As it moves towards a seemingly inevitable collision with a malevolent red star, the Discworld could do with a hero. What it doesn’t need is a singularly inept and cowardly wizard, still recovering from the trauma of falling off the edge of the world, or a well-meaning tourist and his luggage which has a mind (and legs) of its own. Which is a shame because that’s all there is…
The Light Fantastic by Terry Pratchett is the 1986 follow-up to The Colour of Magic and the second novel in the comic fantasy Discworld series. The story continues right where the previous one left off, following Rincewind and Twoflower as they travel across the disc. This is unique among Pratchett’s extensive series of books, which are otherwise self-contained stories with recurring protagonists and characters.
While I enjoyed The Colour of Magic a lot I found myself hooked by the story of The Light Fantastic a lot more. Both take a broad approach to the Discworld, exploring how it works and giving the reader an understanding from a limited but cosmic perspective. However, I found the first book to be a little too unfocused. Based on my experience with the series thus far, Pratchett is strongest as a writer when he tackles concepts more precisely.
In both novels he introduces ideas that cleverly poke fun at fantasy tropes and clichés, but he doesn’t really expand upon them. A good example of this in The Light Fantastic is the introduction of tension between magic users of different genders. I know that this is explored extensively in later novels, but here it is just a humorous moment in the story. This is the case for a lot of the great ideas Pratchett has as well. I don’t feel that this makes the story bad, simply that his work is stronger with more focus.
That being said, this novel had a lot more focus, it just wasn’t quite there yet. The machinations of the wizards at the Unseen University, for example, are some of the most interesting parts of the story. We come to better understand what it means to be a wizard in this world and what their internal politics are like. All of this is done while also being in service to the story. I did enjoy reading about Rincewind and Twoflower as they fall into trouble and try to escape the ensuing peril, but I became better invested in them as characters once Rincewind began to realize his part in saving the Discworld.
Having read both now, it’s difficult to talk about The Light Fantastic without bringing up the first book (as you can plainly see). They both have their own individual plotlines — The Colour of Magic’s being a little looser — yet the two books could be combined and considered one longer novel. This is especially the case because Rincewind does not have a complete character arc until this point, which helps tie the two books even more firmly together.
The two novels are a strong start to a great series, the latter of the two being noteworthy by improving upon the foundation lain by the first. I highly recommend them.