Equal Rites by Terry Pratchett
Thanks to Neil Gaiman, who loaned us the last surviving copy of the Liber Paginarum Fulvarum, and a big hallo to all the kids at the H. P. Lovecraft Holiday Fun Club.
I would like it to be clearly understood that this book is not wacky. Only dumb redheads in fifties’ sitcoms are wacky.
No, it’s not zany, either.
This is a story about magic and where it goes and perhaps more importantly where it comes from and why, although it doesn’t pretend to answer all or any of these questions.
It may, however, help to explain why Gandalf never got married and why Merlin was a man. Because this is also a story about sex, although probably not in the athletic, tumbling, count-the-legs-and-divide-by-two sense unless the characters get totally beyond the author’s control. They might.
However, it is primarily a story about a world. Here it comes now. Watch closely, the special effects are quite expensive.
A bass note sounds. It is a deep, vibrating chord that hints that the brass section may break in at any moment with a fanfare for the cosmos, because the scene is the blackness of deep space with a few stars glittering like the dandruff on the shoulders of God.
Then it comes into view overhead, bigger than the biggest, most unpleasantly armed starcruiser in the imagination of a three-ring film-maker: a turtle, ten thousand miles long. It is Great A’Tuin, one of the rare astrochelonians from a universe where things are less as they are and more like people imagine them to be, and it carries on its meteor-pocked shell four giant elephants who bear on their enormous shoulders the great round wheel of the Discworld.
As the viewpoint swings around, the whole of the world can be seen by the light of its tiny orbiting sun. There are continents, archipelagos, seas, deserts, mountain ranges and even a tiny central ice cap. The inhabitants of this place, it is obvious,
won’t have any truck with global theories. Their world, bounded by an encircling ocean that falls forever into space in one long waterfall, is as round and flat as a geological pizza, although without the anchovies.
A world like that, which exists only because the gods enjoy a joke, must be a place where magic can survive. And sex too, of course.
He came walking through the thunderstorm and you could tell he was a wizard, partly because of the long cloak and careen staff but mainly because the raindrops were stopping several feet from his head, and steaming.
It was good thunderstorm country, up here in the Ramtop Mountains, a country of jagged peaks, dense forests and little river valleys so deep the daylight had no sooner reached the bottom than it was time to leave again. Ragged wisps of cloud clung to the lesser peaks below the mountain trail along which the wizard slithered and slid. A few slot-eyed goats watched him with mild interest. It doesn’t take a lot to interest goats.
Sometimes he would stop and throw his heavy staff into the air. It always came down pointing the same way and the wizard would sigh, pick it up, and continue his squelchy progress.
The storm walked around the hills on legs of lightning, shouting and grumbling.
The wizard disappeared around the bend in the track and the goats went back to their damp grazing.
Until something else caused them to look up. They stiffened, their eyes widening, their nostrils flaring.
This was strange, because there was nothing on the path. But the goats still watched it pass by until it was out of sight.