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The Colour Of Money & The Light Fantastic 25th Anniversary Edition by Terry Pratchett illustrated by Stephen Player

01/10/2009. Contributed by Neale Monkes

Buy The Colour Of Money & The Light Fantastic in the USA - or Buy The Colour Of Money & The Light Fantastic in the UK

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pub: Gollancz. 424 page illustrated hardback. Price: 20.00 (UK). ISBN: 978-0-575-05809-1).

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Reviewing a bestselling book that's been out for twenty-five years is a tricky thing to do. Many of the people who enjoy Terry Pratchett will have read these two books years ago, so the appearance of a combined volume, albeit in an illustrated edition, will not be particularly exciting news. Indeed, so popular has the 'Discworld' series of books been that it's hard to imagine that anyone visiting SFCrowsnest wouldn't have read at least a few of Pratchett's books.

But I hadn't. Somehow, despite enjoying fantasy fiction, I'd never read a 'Discworld' novel.

Was it the ubiquity of the series that put me off? The garish artwork on the front covers? Who knows! But when this combined commemorative edition of 'The Colour Of Money' and 'The Light Fantastic' was offered for review, I decided to take the plunge. I'm glad that I did.

These were Pratchett's first two 'Discworld' novels and scholars of the series maintain that he wasn't yet at the peak of his abilities when writing them. While good, they maintain, the later books are better. Remarkably, that's a compliment, not a put-down: these books are very good indeed, working on lots of levels and fizzing with subtle streaks of irony and knowing humour. If the later books are better, they must be fantastic.

Although presented as two books, they're really two halves of a single story. A tourist, Twoflower, arrives in the city of Ankh-Morpork, and the failed wizard Rincewind gets shanghaied into becoming his tour guide. Along the way, they get involved in a series of adventures, meet lots of curious people and somehow manage to avert the end of the world. What makes the story work so well is that these seemingly simple plot is subverted again and again by the cleverness of the writing. So while the story works as entertaining fantasy at one level, it is also a skilfully crafted satire on many of the standard fantasy novel tropes, as well as aspects of academia, archaeology, politics, tourism and role playing games.

From 'The Lord Of The Rings' to 'Conan The Barbarian', there are squibs and pastiches of all sorts, but delicately handled, so that rather than mere parody, the humour is subtle and intelligent. The scene with the druids pulling together their version of Stonehenge is a perfect example. Superficially, at least, it's simply a funny scene that allows the heroes to ride on giant flying rocks. But readers familiar with Stonehenge will recall the myth that in our world, druids were said to have made the great stones fly all the way from Wales, making the scene even funnier, especially when the druids start using their wands in the same was as ground marshals manoeuvre aeroplanes. At yet another level, the druids also happen to use the language of computer engineers and talk about their megalithic structure as a computer, tying into one scientific explanation for Stonehenge that it was used to perform astronomical calculations.

This particular edition includes fifteen new paintings by Stephen Player. These are very amusing illustrations that add considerably to the value of the book. Player has produced lots of pictures for the 'Discworld' series over the years and his work will be familiar to fans of the books.

Neale Monkes

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