TCoM cover
The Colour of Magic

Terry Pratchett

Cover artist

Josh Kirby

Publication information
Media type



Rincewind series

Preceded by


Followed by

The Light Fantastic

The Colour of Magic is a 1983 comic fantasy novel by Terry Pratchett, and is the first book of the Discworld series.

Publisher's summaryEdit

On a world supported on the back of a giant turtle (sex unknown), a gleeful, explosive, wickedly eccentric expedition sets out. There's an avaricious but inept wizard, a naive tourist whose luggage moves on hundreds of dear little legs, dragons who only exist if you believe in them, and of course THE EDGE of the planet…

Plot summaryEdit

The main character is an incompetent and cynical Wizard named Rincewind. He involuntarily becomes a guide to the naive tourist, Twoflower. Forced to flee the city of Ankh-Morpork to escape a terrible fire, they begin on a journey across the Disc. Unbeknownst to them, their journey is controlled by the Gods playing a board game.

They visit the temple of Bel-Shamharoth, where they meet the Hero, Hrun and then head towards the Wyrmberg, an upside-down mountain which is home to dragons that only exist in the imagination. After escaping (leaving Hrun behind), Rincewind and Twoflower nearly go over the waterfall on the edge of the Disc, only to be rescued by Tethis the Sea Troll, and are takin to the country of Krull, a city perched on the very edge of the Discworld by a hydrophobic wizard. The Krullians wish to discover the gender of Great A'Tuin, the giant turtle which carries the Discworld through space, so they have built a space capsule to launch over the edge. They intend on sacrificing Rincewind and Twoflower to get Fate to smile on the voyage. Instead, Rincewind and Twoflower hijack the capsule in an attempt to escape and are launched off the Disc themselves.

The story is continued in the succeeding Discworld novel, The Light Fantastic.


The Colour of Magic is one of only eight Discworld novels to be divided into sections or chapters, the others being Pyramids, Going Postal, Making Money, and the four books for younger readers, specifically The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents and the three Tiffany Aching books, The Wee Free Men, A Hat Full of Sky, and Wintersmith.

Popular References Edit

Page 7 - The prologue foreshadows The Light Fantastic when Pratchett says, in reference to A'Tuin, the great turtle that holds up the world, "[...] He stares fixedly at the Destination." In the Light Fantastic, the turtle's sex is not definite but here Pratchett tells the reader that he is clearly male. By the next page, the question on Discworld is "For example, what was A'Tuin's actual sex?" Turtles are difficult to sex because their sex organs are not obvious. Size and shell shape are common ways of identifying sex and require a comparison between two turtles (males being smaller with thicker tails)- difficult to do when there is only one like A'Tuin.

Page 8 - "[...] the theory that A'Tuin had come from nowhere and would continue at a uniform crawl, or steady gait, [...]" is a puns on the 'steady state' theory of explaining the size, origin and future of the universe. The best-known other theory is, of course, the Big Bang theory, referred to in the preceding sentence.

Page 9 - "Fire roared through the bifurcated city of Ankh-Morpork." Pratchett has said that the name 'Ankh-Morpork' was not inspired by the ankh (the Egyptian cross with the closed loop on top), or by the 'morepork' (a New Zealand and Tasmanian brown owl or 'ruru'). However in The Streets of Ankh-Morpork and The Discworld Companion, the Ankh-Morpork coat of arms, features a Morepork/owl holding an ankh. This is likely artistic license on the part of the illustrator rather than Pratchett's original idea. There is a clear resonance with the the Hungarian capital of Budapest, which is made up of the two smaller ones on each bank on the Danube; Buda and Pest.

Page 9 "[...] two figures were watching with considerable interest." These are the two barbarians, Bravd and Weasel who Pratchett said are parodies of Fritz Leiber's fantasy heroes Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser. The stories in which they star (collected in the Swords series of books, starting with Swords and Deviltry) have probably had about as much influence on the genre as Tolkien's Lord of the Rings and Robert E. Howard's Conan the Barbarian.

Page 11 "[...] two lesser directions, which are Turnwise and Widdershins." "'Widdershins' means 'to turn contrary to the direction of the sun's movement', ie counter-clockwise in the Northern Hemisphere, clockwise in the Southern. "Turnwise" means 'right' so technically is only an antonym for 'widdershins' in the Northern Hemisphere. A synonym for 'turnwise' is the Gaelic word 'deosil', which helps explain Ankh-Morpork's Deosil Gate as found on the The Streets of Ankh-Morpork Mapp. Widdershins is also the name of the planet where Dom, the hero from Pratchett's novel, The Dark Side of the Sun lives. It has evil connotations and associations with the devil and witchcraft in Roundworld. You don't walk 'widdershins' around a graveyard or a church unless you want to bring forth evil spirits.

Page 12 "Why, it's Rincewind the wizard, isn't it?' [...]" Rincewind's name comes from 1924, when J. B. Morton took over the column 'By The Way' in the London newspaper, the Daily Express. He inherited the pseudonym 'Beachcomber' from his predecessors (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."

Page 12 "Since the Hub is never closely warmed by the weak sun the lands there are locked in permafrost. The Rim, on the other hand, is a region of sunny islands and balmy days." This is a favorite debate among Discworld fans. On average, the sun is closer to the hub than the rim, so the hub would be warmer if it followed the same rules as Roundworld, but after all this is an imaginary world so Pratchett could create whatever rules he wanted. The Turtle Moves! section in Chapter 5 has more information about the physical aspects of the Discworld.

Page 16 "[...] found himself looking up into a face with four eyes in it." Four eyes is a derogatory term for someone who is wearing glasses, but on the covers of the first two Discworld books, Josh Kirby actually drew Twoflower with four physical eyes. Whether this was Pratchett's intended interpretation of Twoflower or Kirby visually playing with the whole idea the same way that Pratchett puns on concepts and popular ideas is unknown.

Page 18 - The inn called 'The Broken Drum' is burned down in this book. The later Discworld novels all feature its replacement - 'The Mended Drum'. The novel Strata contains (on p. 35) an explanation of why you would call a pub 'The Broken Drum' in the first place: "You can't beat it".

Page 22 - The line "Some might have taken him for a mere apprentice enchanter [...]" suggests that Rincewind is a relatively young wizard and other references in the text point in the same direction. It is suggested that he was born in the year 1932 UC which makes him 32 in The Colour of Magic and 57 in The Last Hero. For some reason, all the cover artists and the 2008 TV movie The Colour of Magic depict him as an old wizard - at least in his sixties. Perhaps all his escapades and narrow escapes have made him look older than he is.

Page 22 "Unseen University, [...]", which becomes a fixture throughout the novels and is the name of the Discworld's premier scientific institution, is likely drawn from the 17th century Invisible College, formed by the secret organization of the Rosicrucians, whose members were called the Invisibles because they never dared to reveal themselves in public. The Invisible College was a conclave of scientists, philosophers and other progressive thinkers which, in later times and under Stuart patronage, became the Royal Society. In the Brief Lives arc of Neil Gaiman's The Sandman comic, Dream visits the Invisible College, where a scientist is happily dissecting a dead orangutan, a shout out to the librarian of Pratchett's university

Page 26 "If you mean: is this coin the same as, say, a fifty-dollar piece, then the answer is no." One might wonder why a British writer would use the dollar instead of the pound as the currency of Ankh-Morpork. Pratchett said: "The dollar is quite an elderly unit of currency, from the German 'thaler', I believe, and the use of the term for the unit of currency isn't restricted to the US. I just needed a nice easy monetary unit and didn't want to opt for the 'gold pieces' cliché. Sure, I live in the UK, but I haven't a clue what the appropriate unit of currency is for a city in a world on the back of a turtle.

Page 28 "Barely two thousand rhinu." 'Rhino' is a very old British slang word for money stemming from the 1600s. Some think it relates to the phrase 'to pay through the nose', since 'rhinos' means 'nose' in Greek but there is no evidence to support this.

Page 44 -The line about "'Reflected-sound-of-underground-spirits?'" is one of Pratchett's more clever puns (easy to miss until he explains it explicitly on page 71) - 'economics' or 'echo' (reflected sounds) plus 'gnomonics' (gnomes-underground spirits). The reference is easy to miss because modern usage doesn't associate gnomes with spirits like ghosts. However, a gnome (as defined in Encyclopedia Britannica) was originally a diminutive spirit in Renaissance magic and alchemy, first introduced by Paracelsus in the 16th century. It is typically said to be a small humanoid that lives underground - a spirit that guards treasure.

Page 49 - "Let him but get to Chimera or Gonim or Ecalpon and half a dozen armies couldn't bring him back."

These places are all references to Roundworld; 'Chimerical' means 'mythical or imaginary like an impossible dream and comes from 'Chimera' the fire-breathing monster from Greek mythology (see the annotation for p. 171 of Sourcery). The name is also a play on Cimmeria, Conan the Barbarian's mythical homeland. Go-Nim, is a mix of two ancient Chinese board games, 'Go' and 'Nim'. Ecalpon is 'Noplace' spelled backwards. This is a variation on Samuel Butler's idealistic commonwealth 'Erewhon,' described in the novel of the same name. (Erewhon is 'Nowhere' almost spelled backwards and 'Nehwon' is 'no when' spelled backwards. It is also the universe where Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser in Fritz Lieber comic series have most of their adventures.

Page 62 - Death's line, "I WAS EXPECTING TO MEET THEE IN EUDOPOLIS [...] I COULD LEND YOU A VERY FAST HORSE." is a reference to the Somerset Maugham's, short story Appointment in Samarra, which is itself a retelling of an ancient Jewish tale from the Talmud. A similar story called When Death Came to Baghdad is an old ninth century Middle Eastern Sufi teaching story, told by Fudail ibn Ayad in his Hikayat-i-Naqshia ('Tales formed according to a design').

Page 73 "'Here's another fine mess you've got me into,' he moaned and slumped backwards." This is a well-known Laurel and Hardy catchphrase. Hardy (the fat one) always says it to Laurel (the thin one), who then usually responded by ruffling the top of his hair with one hand and whimpering in characteristic fashion. Hardy never actually said: "fine mess", though, but always: "nice mess".

Page 75 - The home of the gods is 'Dunmanifestin' at the top of Cori Celesti. This the first mention of the name in the series but it is used regularly throughout the novels. 'Dun' is an Old English word for hill an appropriate name for the gods home at the top of the mountain. It is also Gaelic for fort or castle. There are many towns in Scotland that include it in their names; Dunbarton, Dunblane, Dundee. In addition, Pratchett is punning on those 'cute' vacation cottage and retirement home names like "Dunroamin"- "done roaming". The gods have therefore 'Dunmanifestin' (done manifesting).

Page 76 "[...] Zephyrus the god of slight breezes." Zephyrus was in fact the Greek god of the soft west winds and Spring. The interactions of the gods in 'The Sending of Eight' resembles the Godshome scenes in Leiber's Swords series which Pratchett parodies throughout the novel.

Page 98 "The floor was a continuous mosaic of eight-sided tiles, [...]. It is physically impossible for convex octagons to tile a plane, unless, of course, space itself would somehow be strangely distorted (one of the hallmarks of Lovecraft's Cthulhu mythos). It is possible, however, to tile a plane with non-convex octagons and naturally Pratchett does not specify convex.

Page 101 "[...] the disposal of grimoires [...]" echoes the main methods of nuclear waste disposal: sealing drums in deep salt mines, and dropping the drums into trenches at subduction zones, the latter only a theoretical application; it hasn't been used yet. A grimoire is a book of spells or textbook of magic.

Page 114] Kring the sword says "I spent a couple of hundred years on the bottom of a lake once." This is an obvious reference to the sword Excalibur from the King Arthur legends.

Page 114 Kring then adds "What I'd really like to be is a ploughshare. I don't know what that is, but it sounds like an existence with some point to it." The reference is to the phrase in the Bible, in Isaiah 2:4: "[...] and they shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more". Beating swords into ploughshares is a very common theme of the peace movement and it has a 'point to it' both in the concept of ending war and in the fact that a plough has a pointed tip.

Page 117 Death says to Rincewind "I'LL GET YOU YET, CULLY, [...]". Cully is a mild northern British epithet for a stupid or gullible person (someone who is easily duped). Pratchett explains: "Cully still just about hangs on in parts of the UK as a mildly negative term meaning variously 'yer bastard', 'man', 'you there' and so on. It's quite old, but then, Death is a history kind of guy." There is no clear etymology for the word. Some suggest it is a contraction of 'cullion', (testicle) which was used to mean "a despicable creature" in the 17th Century. Cullion came from the Middle English coilon (testicle) from the Old French coillon from Vulgar Latin cōleō cōleōn. This is the same root that generates the Italian coglione and the slang cojones (testicles or balls).

Page 118 - 124 The entire Lure of the Wyrm section parodies the Pern novels (an sf/fantasy series) by Anne McCaffrey. The heroine of the first Pern novel Dragonflight is called Lessa, and the exclamation mark in Terry's dragonriders' names parallels the similar use of apostrophes in McCaffrey's names. In addition, "The dragons sense Liessa's presence." is another Pern reference and is the way McCaffrey depicts the mental communications of the dragons.

Page 128: The line, "This could have been an anvil" is another reference to Excalibur.

Page 125 "Oh, you know how it is with wizards. Half an hour afterwards you could do with another one, the dragon grumbles." This is a play on jokes made about Chinese food.

Page 130 The sword Kring "[...] appeared to be singing to itself." The long running comic strip Prince Valliant includes a singing sword and there are many others in myths and folklore. In addtion, Pratchett was familiar with many old computer games, so the description of Kring may have be a passing reference to the prototypical computer adventure game ADVENT (later versions of which were also known as Adventure or Colossal Cave). In this game, a room exists where a sword is stuck in an anvil. The next line of the room's description goes: "The sword is singing to itself".

Page 141 "[...] he had been captivated by the pictures of the fiery beasts in The Octarine Fairy Book." This is a reference to Roundworld's Blue, Brown, Crimson, Green, etc., Fairy Books, edited by Andrew Lang, Octarine also known as the colour of magic or the king colour in Discworld is the eighth colour of the Discworld spectrum. It can only be seen by wizards and cats.

Page 156 "'It is forbidden to fight on the Killing Ground,' he said, and paused while he considered the sense of this." This line echoes a famous line from Stanley Kubrick's 1964 movie Dr Strangelove, which has President Merkin Muffley (Peter Sellers) saying: "Gentlemen, you can't fight in here! This is the War Room."

Page 169 After Rincewind and Twoflower escape from the Wyrmberg they are flying a dragon one moment and a modern jetliner the next. In other words they have shifted to another 'plane' or dimension. And in case anyone missed this obvious pun, Pratchett gilds the lily by explaining it at the end of the section (something that Pratchett seems to think is required, all too often). The "powerful travelling rune TWA" appearing on the Luggage continues the word play as it is a reference to the old Roundworld airline Trans World Airlines, which is clearly transferring them out of one world into another.

Page 168 "At that moment Lianna's dragon flashed by, and Hrun landed heavily across its neck. Lianna leaned over and kissed him." In the rest of the novel the girl's name is Liessa. Pratchett said that the error in names must have been introduced sometime during the publishing process: it is not in his original manuscript. The error was corrected in the 1998 Corgi reprint.

Page 171 'Zweiblumen' means 'Twoflowers' in German.

Page 172 Dr Rjinswand is "[...] a specialist in the breakaway oxidation phenomena of certain nuclear reactors." This is a well-known example of doubletalk. Dr Rjinswand is an expert on uncontrolled fires in nuclear reactors. Prior to becoming an author Pratchett was a press officer for four nuclear power stations with the Central Electricity Generating Board. This was shortly after the 3 MIle Island Nuclear disaster and he cited this as an example of his unerring sense of timing.

The line, "Turning To Animals is an Eighth Level spell" is a reference to Dungeons & Dragons. In his younger days, Pratchett was a Dungeon Master and there are many references to the game in his novels.

[p. 179] "[...] the incredibly dry desert known as the Great Nef." The Great Nef Desert and its negative humidity and its Dehydrated Ocean, plus the strange ships that sail on it is a parody of the deserts of Dune. Nef is an oven manufacturer but there is also a desert in Saudi Arabia called An Nafud or Al-Nefud and perhaps Pratchett has combining this with the Grand Erg in the Sahara. "Nef" is "fen" spelled backwards - the very opposite of a desert but quite appropriate in Discworld.

Page 184 "The captain had long ago decided that he would, on the whole, prefer to achieve immortality by not dying." This line echoes Woody Allen, who said: "I don't want to achieve immortality through my work. I want to achieve it through not dying".

Page 184 "'His name is Tethis. He says he's a sea troll.'" In Greek mythology Tethys or Thetis was the personification of the feminine fecundity of the sea. She was the daughter of Uranus and Gaia, and the youngest female Titan (or Titanide). Eventually she married her brother Oceanus, and together they had more than 3000 children, namely all the rivers of the world. In Discworld, trolls traditionally are given mineral names but Tethis is not really a mineral type troll being a sea troll so perhaps this convention doesn't apply.

Page 189. Twoflower is sampling the hospitality on offer in Krull to those who are about to be sacrificed.

"Ghlen Livid" he said. "The fermented vul-nut drink they freeze-distil in my home country.... "from the western plantations in, ah, Rehigreed Province, yes?" "Ghlen Livid" is an obvious play on the whiskey "Glenlivet" and "vul-nut" on "Walnut". The 18 year old YO single malt Glenlivet has been described as tasting of " 1... of nutmeg, allspice and a bit of cinnamon, followed by hints of vanilla and then walnut."

Page 193 "He told them of the world of Bathys, [...]" 'Bathys' is Greek for 'deep', as in for example bathyscaphe deep-sea diving equipment.

Page 194] "[...] the biggest dragon you could ever imagine, covered in snow and glaciers and holding its tail in its mouth." The snow and glaciers seem to point specifically to the Norse mythology where the Midgard serpent Jormungand circles the world in the manner described.

Page 198] "'Well, the disc itself would have been created by Fresnel's Wonderful Concentrator,' said Rincewind, authoritatively." Augustin Fresnel was the 19th century inventor of the Fresnel lens, often used in lighthouses to concentrate the light beam. A Fresnel lens consists of concentric ring segments; its main advantage is that it is not as thick as a (large) normal lens would be. The disc Rincewind is referring to is a transparent lens twenty feet across.

Page 221 "Whoever would be wearing those suits, Rincewind decided, was expecting to boldly go where no man [...] had boldly gone before [...]" This is from the famous opening voice-over to the Star Trek television series: "Space... the final frontier. These are the voyages of the Starship Enterprise. Its five-year mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilisations -- to boldly go where no man has gone before." This was changed to "where no-one has gone before" in the newer, more politically correct Star Trek incarnations.

Page 222] "'? Tyø yur åtl hø sooten gåtrunen?'" This sentence has the look of a Scandinavian language (the letters used are from the Danish/Norwegian alphabet), but it is not. Pratchett commented that "The point is that Krullian isn't Swedish -- it's just a language that looks foreign. In the same way, I hope the hell that when Witches Abroad is translated the translators use some common sense when dealing with Nanny Ogg's fractured Esperanto."


Graphic novelEdit

A graphic novel, illustrated by Steven Ross and adapted by Scott Rockwell, was published by Corgi in 1992. The graphic novel is split up into several chapters like the book, and is faithful to the source material in that it is built up like classic barbarian stories.

Crucial differences between the book and comic include the cutting-out of some of the adventures in Ankh-Morpork and Krull. Also, in the book, the female Dragonriders are described as being topless, as barbarian women in fiction tend to be. However, to keep the graphic novel child-friendly, the women wear chain-mail bras as well as the clothing described in the book. It has been published in hardcover along with the graphic novel of The Light Fantastic, as The Discworld Graphic Novels. (ISBN 9780061685965)

TV adaptationEdit

The Mob Film Company and Sky One have produced a two-part television adaptation, combining both The Colour of Magic and The Light Fantastic broadcast over Easter 2008. Sir David Jason starred in the role of Rincewind.[1] Sean Astin took the role of Twoflower. Christopher Lee took over the role of Death from Ian Richardson[2] (a role Lee previously portrayed in the animated series Soul Music and Wyrd Sisters).

Computer gameEdit

The plot was adapted for a text adventure computer game in 1986.





Deities and anthropomorphic personificationsEdit

Food and drinkEdit






External linksEdit


  1. Del's spells as David lands role. The Sun Online (24 April 2007). Retrieved on June 8, 2019, 2007.
  2. Colour of Magic Cast. Paul Kidby official website (July 31 2007).

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