Intermission: A Retrospective on the Project Thus Far

rincewind

Normally, I’d be posting a podcast right now. Alas, final projects, last-minute grading, and planning comprehensive exams has gotten the better of me, so…let’s say there will be a minor delay in getting the podcast for Soul Music up. That said, I feel that I have an obligation to share something, and I feel like I have something worth sharing…

In the moments when I’m not tied down to work, such as buying groceries, working out, riding public transportation, stress-buying groceries, and stress-working out (it’s the end of the semester, what can I say?), I’ve been listening to Nigel Planer and Stephen Briggs’ simply amazing audiobook versions of Discworld. Recently, I decided to idly revisit the Rincewind books in what is essentially my second “read” through. And I want to share a bit about how that experience has gone.

Once More Unto the Rincewind

I didn’t enjoy the wizards books overmuch in my first read-through. As much as I enjoy the UU faculty, I felt little love for Rincewind and Twoflower. In part, my lack of enjoyment was probably down to the massive shift in tone from the later Discworld books to the earliest ones. I knew it was coming…it knew it was real…it still knocked me off balance.

That said, the second time around, I found myself able to enjoy the adventures of the Great Wizzard much more for what they are. Yeah, they’re not as sharp as later books in terms of social commentary. I still feel that they have more issues than other arcs, but they sure are fun. Pratchett’s world grows bigger and brighter and more magical during Rincewind’s tenure on the page than during any other character’s story, and I found myself falling in love with the world again. Falling in love with the world again. That’s a lovely thing for a book to do. I can honestly say that Rincewind…finally…has won my empathy and love.

So here’s a run-down of how my feelings have changed after revisiting the wizards:

The Colour of Magic

This book still feels rough to me, especially in the beginning. There are places where Pratchett’s writing misses a beat, and you know the beat has been missed. It’s a pacing thing. A piece of descriptive writing stretches out too long, and then a set of action-oriented passages flash by too quickly. Sometimes the dialogue is clunky.

But it’s such a curious and earnest book. The Colour of Magic is the most high-fantasy of the books and there’s something enchanting about that. It feels like waking up. The broad brush Pratchett uses to paint Ankh-Morpork (and all the other places) is simple, bold, and richly colorful. Nothing has faded or tarnished yet.

Also, the last quarter of the book marks a real change in tone and writing quality. The edge of the world coming ineluctably closer, Tethis the sea-troll and his pathos-laden story, the sense of impending doom and that total middle finger of an ending…I found myself admiring the brashness and subtlety of that last quarter at the same time.

The Light Fantastic

This one is so much more polished and put together than the first. It retains the brightness and newness of The Colour of Magic but welds it to a compelling story. I am still irked by the reset-button effect, a sense that nothing that happens here is permanent or meaningful after the book ends (note how quickly and simply the cults crop up), but I quite like this book. It’s fun. I think that my feelings about this book changed least of all.

Sourcery

So…I enjoyed Sourcery this time around. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still one of the worst least good books in the series (because let’s be honest, even a bad Discworld book is better than most books). There are parts that drag, and the characters still fall flat somewhat flat for me, but they did generally come off better this time. Yep, I still think Conina is a bit of a missed opportunity, but there is nice symmetry in how all of our major characters, including Coin, are trying to be something they’re not.

Also, there’s that final scene in the dungeon dimensions, in which Rincewind sacrifices himself for Coin. Anne and I both agreed last time that Rincewind’s sacrifice seemed out of character, but upon rereading while knowing it would happen, I was pleased to find that Pratchett actually gives us a number of cues that Rincewind would do what he does for Coin. That scene may be one of my favorites in Discworld, really. It was perhaps the first moment when I felt like we had arrived in world with consequences and no going back.

Which is odd, because a lot of this book is just a big reset-button in the worst way. Nonetheless, this was the point where I warmed up to the Great Wizzard at last.

Eric

Eric’s good. Yep. Uh-huh. It was a highlight of the project at the time, and it was still good the second time around. Not much to say about this one that I haven’t said already. It cuts a wide swath through a rich world, and it does it with aplomb, scale, and admirable savvy where the science/religion bits are concerned.

Interesting Times

This one worked better for me (but the problems also stood out more, so…). On the first read, I felt that this was in large part a book about revolutions on one hand and aging on the other. On reread, both themes are really two parts of the bigger one, civilization. To a degree, this lessens the discomfort I initially felt about race, as Pratchett seems really to be indicting civilization for hiding barbarism behind politeness, rather than a specific culture. That said, the mixing of different cultural traditions from a number of countries into one still sits badly with me.

That said, I was surprised by how funny this book was.

The Last Continent

I liked this one on first read, and I almost loved it on second.  The Faculty story is clever and worth the price of the whole. The Rincewind story is dumb but delightfully fun. By this point, I was really loving Rincewind and wishing we had more of him.

I’m still struck by how you can see the division deepening as we go, however. The Faculty get increasingly more screen time and the connections between their story and Rincewind’s begin to strain, so it’s no surprise that this was Rincewind’s final book. Alas, when I got to the passage where Rincewind alludes to a whole realm of adventures we never saw, I found myself wishing he wouldn’t go. What did you see, Great Wizzard? Tell me.

So really, I found these books much improved by entering with a realistic set of expectations and a better sense of the whole. It probably helped that I needed an escapist out during a high-stress time, but one way or another, I think Rincewind has earned his place as one of Discworld‘s great characters.

Until next time.

Image by Paul Kidby. Source.


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