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The Light Fantastic is a comic fantasy novel by Terry Pratchett, the second of the Discworld series. It was published in 1986. The title is a quote from the poem L'Allegro by John Milton, "Come, and trip it as ye go On the light fantastic toe" and in the original context[1] referred to dancing lightly with extravagance. Milton may have been referencing Miranda in Shakespeare's The Tempest when she says:

"Before you can say come, and goe,

And breathe twice; and cry, so, so:

Each one tripping on his Toe,

Will be here with mop, and mowe."

The phrase "He did trip it / On the toe" was used in a 1608 song "Since Robin Hood" which was set to music by Thomas Weelkes. Milton's line was popularized in the American song "Sidewalks of New York" (melody and text by Charles B. Lawlor and James W. Blake) in 1894. Part of the chorus goes:

"Boys and girls together, me and Mamie O'Rourke

Tripped the light fantastic

On the sidewalks of New York."

Those lyrics were probably inspired by "The Ballet Girl", a song popularized by Tony Pastor at his Bowery "Opera House" in the mid-19th century that had as the chorus:

"While she danced on her light fantastic toe,

Round the stage she used to go;

Had it not been for a man named Joe,

She might have belonged to me."

The events of the novel The Light Fantastic are a direct continuation of those in the preceding book, The Colour of Magic (the only novel in the Discworld series to follow on in this manner).

Plot summary[]

After the wizard Rincewind has fallen from the edge of the Discworld, the Octavo magic book saves his life and he lands back onto the world. Meanwhile, the wizards of Ankh-Morpork discover that the Discworld will soon be destroyed unless the eight spells of the Octavo are read: the most powerful spells in existence, one of which hides in Rincewind's head. Consequently, several orders of wizards try to capture Rincewind, led by Trymon, a former classmate of Rincewind's, who wishes to obtain the power of the spells for himself.

After Rincewind, who has met again with Twoflower, escapes them, it becomes apparent that Great A'Tuin, the giant turtle that carries the Discworld, has set a new course that leads it directly into a red star with eight moons. Rincewind and Twoflower are accompanied by Cohen the Barbarian, a toothless, aging hero, and Bethan, a sacrificial virgin saved by Cohen, with assistance from Rincewind and Twoflower.

Rincewind becomes one of the very few people ever to enter Death's Domain whilst still alive. He is nearly killed when he meets Death's adopted daughter Ysabell, but is saved by the quick-acting Luggage. The group also encounter people who, anticipating the apocalypse, are heading for the mountains (not for protection, but because they will have a better view). As well as this, they happen upon the kind of shop where strange and sinister goods are on sale and inexplicably vanish the next time a customer tries to find them. The existence of these shops is explained as being a curse by a sourcerer upon the shopkeeper for not having something in stock.

As the star comes nearer and the magic on the Discworld becomes weaker, Trymon tries to put the seven spells still in the Octavo into his mind, in an attempt to save the world and gain ultimate power. However, the spells prove too strong for him and his mind becomes a door into the "Dungeon Dimensions", whence strange, horrible creatures try to escape into reality. After winning a fight against them, Rincewind is able to read all eight spells aloud; whereupon the eight moons of the red star crack open and reveal eight tiny world-turtles that follow their parent A'Tuin on a course away from the star. The Octavo is then eaten by Twoflower's Luggage.

The book ends with Twoflower and Rincewind parting company, as Twoflower decides to return home, leaving The Luggage with Rincewind as a parting gift.

Popular References and Annotations[]

The book takes its title from John Milton's 1631 poem L'Allegro:

Haste thee, nymph, and bring with thee
Jest and youthful Jollity
Quips and Cranks, and wanton Wiles
Nods, and Becks, and wreathed Smiles
Such as hang on Hebe's neck
And love to live in dimple sleek
Sport that wrinkled Care derides
And Laughter holding both his sides
Come and trip it as ye go
On the Light Fantastic toe.

The cover of a US paperback release features a mistake, with Cohen's name stated to be "Conan".

Page 6 "[...] proves, whatever people say, that there is such a thing as a free launch." The line, "there ain't no such thing as a free lunch" was originally coined by American economist John Kenneth Galbraith and was made popular by science fiction author Robert Heinlein in his classic novel The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. It is also known by its acronym 'TANSTAAFL'.

Page 8 "[...] the sort of book described in library catalogues as 'slightly foxed', [...]" "Slightly foxed" is a term used primarily by antiquarian booksellers to denote that there is staining (usually due to Ferric OXide, hence 'FOXed') on the pages of a book. This does not usually reduce the value of the book, but booksellers tend to be scrupulous about such matters.

Page 8 - The 304th Chancellor of Unseen University is Galdor Weatherwax. In Lords and Ladies, (p. 161) there is a discussion between Granny and Archchancellor Ridcully where the reader finds he is a distant relative to Granny: "'There was even a Weatherwax as Archchancellor, years ago,' said Ridcully. 'So I understand. Distant cousin. Never knew him,' said Granny."

Page 8 "[...] even with the Wee Willie Winkie candlestick in his hand." 'Wee Willie Winkie' is a Mother Goose nursery rhyme which goes as follows: Wee Willie Winkie runs through the town,
Upstairs and downstairs, in his nightgown.
Rapping at the windows, Crying through the lock,
'Are the children all in bed? For it's now eight o'clock.'

He is traditionally depicted going upstairs carrying a candlestick with a flat, saucer-like base, a short candleholder in the middle and a loop to grip it by at one side.

Page 9 "[...] the Book of Going Forth Around Elevenish, [...]" This is a play on the ancient Egyptians' term for Roundworld's Book of the Dead; The Book of Going Forth By Day. It has been suggested that this is one of Pratchett's very elaborate jokes: Around Elevenish -> Late in the morning -> Late -> Dead -> Book of the Dead. Whether Pratchett had this in mind or alternately was thinking of the fact that, until recently, pubs in the UK opened at 11 a.m. (a good reason for going forth at elevenish) is unknown.

Page 10 The Dandelion Clock is a reference to the folk-belief that the seed-heads of dandelions can be used to tell the time. Children pick the dandelion, blow the seeds away, and the number of puffs it takes to get rid of all the seeds is the time, e.g. three puffs = three o'clock. As a result, the dandelion stalks with their globes of seeds are regularly referred to as a "dandelion clocks" in colloquial English.

Page 10 "'To the upper cellars!' he cried, and bounded up the stone stairs." This scene of the magic eating its way through the ceilings with the wizards chasing after it floor after floor resonates with the 'alien blood' scene in the movie Alien, where the acidic blood of the Alien burns through successive floors of the space ship threatening the viability of the ship itself, with the members of the crew running down after it.

Page 24 "[...] when a wizard is tired of looking for broken glass in his dinner, [...], he is tired of life." This line is a reference to a 1777 comment by Samuel Johnson (of dictionary fame): "When a man is tired of London he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford." Pratchett also used the reference in Mort and Douglas Adams played with this line as well in his Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy series when he wrote in Chapter 4 of The Restaurant at the End of the Universe:

"[...] when a recent edition of Playbeing magazine headlined an article with the words 'When you are tired of Ursa Minor Beta you are tired of life', the suicide rate there quadrupled overnight."

Page 26 The line from Death, "I WAS AT A PARTY, he added, a shade reproachfully." is a Tom Swifty - a common form of word play used regularly by Pratchett. In this instance it is a 'shade' more subtle than most Tom Swifties; the connection being that Death is often referred to as a 'shade'. Tom Swifties are plays on the style of writing popularized in the Tom Swift series of of boys' adventure novels with a pun thrown in that connects the quoted sentence to the adverb or verb. Examples:

"I'm going to visit the tomb" said Tom cryptically.

"Pass me the shellfish," said Tom crabbily.

Pratchett was asked if this scene was influenced by Monty Python who also do a Death-at-a-party sketch. He stated, "No. I'm fairly honest about this stuff. I didn't even see the film until long after the book was done. Once again, I'd say it's an easy parallel -- what with the Masque of the Red Death and stuff like that, the joke is just lying there waiting for anyone to pick it up."

The Masque of the Red Death is a well-known story by Edgar Allan Poe, in which the nobility, in a decadent and senseless attempt to escape from the plague that's ravishing the land, lock themselves up a castle and hold a big party, at which a costumed personification of Death eventually turns up and claims everyone anyway.

Page 30 "[...] the only forest in the whole universe to be called -- in the local language -- Your Finger You Fool, [...]"

This line is a play on the common miscommunication and apocryphal tales of miscommunications between natives and foreign explorers which occurs in Roundworld as well as Discworld and leads to odd place names. One supposed example is the naming of the Yucatan Pennisula in Mexico. When the Spanish asked what the country was called, the natives responded with a word/phrase that sounded very similar to Yucatan, which in the native language meant “I don’t understand you”. Whether this story is true or not there are certainly other examples which are. The Avon River simply means "River River" since 'Afon' is river in Welsh. Venlaw Hill in Scotland means "Hill, Hill, Hill" as does Torpenhow HIll in Cumbria, Pendle Hill in Lancashire and Bredon Hill in Worcestershire, an additional 'hill' being added when the meaning of the first part of the name was forgotten. There are other stories of place names translating from the local language to mean "I don't know" but as Cecil Adams puts it in More of the Straight Dope: "Having now had the "I don't know" yarn turn up in three different parts of the globe, I can draw one of two conclusions: either explorers are incredible saps, or somebody's been pulling our leg."

Page 34 The line, "'Good grief! A real gingerbread cottage!'" and the events alluded to a bit later ("'Kids of today,' commented Rincewind. 'I blame the parents,' said Twoflower.") are references to the Brothers Grimm fairy tale, Hansel and Gretel. The line "Twoflower touched a wall gingerly." is another Tom Swifty.

Page 35 "Candyfloss." Candyfloss is known as cotton candy in the US, or fairy floss in Australia. It is the pink spun sugar you can get at fairs and shows.

Page 35 "He read that its height plus its length divided by half its width equalled exactly 1.67563..."

This is a take off on the various popular theories involving such things as the relationship between the circumference and the height of Great Pyramid at Giza and the various 'cosmic truths' associated with it. People who espouse such ideas in relation to the Giza pyramids are referred to as pyramidiots and a comprehensive list and explanation of the various theories by these pseudo-scientists can be read at: https://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Giza_pyramids

The remark about sharpening razor blades at the end of the paragraph is a reference to the pseudo-scientific 'fact' that miniature pyramids are supposed to have the ability to sharpen razor blades that are placed underneath them overnight as well as other equally ludicrous powers.

Page 37 Cohen's answer to what is good in life; "Hot water, good dentishtry and shoft lavatory paper" is a parody of Arnold Schwarzenegger's line from the first Conan The Barbarian movie: "Conan! What is good in life?" "To crush your enemies, drive them before you, and to hear the lamentation of their women." This quote, in turn, supposedly came from an actual conversation between Genghiz Khan and his lieutenants. Cohan is of course a combination of Genghiz Khan and Conan.

Page 45 The line, "'Of course I'm sure,' snarled the leader. 'What did you expect, three bears?'" is another one of Pratchett's common fairy tale references, in this case Goldilocks and the Three Bears, which he continues on the following page by combining "someone's been eating my porridge" and "someone's been sleeping in my bed", into "Someone's been eating my bed."

Page 47 The line "Illuminated Mages of the Unbroken Circle" has a parallel with an organisation of the same name n the Illuminatus! trilogy by Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson.

Page 57 "The universe, they said, depended for its operation on the balance of four forces which they identified as charm, persuasion, uncertainty and bloody-mindedness." In Roundworld, the four fundamental forces that govern our universe are gravitation, electro-magnetism, the strong nuclear force and the weak nuclear force. Pratchett's terms aren't so far fetched in name however, as quarks, the elementary quantum particles upon which the strong nuclear force acts are named 'up', 'down', 'strange', 'charm', and 'beauty' (in order of discovery and increasing mass). Since theoretical physicists don't like odd numbers they have postulated the existence of a sixth quark -- 'truth'.

Page 62 "'In the beginning was the word,' said a dry voice right behind him. 'It was the Egg,' corrected another voice. [...] '[...] I'm sure it was the primordial slime.' [...] 'No, that came afterwards. There was firmament first.' [...] 'You're all wrong. In the beginning was the Clearing of the Throat--'"

The bickering of the spells is cleared up somewhat by the creation passages on pp. 85-99 from Eric. It is quite clearly stated that first the Creator did an Egg and Cress (for Rincewind), then He Cleared His Throat, then He Read the Octavo (that's the word then), which created the world and finally the primordial slime came into being because Rincewind couldn't eat the Egg and Cress Sandwich and just dropped it on the beach. The Creator subcontracted for the firmament, so it is not quite clear when that came to be. The whole scene has obvious roots in the biblical quotation from John 1:1 in the bible; "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." Pratchett is poking fun at the debate between evolutionists and creationists in the argument as well, the primordial slime being connected to evolution, evolving from the sandwich that Rincewind couldn't eat while the egg being created fully formed. Clearly Pratchett is also saying, tongue firmly in cheek, that the egg came before the chicken in the debate of 'Which came first the chicken, or the egg' since it is not a chicken sandwich.

Page 82 "'Anyway, I don't believe in Caroc cards,' he muttered." Caroc = Tarot. Caroc is also mentioned on page 110 of Mort. There is a minor inconsistency in that on p. 24 there actually is a reference to Tarot cards.

Page 88 "[...] what about all those studded collars and oiled muscles down at the Young Men's Pagan Association?"

This line is a play on to the Young Men's Christian Association, YMCA. Pratchett pokes fun at the YMCA on page 14 of Pyramids with the line about the Young Men's Reformed-Cultists-of-the-Ichor-God-Bel-Shamharoth Association. In Roundworld the YMCA became unfairly associated with the homosexual scene thanks to the Village People's disco hit 'YMCA', hence the line about "studded collars and oiled muscles".

Page 93 "'Only when you leave, it's very important not to look back.'" This line is a reference to the legend of Orpheus and Eurydice and Pratchett uses it is several of his novels. When Orpheus went to fetch Euridice from the Underworld, Hades (the Greek version of Death) was persuaded to release her on the condition that Orpheus not look back. Unfortunately, just before reaching the surface, he couldn't resist checking on her and she was lost to him forever. A contemporary retelling of the Orpheus legend can be found in Neil Gaiman's The Sandman series. There are other similar legends throughout the world, most notably that of Lot's wife in Genesis 19:26 who was turned into a pillar of salt when she looked back as they left Sodom and Gomorrah.

Page 104 "Rincewind wasn't certain what a houri was, but after some thought he came to the conclusion that it was a little liquorice tube for sucking up the sherbet." In fact a houri is a beautiful young girl found in the Moslem paradise. 'Sherbet' is a cooling Oriental fruit drink (also a frozen dessert) as well as a fizzy sweet powder children eat as a sweet, which comes in a cardboard tube with a liquorice 'straw' at the top. To get to the sherbet you bite off the end of the liquorice and suck through it.

Page 105 "[...] homesickness rose up inside Rincewind like a late-night prawn biriani." A biryani is an Indian rice curry.

Page 128 "'Man, we could be as rich as Creosote!'" This is the first mention of Creosote, who appears as a more developed character again in Sourcery and thereafter throughout the series. This is a reference to the expression 'As rich as Croesus" in Roundworld. Croesus was the king of Lydia who, according to Herodotus, reigned for 14 years from 595 BC – c. 546 BC and was renowned for being incredibly rich. In Discworld, Creosote was a Seriph of Klatch from the city of Al Khali also very rich.

Page 133 The idea of a strange little shop that appears, sells the most peculiar things, and then vanishes again first appears in a short story by H. G. Wells, appropriately called The Magic Shop. A recent variation on the same theme can be found in Stephen King's Needful Things. When it was suggested that this concept was invented by Fritz Leiber in his story Bazaar of the Bizarre, which features Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, and can be found in Swords Against Death, Terry replied:

"Actually, magically appearing/disappearing shops were a regular feature of fantasy stories, particularly in the old Unknown magazine. They always sold the hero something he didn't -- at the time -- know he needed, or played some other vital part in the plot. And I think they even turned up on the early Twilight Zones too. You're referring to a Leiber story called Bazaar of the Bizarre or something similar, where a shop appears which seems to contain wonderful merchandise but in fact contains dangerous trash."

Page 171 "Do not peddle in the affairs of wizards..." is a line used again in Mort by Ysabell and is a take off on the line from Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings (The Fellowship of the Ring, Book One, Chapter III) where Gildor Inglorion the High Elf says: "Do not meddle in the affairs of wizards because they are subtle and quick to anger". Pratchett may have combined this line with ones from signs often seen in stores and pubs around the English-speaking world: "Do not ask for credit, because a refusal often offends" and ones indicating that no peddlers are allowed on the premises.

Page 209 "The young turtles followed, orbiting their parent." In Roundworld, turtles just lay the eggs and leave the hatchlings to fend for themselves. It can be argued that Great A'Tuin is in fact a kind of sea turtle albeit an unusual sea turtle), since only sea turtles have flippers in place of feet and spend most of their time swimming.

Page 213 "'They do say if it's summa cum laude, then the living is easy --.'" This line is a reference to the song 'Summertime' from the Gershwin opera/operetta/musical Porgy and Bess: "Summertime, and the living is easy". Summa cum laude is a Latin saying meaing to graduate with distinction (literally with highest praise).




  • Det fantastiska ljuset (Swedish)
  • La luz fantástica (Spanish)
  • A mágia fénye (Hungarian)
  • Dat wonderbare licht (Dutch)


Graphic Novel[]

A graphic novel illustrated by Steven Ross and Joe Bennet, was published by Corgi in 1993. It has been published in hardcover along with the graphic novel of The Colour of Magic, as The Discworld Graphic Novels. (ISBN 9780061685965)

TV adaptation[]

The Mob Film Company and Sky One produced a miniseries, combining both The Colour of Magic and The Light Fantastic, broadcast on Easter Sunday and Monday 2008. Sir David Jason played the part of Rincewind[2]. He was joined by David Bradley as Cohen the Barbarian [3], Sean Astin as Twoflower[4], Tim Curry as Trymon [4], and Christopher Lee taking over the role of Death from Ian Richardson[4] (a role he previously portrayed in the animated series Soul Music and Wyrd Sisters).

The production team wanted to get fans involved in the adaptation so some of the extras used in the adaptation (in mob scenes and the during the fight in the Broken Drum) were Discworld fans who were selected via various website and Newsletters.

Reception by Public[]

Dave Langford reviewed The Light Fantastic for White Dwarf #83, and stated that "Abandoning the cruel fantasy parodies of his previous book, Pratchett leans more heavily on the one-line gags: the result isn't as pointedly funny, but still evokes more laughs than anything else around. Especially Thrud."


The Light Fantastic (1986) by Terry Pratchett also appeared as:

  • Translation: Das Licht der Phantasie [German] (1989)
  • Translation: Dat wonderbare licht [Dutch] (1991)
  • Translation: Le huitième sortilège? [French] (1993)
  • Translation: A mágia fénye [Hungarian] (1998)
  • Translation: A Luz Fantástica [Portuguese] (2002)
  • Translation: 异光 [Simplified Chinese] (2007)

External links[]


  1. "L'Allegro", lines 33-34
  2. Del's spells as David lands role. The Sun Online (24 April 2007). Retrieved on June 8, 2007.
  3. Harry Potter and the magical Midlanders. Sunday Mercury (June 15, 2007).
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 Colour of Magic Cast. Paul Kidby official website (July 31, 2007).

This page uses content from the English Wikipedia.

The original article was at Mort and Ysabell. The list of authors can be seen in the page history. As with the Discworld Wiki, the text of Wikipedia:Wikipedia is available under the Wikipedia:GNU Free Documentation License.