The Colour Of Magic

The first novel in the Discworld Series
Chosen as a representative text for the British National Corpus

For Innovation’s graphic novel, The Colour of Magic, click here 

UK hbk: Colin Smythe (jacket illus. Alan Smith), c.506 copies Thursday 24 November 1983 (0-86140-089-5) (Originally intended to be published on 10 November, I delayed publication to have labels printed to cover over the embarrassingly inaccurate blurb written by the US publishers, who printed our copies. Copies would have been on sale at least three weeks prior to that date)
2nd edition (jacket illustration: Josh Kirby), with an additional introduction, 1033 copies published in November 1989 (0-86140-324-X)
A facsimile edition originally announced as being of 500 copies, but later increased to at least 1,000, was published by Hill House Publishers (without a contract), in 2005
. This edition has two jackets, one copies the original 1983 version, the other the 1989 Kirby version, both being wrapped around the book. It is slightly larger than the original – page height 21.5cm to 20.9cm.
Compact edition: Gollancz, c.20,000 copies on 16 November 1995 (0-575-06165-0)

Discworld Collector’s Library: The Unseen University Collection (hbk, cover engraving by Joe McLaren): Gollancz, August 2014 (978-1-473-20532-1)
Large print edition: Isis, hbk, c.400 copies in October 1994 (1-85695-324-6); pbk,  c.400 copies in August 1995 (1-85695-364-5)
BCA’s Unseen Library: 7,000 copies in November 2001 (CN7198) Although noted on copyright page as ‘By arrangement with Victor Gollancz Ltd’, it was licensed to BCA by Colin Smythe Ltd.
Commemorative 21st Anniversary Edition: Doubleday, in association with Colin Smythe, 2 September 2004 (0-385-60864-0) [for sale for 12 months from publication only] One thousand numbered, slip-cased copies (without dust-jacket) signed by Terry Pratchett, were issued with no change to the ISBN.
Pbk (with Josh Kirby cover): Corgi, 26,000 copies on 15 January 1985 (0-552-12475-3), reprinted 1985, 1987 (twice), 1988 (twice), 1989 (twice), 1990 (twice), 1991 (twice), 1992 (thrice), 1993, reissued (reset) 1993, increasing pagination from 240 to 288, reprinted 1994 (twice), 1995 (twice), 1996 (thrice), 1997 (twice), 1998, and so on.

Issued with ‘Vitruvian Turtle’ cover by Stephen Player, Corgi, c.15,800 copies 11 February 1993 (0-552-13893-2) not reprinted. (Prior to the choice of the Player cover a trial design with an illustration by Chris Brown was also printed, but rejected. A few copies of this cover exist.)
New issue, B-format, with black/gold photographic design cover, as used on the 21st anniversary edition, above, placed on sale at the same time as the Kirby edition, April 2005 (0-552-15292-7)
Reissue: B-format with revised Kirby cover: Corgi, 21 June 2012 (978-0-552-16659-1)
Unabridged poster edition: Spineless Classics, 1 December 2014, SP197 (EAN 0639767956291)

USA hbk: St Martin’s Press (with the Alan Smith jacket illustration) c. 4,000 copies in November 1983 (0-312-15084-9)
Some paperback proofs were produced. I have only heard of one copy, which was offered for sale in 2021. Simultaneous publication was intended but St Martin’s sent out copies to booksellers which were sold prior to publication ?21 October 1983 has been mentioned. At least two copies were evidently bound containing the Smythe bookblock and the St Martins Press casing and jacket.
US book club: Science Fiction Book Club, Main Selection, May 1984 (with Alan Smith jacket illustration) ?May 1984 (ref. 06199). The first printing was in quarter deep green cloth with cloth-pattern embossed boards, and blocked gold on spine. The title verso gives the printer/binder as the Maple-Vail Book Manufacturing Group. Later printings lack the name of the printer and were bound in dark greenish-blue paper-covered boards, with printed blue-green lettering on spine. The text for the book club edition was reset, and has 184 pages as opposed to the St Martin’s Press (and Smythe) edition, which has 206pp.
After the first UK edition sold out and before producing the 1989 printing, Smythe imported a total of 400 copies of this book club edition for sale in the UK. These would have normally had a Smythe price sticker on them, and some – I am uncertain how many – had the label to cover the offending blurb.
Since St Martin’s licence terminated, Dufour Editions, Chester Springs PA, have been importing copies of the Smythe edition.
USA pbk: Signet (NAL) (name of cover artist not given, but it was Vicente Segrelles), May 1985 (0-451-13577-6);

Their fifth printing, was issued with the Kirby cover, 1987 (0-451-15705-2);
The 6th printing was issued under the Roc imprint (0-451-45112-0)
Massmarket: HarperPrism[HarperPaperbacks], cover illus. Ben Perrini, February 2000 (0-06-102071-0)
First HarperTorch printing November 2000; first Harper paperback printing December 2007. Copies of this printing were also bound up in a library binding and sold by Turtleback Books (0-613-27773-2), and also by Paw Prints, with a seal on front cover ‘celebrating 25 extraordinary years of discworld’ (978-1-4352-7458-7). Those I’ve seen have been of the 32nd and 34th printings (Turtleback) and 34th (Paw Prints). This edition also contains the 16 page section entitled ‘The World of Terry Pratchett’ that appears at the end of the advance reader’s edition of The Fifth Elephant.
Trade pbk: Harper Perennial, October 2005 (0-06-085592-4)

Part of a reissue of the first three Discworld novels to coincide with the publication of Thud! This includes ‘Inside – a sneak peek at Terry Pratchett’s new novel, Thud!’, the opening 12 pages of the novel, followed by the next 8 in The Light Fantastic, and then 12 in Equal Rites. The cover designs used photos provided by Getty Images.
Premium pbk: Harper Premium, 29 January 2013 (978-0-06-222567-2)

Bahasa Indonesian: The Colour of Magic, trs. Michael D Elwin Setiadi, Penerbit PT Elex Media Komputindo/Kompas Gramedia, 6 October 2010 (978-979-27-8127-4)

Brazilian/Portuguese: A Cor da Magia, trs. Márcio Grillo El-Jaick, Conrad Livros, October 2001 (85-87193-39-2)

Bulgarian: Цветът на Магията, trs. Mirela Khristova, Vuzev, 15,000 copies in December 1992 (954-422-005-4)

Catalan: trs. Ernest Riera, Mai Més (expected 2021)

Chinese mainland (simplified): 1. Science Fiction World Magazine, 6,000 copies in 2007 (978-7-5364-6255-7)
2. Dook Shanghai, October 2018 (978-7-5496-2545-1)
 New cover: Dook, July 2020 (same ISBN) 

Croatian: 1. Boja Magije, trs. Predrag Raos, Bakal, 3,000 copies in May 1993 (953-6117-00-2) With a translator’s note and guide, pp. 231-234, as to how names were translated from  English to Croatian.
    2. Boja Magije, trs. Drago žtajduhar, Marjan Tisak, 2002 (953-213-046-2)

Czech: Barva Kouzel, trs. Jan Kantůrek, Talpress, 15,000 copies in July 1993 (80-85609-28-2)
Also published as a double volume, with The Light Fantastic. See here
Bilingual edition English/Czech: Talpress, March 2011 (978-80-7197-417-8)

Danish: 1) Når Magien Bliver for Broget, trs. Hans Palle Mortensen, Host, 1992 (87-14-19137-7)
2) Magiens Farve, trs. Hans Palle Mortensen, Borgen, 9 March 2004 (87-21-02186-4)

Dutch: De Kleur van Toverij, trs. Venugopalan Ittekot (pseud. of Ruurd Groot), Prisma/Het Spectrum, 5,000 copies in 1991 (90-274-2757-7)
Reissue: Mynx, 2008 (978-90-225-5113-4)
Schijfwereldomnibus nr.1 (omnibus edition with The Light Fantastic and Equal Rites), Het  Spectrum, 4,000 copies in 1998 (90-274-6338-7)
Reissue: De Boekerij/M, cover illus. Paul Kidby, 11/02 (90-225-3385-9)
Omnibus edition, with The Light Fantastic: M [not yet seen]

Estonian: Võlukunsti Värv, trs. Urmas Alas, jacket illus. Kirke Kangro, Varrak, 1500 copies on 30 October 1997 (9985-3-0088-2)
Reissue: with new cover illus. Hillar Mets, Varrak, December 2001 (9985-3-0560-4)

Finnish: Magian Väri, trs. Marja Sinkkonen, Karisto, December 1999 or in 2000 (951-23-4106-9)
Pbk: Karisto, February 2004 (951-23-4475-0)

French: 1. Le Huitième Couleur, trs. Patrick Marcel, L’Atalante, February 1993 (2-905158-67-0)
2. New translation: trs. Patrick Couton, L’Atalante, September 1996 (2-84172-039-X)
Reissue, with new introduction by Terry Pratchett (dated September 2014), 21 November 2014 (978-2-84172-689-9)

Pbk: Pocket, September 1997 (2-266-07156-4)
Promotional edition, not for sale: Pocket, 9,000 copies in ?December 2003 (2-266-11140-X)
Pbk with Marc Simonetti cover: Pocket, January 2011 (978-2-266-21181-9)

Georgian (Mkhedruli script):: Magiis p‘eri, trs. ?, Ilia State University Press, 2010 (978-9941-18-018-7)

German: 1. Die Farben der Fantasie, trs. Dagmar Hartman, Goldmann (cover illus. Greg Hildebrandt), December 1985 (3-442-23869-2)
2. Die Farben der Magie, trs. Andreas Brandhorst, Heyne (06/4912), 1992 (3-453-05860-7)
Republished: Piper, August 2004 (3-492-28510-4)
Piper Boulevard, December 2005 (3-492-29144-9)
25th Discworld anniversary hbk edition, April 2008 (978-3-492-28627-5)
Reissued with new cover design by Katarzyna Oleska, Piper, May 2015 (978-3-492-28062-4)
All nine Piper Discworld titles were also sold in a box, with spines combining to create a single image by Katarzyna Oleska, illustrator of all the covers, Piper, 8 June 2015 (978-3-492-28080-8)

Bookclub hbk: derclub, 2001 (00204 8)

Issued as an ebook: 16 July 2012

Special newspaper edition, Bild am Sonntag special offer December 2006 (3-89897-529-0) This edition contains four colour reproductions of details of Kirby pictures.
Illustrated edition, illus Stephen Player, Piper, November 2009 (978-3-492-26716-8)  This uses the illustrations commissioned from the artist by Gollancz for its 25th Anniversary edition of The Colour of Magic and The Light Fantastic (The First Discworld Novels).

Double volume with Der Zauberhut [Sourcery], no. 23/117 in Heyne’s Tip des Monat series, 1995 (3-453-08974-X) using a cover illustration Josh Kirby painted for Robert Rankin’s Brentford Trilogy novel, The Sprouts of Wrath, complete with English policemen, a Morris Minor, part of a gasometer and other uniquely English images. On being reproached for its use, Heyne maintained that this was not a breach of contract as   they considered it to be of a relevant subject (possibly because it also contained a man with a pointy red hat).
Bookclub edition of above: Boulevard Taschenbuch (Bertelsmann) May 1998 (00539 7) but with Kirby’s illustration for the cover of Sourcery.

Rincewind der Zauberer, an omnibus containing the first four Rincewind titles, Die Farben der Magie, Das Licht der Phantasie, Der Zauberhut and Eric, Heyne, cover illus. Tom Kidd , July 2001 (3-453-18942-6).
Republished by Piper, January 2005 (3-492-28500-7)

Die Magie der Scheibenwelt, Piper, December 2002 (3-453-86367-4; 06/9300) The first three novels in one – with foreword by Neil Gaiman. Revised cover design on 4th printing October 2009 (978-3-492-28519-3)

Double volume containing Die Farben der Magie and Eric, Piper, January 2018 (978-3-492-28026-6) With red label ‘SPIEGEL Bestsellerautor’

‘Der Zauber des Wyrmbergs’ [‘The Lure of the Wyrm’] in Tolkiens Erbe, trs. Erik Simon & Friedel Wahren, Piper, 2005 (3-492-70115-0)
Reissued: Piper, July 2007 (978-3-492-28589-6)
Unabridged reissue; Piper November 2012 (978-3-492-26909-4)

Greek: Το Χρωμα Τησ Μαγειασ, Το Φωσ Τησ Φαντασιασ, trs. Lil Ioannidou, Para Pente, 1992 (99-8007-443-4) the first two Discworld novels in one book.
 Το ΧρωμαΤησΜαγειασ, Alter Para Pente, 1994 (no ISBN given)

Hebrew: צשע הבשף, trs. Aya Bar, Kinneret, 1992 (965-286-266-5) In spite of contractual agreement to use the Kirby design, an inappropriate local one was used.
Larger format reprint: Kinneret, 1997 using same ISBN as first printing but with the correct cover illustration.

Hungarian: 1) A Mágia Színe, trs. Zsolt Kornya and István Nemes, Pendragon Könyvkiadó, 1992 (963-8017-02-3) Used Josh Kirby’s cover illustration for The Light Fantastic.
2) Cherubion 2,000 copies, 2001 [copies not seen]
3) Delta Vision, 2017 (978-963-395-224-5)

Icelandic: Litbrigđi Galdranna, trs. Jón Daníelsson, Tónleikur, 2007 (978-9979-70-354-9)

Italian: 1. Il Colore di Magia, trs. Natalia Callori, Mondadori, 24 April 1989 (no ISBN, listed as issue no. 11 (April 1989) of their monthly Urania Fantasy series)
     I Colori della Magia (with The Light Fantastic and Equal Rites), Mondadori, 1991 (88-04-35085-7)
2. Tea (Salani/Longanesi), February 1998 (88-7818-267-2)
Hbk: Salani, June 2016 (978-88-6918-788-9)

Japanese: [Disuku Warudo Sodoki] trs. Hitoshi Yasuda, illus. Masanori Nisikiori, Haruki,  Kadokawa/Kadokawa Shoten, 1992 (4-04-274501-6)

Korean: trs. Su-Hyen Lee, Sigongsa, 3 May 2005 (89-527-4195-1; set 89-527-4194-3)

Macedonian: Бојата на магијата, trs. Aneta Mostrova-Jovanova, Ars Libris, 500 copies in 2014 (978-608-229-702-6)

Norwegian: Magiens Farge, trs. Rolf Andersen, Tiden Norsk, 2,500 copies on 16 April 1998 (82-10-04217-3)
Pbk: Tiden Norsk

Polish: Kolor Magii, trs. Piotr W. Cholewa, in Nowa Fantastyka, April-July 1994, nos. 4 (139), p. 25-56; 5 (140), pp. 29-41; 6 (141), pp. 25-39; 7 (142), pp. 25-42.
Pbk: 1.  Fantastyka S-ka/Prószyński i S-ka, 1994 (83-85661-65-4)
2. Prószyński i S-ka, 2003 (83-7337-125-7)
Hbk: Prószyński i S-ka, 2001 (83-7337-024-2)
Special supermarket edition: Prószyński i S-ka, May 2004 (83-7337-726-3)

Portuguese: 1. A Cor da Magia, trs. Mário Dias Correia, Temas & Debates, c. 3,000 copies in March 2003 (972-759-554-5)
Bookclub: Circulo de Leitores, December 2003 (972-42-3091-0; 1017152)

Romanian: Coloarea Magiei, trs. Domnica Macri, S.C.Noesis, 2002 (973-85637-0-4)

Russian: 1. Цвет Волшебства, trs. Iryny Kravtsova, Azbuka/Terra, 25,000 copies in 1997 (5-7684-0345-0)
2.  Eksmo, 10,100 copies in July 2001 (5-04-007995-8)
  reissue, Eksmo, 9 November 2011 (978-5-699-61267-3). According to the publishers, Eksmo. the book carrying this ISBN existed only as a single copy. They are at a loss to explain how this came about, and have no idea where that unique copy is now [February 2018].
Reissue with new cover by Paul Kidby reversed out white against a dark blue-purple solid, with end-papers listing the titles in each sub-series: Eksmo, 28 August 2017 (978-5-699-96183-2) the first of a new style series
Reissue, pbk, with original Kirby cover and flaps: Eksmo, April 2018, 3,000 copies (978-5-04-093021-0)

Bilingual edition: Eksmo, 18 May 2017 (978-5-699-95079-9)
The Russian translation is on the right hand page, with the English original on the facing left page. At the end is a section headed ‘Activities’ with guides to learning English words and phrases used by Terry.

Double volume with The Light Fantastic: Eksmo, 5,000 copies printed on 14 May 2003 (5-699-03074-3)

Serbian  (orig. Yugoslav): Boja Magije, trs. Dejan Papić, Laguna/ReVision in their Octarin series, 1000 copies on 23 September 1998 (86-7304-011-6)
New printing: Laguna, 2015, 2017 (978-86-521-1127-5)
A note to me from Dejan Papić, the founder of Laguna, dated 21 November 2018: “It is now a bit more than twenty years since I contacted you regarding the rights about The Colour of Magic. You told me then that you didn’t sell rights to individuals so I established a publishing house in order to acquire the rights. I called it Laguna, made the design of our logo, and so on. A week later I contacted you as a director of the publishing house Laguna, and we made a deal. In next 2-3 years Laguna was all about publishing Discworld novels – about 8 of them. And then we started to publish other established authors as well. Twenty years later, Laguna is the leading publishing house not only in Serbia but in Balkan region as well. So far we have published more than 4,000 titles for different target groups of readers. I also started the bookstore chain some 10 years ago, and today it is the leading bookstore chain with 42 bookstores and counting. Our Readers club has almost 600,000 members. And The Colour of Magic is sitting proudly on the most prominent spot in my sitting room.” See also for further information.

Slovakian: 1) Farba Mágie, trs. Vladislav Gális, Talpress, 2003 (80-7197-230-4)
2) Farba mágie, trs. Vladislav Gális, Slovart, 2019 (978-80-556-3909-3)

Slovenian: Barva Magije, trs. Maja Novak, Vale-Novak, 2004 (961-6221-73-6)

Spanish: El Color de la Magia, trs. Cristina Macía, Martínez Roca, 1989 (84-270-1341-8)
Pbk: Plaza & Janés, January 1998 (col.Jet 84-01-46161-8; vol.342/1, 84-01-47943-6)
Reissued (8th printing) by Debols!llo [Plaza & Janés], April 2003 (84-9759-679-X)
First printing with a new cover, May 2012 [now 978-84-9759-679-4],
€1.95 offer, Debols!llo, June 2011 (978-84-9989-284-9)
Kiosk edition: Altaya, 2008 (978-84-487-2291-3)

Swedish: 1). Magins Färg, trs. Olle Sahlin, Target Games, 1989 (91-7898-062-3)
2). (pbk): BW-Pocket/Wahlströms, 1995 (91-32-42992-4)

Turkish: 1). Büyünün Rengi, trs. Ümit Tosun, Ithaki, October 1999 (975-6902-33-7)
2). Büyünün Rengi, trs. Niran Elçi, Delidolu/Tudem, 3,000 copies in March 2016 (978-605-5060-206)

Ukrainian: Колір магії, trs. Yuliva Prokopetsy, Starogo Leva (Old Lion), 2017 (978-617-679-453-0)

Yiddish:  דער קאָליר פֿון כּישוף ( Der Kolir fun Kishef), trs. Barry Goldstein, B. Goldstein Publishing, August 2019  (978-0-9980497-4-5) 

Background illustration © and by courtesy of Marc Simonetti

Reviews (and an interview with Neil Gaiman)

‘A laugh riot, with everything from the subtlest word-plays to sheer Laurel and Hardy Slapstick – there aren’t too many works of fantasy or SF that can be described that way. Very few, in fact.  Come to think of it – none. There are a few SF novels that have great moments of humour…. There are even fewer funny fantasies; Lieber’s Grey Mouser stories come to mind, but they have wit more than humour…. But there are no fantasies that are as consistently, inventively mad as Terry Pratchett’s new The Colour of Magic, which is indeed, a laugh riot…. I laughed an awful lot. This not just the funniest fantasy I’ve ever come across; it’s one of the funniest books. Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine

Pratchett is clever both in his use of language and in his characters and situations: the masterpiece of this story is Twoflower’s Luggage, a walking box of sapient pearwood that follows its owner absolutely everywhere. For a good laugh, read this novel.   Library Journal

…has erudite jokes on one dimension and a rollicking story on another.              Oxford Times

Normally I dislike tales of fantasy, sword and sorcery, whatever. Terry Pratchett is an exception simply because he has the exceptional gift of humour, as he showed in his previous book, Strata…. The plot is so ridiculous – and so much fun – that it shouldn’t be revealed in a serious newspaper. But don’t be put off by the trappings: Pratchett is very good indeed.                                         The Scotsman

Frothy, inventive and fun.                                                                               Kirkus Reviews

Pratchett’s U.S. debut, Strata, was a delightful spoof of certain well-known science fiction novels that could also be enjoyed on its own as an inventive comic adventure. Now Pratchett does for sword and sorcery, with equal success, what he did for SF…. Heroic barbarians, chthonic monsters, beautiful princesses and fiery dragons; they’re all here, but none of them is doing business as usual. Nor would you expect them to, in a book that ends with the heroes falling over the edge of the world. It’s all lots of fun.        Publisher’s Weekly

Terry Pratchett has been writing science fiction stories since he was thirteen. In Strata he turned to parody; in The Colour of Magic he turns a satirical eye on the related genre of sword-and-sorcery fantasy.  Everyone – from Tolkien to Robert E.Howard, Camp and Pratt, Anne McCaffrey and many others – seems to be remarked upon at some point. The parody is dangerously easy, but Pratchett is saved from archness by his obvious enthusiasm for the writing he so joyously takes over the top. Verbally witty, imaginatively resourceful and with a nice line in comic-book action, The Colour of Magic will be enjoyed by those who enjoy high-spirited fantasy, whether or not they recognise all the models being so affectionately caricatured.  British Book News

The spirit of Douglas Adams, meanwhile, is at play elsewhere, in The Colour of Magic by Terry Pratchett. It was inevitable that someone should make fun of sword-and-sorcery in the same way that Adams has of science fiction. Pratchett does it gratifyingly well, keeping just the right touch of gravity in his farce…absurdities proliferate, amusingly.  British Book News

You are agog for the next atrocious pun, the next unbelievable but internally-logical and ingenious twist in the story…. there are some superb inventions here,  of which perhaps octarine is the most welcome to our pantheon of simple yet previously unimagined ideas…. This is a most readable book with a host of enjoyable characters and a wealth of carefully invented detail. It would make an ideal antidote to an overdose of too-serious, too-clinical mainstream fantasy or science fiction reading.   Ken Lake in Vector

The Colour of Pratchett

Neil Gaiman talks to the author of fantasy’s most colourful new book.

Terry Pratchett is the author of a book that ought to appeal to most Space Voyager readers. It’s called The Colour of Magic and it’s an attempt to do for the fantasy field what Hitchhiker did to science fiction – send up all the conventions, and generally have a fun time doing so.

He’s written three other books in the SF field. (His last novel, Strata, was described by one reviewer as ‘restlessly inventive, which in the space of a fairly short novel, manages to enough ideas to keep most SF writers happy for a trilogy of trilogies.’ All right, I admit it: I was that reviewer.) His first SF story, however, was published when he was the unbelievably young age of thirteen.

“It was a terrible thing to happen to someone,” he told me. “The very first thing I ever wrote got accepted, which is quite the reverse of the normal procedure. So then I spent five or six years learning to write – as if by sheer chance the first dart I had ever thrown had hit the bullseye. My next books were The Carpet People, The Dark Side of the Sun, Strata and The Colour of Magic. Strata was good – I had fun writing that.”

Like The Colour of Magic, Strata mostly takes place on a flat Earth, which is treated as a kind of parody of Larry Niven’s Ringworld. “Well, Larry Niven is a very easy writer to copy, all his characters speak in exactly the same way. No-one ever stops to think about things, they just go out and do them. Ringworld was really good (taken apart it doesn’t stand up at all, but it’s jolly good fun). I liked the way everything in Ringworld worked like clockwork, so I said ‘Right! No-one’s ever put together a universe that doesn’t work at all, where the whole thing ticks over solely due to a remarkable input of power.’ That was Strata.”

The Colour of Magic is the story of a fairly useless wizard who finds himself acting as a rather unwilling minder to a tourist and a somewhat supernatural paradimensional walking traveller’s chest. In it Pratchett borrows from and pokes fun at authors as diverse as Fritz Leiber, Ursula K Le Guin, H P Lovecraft, Robert E Howard and Anne McCaffrey – to name but a few.

Having said that, I was totally at a loss when confronted by the cover blurb, which reads ‘Jerome K Jerome meets Lord of the Rings (with a touch of Peter Pan)’. Could he explain it?

He shrugged. “Don’t ask me to explain what publishers say!”

Aren’t the wizard and the tourist a little reminiscent of Arthur Dent and Ford Prefect? “You can go a long way by having two characters, one of whom is streetwise and the other who is innocent and a lightning conductor for trouble. And you stick them together – which is what Douglas Adams and many other people have done, it’s what I did – and you get a sort of sword and sorcery Laurel and Hardy.

“Twoflower (the tourist) really believes that because he’s not really involved because he’s a tourist, even though he could be in the middle of a battle the thought that something could actually hurt him doesn’t enter his scheme of things.”

There are points in the book where it almost reads like Douglas Adams. “Well, I write like the last author I’ve read. I’ve really had to stop myself writing like Larry Niven; for someone who’s a bit of a comedian, as I am, he’s such an obvious person to copy. Now, I’ve got to admit that while I hate and despise Trekkies (A Dr Who fan can walk under a snake, while a Trekkie can walk under a snake wearing a bowler hat!) Hitchhiker’s Guide fans are a great bunch of guys.

“The only trouble is that sometimes people take it seriously, and then you begin to panic. I was so impressed by Hitchhiker that I’ve got the world’s only talking door. Very easy, microchip, processor, got a bloke to write me some software and as you go through it, it says “Glad to be of service” “Please enjoy your trip through this door.” It’s a lot of fun. But I get uneasy when people take these things too seriously.”

Isn’t he worried that some people could take The Colour of Magic too seriously?

“I don’t imagine that anyone could take it seriously. I don’t take it seriously. If World War Three actually happens, I want to be the one to say, as the mushroom cloud erupts, “Well, that about wraps it up for this lifetime!” If you’ve got say something that’s a great deal better than saying ‘Aaaaarrggghh!’

“But you know, a lot of the fun is in taking something dead seriously, and thus exposing the funny side of things – like The Law of Conservation of Reality, which says that you can make a wineglass move, or appear to move – as long as all you’re doing is moving photons, but you’ve got to be very careful if you’re really lifting the wineglass by magic in case the Law of Conservation of Reality cuts in, and your brain is forced out of your ears. That’s a dead steal from The Wizard of Earthsea.”

“But The Colour of Magic is the stand-up comic of fantasy – there’s never been one in fantasy before, it’s so humourless. Conan is so humourless – I loved the film, but the book – what a load of trash! In the book I’m doing now (the sequel to The Colour of Magic) there’s a direct steal from the film. Do you remember that scene where they’re all sitting around a campfire going ‘what is the best thing in life?’ ‘The wind in you’re hair and the lamentation of the womenfolk!’” I nodded. “Well in my book there’s Cohen the Barbarian, who’s eighty-seven, and when his turn comes around he says ‘Good dentistry and soft toilet paper’. A lifetime of sleeping rough has taught him that what really matters are hot-water bottles, dentistry and soft toilet paper.

“I suppose that by and large I think the books are a homage to the people who have given me so much enjoyment – I just go for the soft underbelly.”

Besides writing fantasy and science fiction, acting as dungeon master to his local Dungeons and Dragons group, and casting bees and locusts in precious metals (all of which he does) Terry is currently employed as a PR for the electricity board, and has been a journalist for many years.

He still feels himself more a journalist than a writer. “A journalist,” he explained, “has a rapist’s mentality. Get in there, get what you want, get out again quick. An interview needn’t last more than fifteen minutes. A good quote for the middle, a good quote for the end, and the rest you make up back at the office.”

(Editor’s note: Not all of us!)

Interview © Neil Gaiman, 1985.  Space Voyager, 15 Jun/July 1985