling the space between adventure story and character study. There’s plenty more I could talk about that I absolutely loved, such as the characterization of Death, humanity’s doggedly professional and vaguely empathetic companion, or what it means that evolution begins with a egg and cress sandwich, or the rather skillful handling of said evolution alongside religion. But each of those could be their own respective posts, so I’ll stop here.
Eric is an excellent book and probably my favorite of the Wizards books thus far. I am not sure what to expect from Interesting Times, but I hope it can keep the magic of this Faustian novel going.