Mark Reads ‘Sourcery’: Part 1

In the first section of Sourcery, Death is tricked. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Discworld.

Just for the record? I love that reading this in publication order means I never know when a character I’m familiar with is going to show up again. I have no shame for how excited I was for Death, Rincewind, and the Librarian. NO SHAME.


So, we begin my fifth Discworld novel, which blows my mind because I feel like I started The Colour Fantastic a month ago. Alas, here we are, and I’m back to being unprepared, and I walked right into another pun again. Sourcery opens with a familiar character – Death – speaking to a new one – Ipslore the wizard. In one sense, this felt like the opening to Equal Rites, since we’re dealing with wizard lore, the death of a wizard, and the creation of a new one. In this case, it’s an eighth son of an eighth son, who is destined to become a sourcerer, which is… a thing. Well, the text says they’re a “source of magic,” and I vaguely recall from Equal Rites that they’re not quite the same thing as a wizard. From this opening section and the later sequence at Unseen University, it was also obvious that a sourcerer is meant to be feared due to their immense power. But at this point, the text strays from actually defining that any further, aside from pointing out that –

Actually, I’ll wait until we get there.

Death arrives to claim the life of Ipslore the red, who has a son named Coin destined to become a sourcerer. It’s in the wake of something awful, I think?

“You took his mother,” said Ipslore. It was a flat statement, without apparent rancor. In the valley behind the cliffs Ipslore’s homestead was a smoking ruin, the rising wind already spreading the fragile ashes across the hissing dunes.

Here’s the thing: the opening of this book is deliberately ambiguous on a number of points. I don’t quite know what this is referring to, first of all. What happened to Ipslore’s homestead? Did his wife die in whatever that was? In addition to that, Pratchett intentionally masks the true intentions of Ipslore and, later, Coin. Tricking Death is an impractical thing to do, as Death points out that he’ll always get a soul in the end. (Not maliciously, of course! It’s just the way of things.) But is this a clever trick to keep father and son together? Are we meant to look at this relationship like the one between Granny and Eskarina, or is there something more sinister going on? Also, now that I’m taking a second look at the text, I just realized Ipslore foreshadowed what he was going to do!

“I put a lot of myself into it. I shall give it to him.”

He ran his hands lovingly along the staff, which gave off a faint tone.

He repeated, almost to himself, “I put a lot of myself into it.”

Shit, did he figure out what he was going to do right at that moment??? Regardless, Ipslore’s choice does seem motivated by his contempt for the wizards after they banished him for falling in love and marrying a woman. I can’t deny that. So my question is: Is Coin’s journey to Unseen University meant as a revenge plot? Or is this more like Equal Rites, in that a child is going to change the very nature of Lore for he University? Will Coin make it Disc law that cats are the only thing that make living worthwhile??? I like that I don’t know any of this because it immediately pulls me into the narrative. I want to know what Coin is going to do, especially since his father transferred himself into Coin’s octiron staff in defiance of Death. Hey, at least I know there’s a loophole in Coin’s destiny: Coin has to willingly throw his staff away in order for it to be destroyed.

And so we move on to Unseen University and join back up with Rincewind, my favorite terrible wizard, who is still the Librarian’s assistant and who still, sadly, cannot really do magic. Which actually makes sense, given that he spent his whole life being literally unable to do it due to one of the Octavo spells living in his brain. After all that time, I imagine that learning basic magic would be difficult! Now, I don’t know if Rincewind is the main character here; this could just be another cameo of his, but I’m glad that we experience the chaos here through him. It’s comforting! It’s like seeing an old friend for the first time in the while and listening to them tell the story of how frightened bedbugs carried a mattress out of a magical school.

Yes, it’s exactly like that.

There’s a lot to like here, but I’m going to say that Rincewind’s hat wins, easily:

But you can tell he’s a wizard, because he’s got a pointy hat with a floppy brim. It’s got the word “Wizzard” embroidered on it in big silver letters, by someone whose needlework is even worse than their spelling. There’s a star on top. It has lost most of its sequins.

I CAN’T DEAL WITH THIS. Is Rincewind a five-year-old? WHO CARES, BEST HAT EVER.

Anyway, Pratchett takes his penchant for humorous oddness and gives us one hell of a scene: Rincewind realizes the actual walls of the University are shuddering in terror. Cue every non-human living creature bolting from the place in procession. First, it’s rats, and Pratchett gives us the beauty of Rincewind reporting the “sinking” of Unseen University to bursar Spelter. SINKING, BLESS YOUR HEART. But then it’s the ants. And then it’s a mattress. SERIOUSLY. I thought that maybe the University’s magic leakage created a sentient mattress, but nope! It’s the bedbugs hightailing it out of the school and taking their home with them. THEN GARGOYLES OH MY GOD.

But I saved my favorite re-appearance for last. I feel like Rincewind has learned, after his many adventures, that when shit starts to go weird, he should just leave. And this time, he does, but first, he goes to retrieve THE LUGGAGE. WHO I MISSED DEARLY. Certain that sticking around would pitch his own life into disaster again, Rincewind, the Librarian (who Rincewind picks up on his way out), and the Luggage abandon Unseen University before Coin arrives.

That was why he wasn’t present in the Great Hall for dinner. It would turn out to be the most important missed meal of his life.


The videos contain use of the words “mad” and “deranged.”

Video 1

Video 2

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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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