Rincewind the Wizard is a fictional character appearing in the Discworld novels of Terry Pratchett, several of which feature him as the central character. He is a failed student at the Unseen University for wizards in Ankh-Morpork, often described by scholars as "the magical equivalent to the number zero", and spends just about all of his time running away from various bands of people who want to kill him for various reasons. The fact that he's still alive and running is explained in that although he was born with a wizard's spirit, he has the body of a long-distance sprinter. Rincewind is also reputed for being able to solve minor problems by turning them into major disasters.
Fictional character history
He starts out in The Colour of Magic, the first book of the series, as a guide for the tourist Twoflower, who hails from the Counterweight Continent, a continent across the disc from the 'hub' continent where Ankh-Morpork is situated. He is recruited for this job because he is the only one who can understand Twoflower, being proficient at languages. He takes advantage of the situation and attempts to fleece Twoflower out of his money, yet he is forced into being the tourist's guide by the Patrician. He and Twoflower wander around for quite a while, and get chased by everything from the personification of Death to a Lovecraftian creature named Bel-Shamharoth.
The first book ends with a literal cliff-hanger when he and Twoflower are thrown off the edge of the Discworld by astronomers who want to know the gender of Great A'Tuin, the turtle upon which the disc rides, and have designed a space-ship (bronze and shaped like a fish) to do so.
They both survive for rather complicated reasons involving a spell supposedly left by the Creator which has lodged itself in his mind and, due to this spell, the necessity of Rincewind's continued existence in order to save the world, and Rincewind becomes a recurring character in the series.
Rincewind is most frequently seen wearing his hat with the word WIZZARD emblazoned across it in sequins and his Luggage, which has hundreds of little legs and follows him everywhere, generally attacking anything it perceives as a threat to Rincewind, or, in fact, anything else it perceives at all.
Rincewind's age is indeterminate, although the first two books describe him as being young. He opened the Octavo at the age of fifteen, and the spell was in his head for sixteen years, which means that in The Colour of Magic he's thirty-one years old. In The Science of Discworld IV he's described as middle-aged, which means by this time he's somewhere in his fifties. The age confusion is further complicated by cover paintings on some of the books themselves (one showed Twoflower with four biological eyeballs rather than spectacles explicitly described in later books) and comments made by Death about Rincewind's life-timer. Every living being on the Disc has an hourglass, usually kept in Death's home, that gradually records his life from birth to death. Rincewind's life-timer is described as resembling something created by a glassblower with the hiccups in a time machine; most likely as a result of his constant mishaps involving magic, the nature of reality, and shiftings into alternative dimensions. This represents something of a curiosity to Death who keeps the hour-glass on his desk. The complicated and sometimes changing nature of the life-timer can not only slow the flow of Rincewind's sand, but also stop and even reverse it. As such, even Death himself is unaware of how old Rincewind is supposed to be or when he will die, likening such an exercise as trying to find the starting point on a roll of really clear sticky tape. However Death does tend to show up when Rincewind is in extreme danger, but this has happened to many Discworld entities who have been heavily involved in magic. Death and wizards have many complicated rules, and Rincewind has at times noticeably been hesitant to divorce himself from being a wizard, albeit a very bad one- to the extent that it has been suggested that when Rincewind dies, the average occult ability of the human race will actually go up by a fraction.
Over the course of his adventures, he has turned his cowardice into a fully fledged philosophy of life. He believes that, when running, "to" is never important, what matters is "from". When it was pointed out that running just lands him in more trouble his response was "Yes, but you can run away from that, too." By The Last Hero he's started describing running away as a religion in the valid belief that no one will take it seriously; it might not give you eternal life, exactly, but it certainly gives you more life. Very few of his various travelling companions (who, at various times, include watchmen, barbarians, a tourist, a teenage demonologist, a female member of a female impersonation troupe and a magic kangaroo) take him seriously. This is partially because Rincewind has an unusually pessimistic outlook on life, and partially because bad things seem to single him out for misfortune. Many of his companions have taken note of Rincewind's extraordinary tenacity. He manages to survive everything that happens to him, and suspect that there's a deeper purpose behind this, although he himself insists it's just a coincidence.
Rincewind apparently believes in karma, however. From his point of view, he has pre-emptive karma—if it even looks as if something good will happen to him in the future, his karma will ensure that something bad happens immediately, and continues happening so that the good things never come around. However in Sourcery he sacrifices his own chance of returning into the world again so that Coin could escape from the Dungeon Dimensions.
A good illustration of Rincewind's pre-emptive karma takes place while he was stranded on an island. He had managed to eke out a comfortable and boring existence, and some Amazon warrior-females found him. Apparently, they needed a man for breeding purposes, as all their menfolk had died from a highly selective plague. Just then, as they were about to take him to what he thought would be potatoes for life (one of the women tells him he will have earthly and sensual pleasures such as those he may have dreamed of) the wizards of Unseen University transported him to Ankh-Morpork, so they could send him to the Agatean Empire. There he was chased, knocked out, and nearly killed several times. Rincewind has theorised that in order to balance out the universe, there must be, somewhere, someone to whom nothing but good happens. Someone who saunters from one comfortable place to the next. Rincewind still hopes to meet him some day, hopefully while carrying a weapon.
In fact, Rincewind has the dubious privilege of being the Chosen of the Lady, the Discworld's most mysterious goddess. It is for this reason that he is constantly finding himself embroiled in unpleasant situations and coming out more-or-less on top. However if he ever realised this, much less acted as though nothing could seriously harm him, then she would instantly lose interest. Besides, having the favour of the Lady, in addition to being unreliable, also means having the very reliable enmity of Fate. People have said that the gods smile on Rincewind (due to his continued existence despite all odds). Rincewind feels that, although he knew they were definitely doing something to him, he had never considered it to be smiling.
He has also developed an obsession with potatoes, which is implied to be a result of misplaced sexual feelings. Interesting Times states that later on in his life he will have to undergo therapy for this affliction, involving a pretty woman, a plate of potatoes and a large stick with a nail in it.
Finally, Rincewind considered himself a racist ("the hundred meters, the mile, the marathon, he’s run them all") before finding out the real meaning of the word, and has also spawned a religion among trees.
During the events of The Last Hero, Rincewind is asked to volunteer for a dangerous mission; when he refuses, he states that he's merely refusing for the sake of appearances, because even if he refuses, somehow events will conspire against him and he'll end up going on the mission anyway.
Rincewind has received the following titles during his stay at the Unseen University; some of them because nobody else wants them, others to keep him busy doing work unrelated to magic:
- Egregious Professor Of Cruel And Unusual Geography
- Chair of Experimental Serendipity
- Reader in Slood Dynamics
- Fretwork Teacher (apparently the result of some 1200 year old curse from a dying Archchancellor, sounding very much like 'May you always teach fretwork!')
- Chair for the Public Misunderstanding of Magic
- Professor of Virtual Anthropology
- Lecturer in Approximate Accuracy
- Assistant Librarian
- Health and Safety Officer
These titles and their accompanying tenure include the condition that he cannot have any salary, influence, or opinions. They do, however, include meals, his laundry done, and (as a result of all the impressive-sounding but essentially meaningless titles that have been bestowed upon him) up to eight buckets of coal a day during the entire year.
However cumbersome or dangerous the adventures that befall the unwilling Rincewind, it is strongly suggested throughout the novels that he might be one of the few on the Discworld who do not lack common sense or intelligence. Supporting this position is his ability to pick up the essentials of foreign languages quickly (the essentials being how to scream for help, or, in point of fact, how to scream) and fluency only slightly less quickly, as well as the fact that, during The Colour of Magic, when he was projected into a universe that may or may not have been our own, he assumed the role of a nuclear physicist. In keeping with his nature, the role was as a physicist who specialized in the 'breakaway oxidation phenomena' of certain reactors - or, to put another way, what happens when those reactors caught fire. In addition, Rincewind is considered fairly streetwise. He is often depicted as a harsh critic of the selected stupidities surrounding him, even though he can't help but comply with whatever absurdity that arises. For example, in the computer games starring him, he consistently spotted the ludicrous events around him and would then make jokes and puns to the unaware participants. He also seems to display, despite his apparent failure as a wizard, a fairly extensive magical knowledge, recognizing various spells, magical artifacts and concepts throughout his escapades.
Some of Rincewind's talents once stemmed from a semi-sentient and highly destructive spell that had lodged itself inside his mind and scared off all other spells (mentioned in The Colour of Magic and The Light Fantastic). The spell occasionally tries to make itself heard whenever Rincewind is going through a distressing time; as he was falling to his near-death, he said the first seven out of eight words of the spell.
Pratchett said in an interview that he unwittingly took Rincewind's name from "Churm Rincewind", a fictitious person referred to in J.B. Morton's early Beachcomber columns in the Daily Express. In 1924, when J. B. Morton took over the column 'By The Way' , he inherited the pseudonym 'Beachcomber' from his predecessors on the job (the column had existed since 1917), but it wasn't long before the name became synonymous with his own work due to his astonishing output and success: Morton wrote the column six times a week for over 50 years, until 1965, when the column became a weekly feature, and continued to the last column in November 1975. Morton used an eccentric cast of regular characters in his sketches, which frequently caricatured self-important and highbrow public figures. One continual theme was the silliness of the law courts, featuring amongst others Mr Justice Cocklecarrot and the twelve Red-Bearded Dwarves. In one sketch, the names of those dwarfs were given as Sophus Barkayo-Tong, Amaninter Axling, Farjole Merrybody, Guttergorm Guttergormpton, Badly Oronparser, Cleveland Zackhouse, Molonay Tubilderborst, Edeledel Edel, Scorpion de Rooftrouser, Listenis Youghaupt, Frums Gillygottle, and, last but not least, Churm Rincewind. Pratchett said:
"I read of lot of Beachcomber in second-hand collections when I was around 13. Dave Langford pointed out the origin of Rincewind a few years ago, and I went back through all the books and found the name and thought, oh, blast, that's where it came from. And then I thought, what the hell, anyway."
The character of Rincewind, as acerbically and affectionately reported by the inspiration's family, was the World War II spymaster M, who ran the Allied side of World War II. Terry Pratchett likely met the real life M at some point, or possibly knew him personally. M was also a cousin of Neil Gaiman, friend of Terry Pratchett.
In his collection of short stories, A Blink of the Screen, Pratchett comments in the introduction to one of his earlier short story Rincemangle, the Gnome of Even Moor, that "the name of the protagonist finds an echo in the later creation of Rincewind the Wizzard".
It has also been said that Rincewind is based on Yossarian from Joseph Heller's Catch 22, though Pratchett has neither confirmed nor denied this. Both Yossarian and Rincewind fall into the lovable coward persona.
Partially drawn from 
- The Colour of Magic
- The Light Fantastic
- Mort (minor appearance)
- Interesting Times
- The Last Continent
- The Last Hero
- Unseen Academicals (minor appearences)
- The Science of Discworld and sequels
- "Raising Steam" (Footnote)
In other media
- The first three Discworld computer games: The Colour of Magic, Discworld (The Trouble With Dragons) and Discworld II: Missing Presumed…!? (Mortality Bytes! in North America). He is voiced by Eric Idle in the second and third games.
- Rincewind is the main character in the Snowgum Films production of Run Rincewind Run!, played by Troy Larkin.
- Rincewind is the main character in the Sky One adaptation of The Colour of Magic, played by David Jason.