In the first part of Eric, a familiar face escapes from the Dungeon Dimensions and, unsurprisingly, immediately finds themselves in trouble. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Discworld.
If you’ll indulge me, I wanted to open this by talking about a more meta subject: what reading Discworld is like. This is now my ninth Discworld book, and I’m not even a quarter of the way through this series. Even calling it a “series” is a complicated act, since it’s not like we’re moving through the Discworld in chronological order. In the case of Rincewind? Sure, he’s got a very serialized arc, and this gives us the next step in that. But the other books don’t necessarily follow one another in any real sense. They still build this world, and I’d even feel comfortable with saying that they help readers to understand other books that don’t even contain the same characters.
Which is just… kind of cool to me? If the Discworld is a giant puzzle, then a new piece falls into place when I finish a book. Of course, I don’t know how many pieces there are. I don’t even know the general shape of the puzzle itself. I don’t even know if the end result is a mosaic I’ll be able to understand. That chaos is attractive to me as a reader because it holds such potential. There’s a promise inherent in that, one that tells me that if I just give these books some time, the world they’re set in will continue to grow. It’s an investment in that sense.
With Guards! Guards!, that investment proved worthy because I got to see Pratchett grow. I got to see another side of him as a writer that I’d not seen before. And I got swamp dragons, y’all. (I’m happy to report that I’m now the owner of two little stuffed dragons that I’m canonically accepting as swamp dragons because that’s my choice. Thank you to the two folks who gave them to me on tour; Kitten and Armstrong are both very pleased with their new home.) Guards! Guards did not feel like Pratchett was retreading common ground with that book.
So I wanted to open this review this way because my experience with these books informs how I am going to react to Eric. I’m given three very familiar characters within the first ten pages of the book, and I admit that this was a great way to win me over fairly quickly. It’s no secret how I feel about the Librarian and Death. Plus, Eric feels like a direct sequel to Sourcery, which feels a little silly to state because this book liberally references it, even going to far as to use the title as a resource in a footnote. Which means RINCEWIND IS BACK! WHICH IS GREAT!
But is bringing him back enough? Surely, that can’t sustain an entire novel. Neither can a couple scenes with Death, nor a wonderful moment with the Librarian. Why should I care about this book? Whose story is being told? Initially, all we get is a mystery. Who (or what) is running throughout Ankh-Morpork, causing reality to twist around it in increasingly absurd ways? Death knows, but it’s not revealed to the reader; the Librarian is mostly shocked; the wizards at Unseen University are eager to shift blame away from themselves, so much so that they complete a Rite of AshkEnte.
The return of Rincewind to the Discworld is momentous, but, again, it’s not what the book is about. I’d say the same thing of the new Archchancellor and the Bursar, though I’m curious if they’ll be part of some sort of subplot I haven’t picked up on yet. No, as made abundantly clear by the title of this book, this is all about Eric. Eric Thursley, teenage demonologist and all-around annoyance, who successfully summoned a demon using magic AND GOT RINCEWIND INSTEAD. This alone is one of the funniest jokes in the Discworld series because… well:
“I must say that’s a first-class materialization. No one would think you were a fiend, to look at you. Most demons, when they want to look human, materialize in the shape of nobles, kings and princes. This moth-eaten wizard look is very clever. You could’ve almost fooled me. It’s a shame you can’t do any of those things.”
In life, Rincewind was one of the worst wizards ever, and now, in this odd “second” life (or continuation of the first, however you put it), he is the worst demon ever. Yes, granted, he’s not actually a demon, but that doesn’t make the joke less funny. Plus, he’s saddled with the worst imaginable demonologist: a fourteen-year-old boy who thinks that Ricnewind will just grant him three wishes, which include the most beautiful woman in the world, every kingdom ever on the Disc, and eternal life.
In short? It’s exactly what a socially awkward, entitled, and bitter fourteen-year-old boy would want.
My hope, then, is that Pratchett continues to criticize Eric through the text. It’s not something he’s done a whole lot with Eric’s type of character in the past, and I’ve written multiple times about the way in which women appear in relation to men in the Discworld. I don’t think he’s subverting that here; to Eric, women are some unobtainable other, a mysterious force that he believes he’s owed and can seize by force of magic. But there is a brief moment where Pratchett slams Eric, if briefly, by having Rincewind silently condemn the boy’s desperation. Well, I’d also count the brilliant way in which the mother’s interjection deflates any sort of power Eric might have, but I admit that I also want more of this. Eric is not all that uncommon in our own world for a reason: because few people ever tell us guys not to do this sort of thing. (Well, or few of us ever listen to people telling us this.)
Soooo… how long until Eric realizes he summoned someone who is definitely not a demon? I think it’ll happen in the next section.
The original text contains use of the word “mad.”
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