There are times when you want to read something light and goofy. For me it's fairly rare: although I read fantasy literature for the escapism, I like heavy fare. Strong characters and grim endings -- these are a few of my favourite things. (You'll notice that even when I recommend children's literature, the stories are not generally frivolous or even wholly upbeat.)
But to every rule there is an exception.
Recently I sat down with The Colour of Magic (Terry Pratchett). I think I must be the last person on the planet who isn't familiar with Mr. Pratchett's work, but never you mind... Colour is a compilation of novellas (I don't think published separately) that revolve around the hapless Rincewind, possibly the world's worst wizard, and the mind-numbingly naive traveller Twoflower. The two stumble around the Discworld and have all sorts of hilarious misfortunes imposed upon them. But even though the plot is, frankly, fragmented (fantasy sit-com?), Colour has an appealing undercurrent of serious. The moment when Rincewind stares over The Edge and sees, across an enormous gulf of space, the great cosmic turtle that supports the Discworld -- shivers. Mr. Pratchett draws out sympathy for the characters even as we laugh at their pathetic flailings; I'm certainly hooked and hope the sequels will make it to the top of my reading list soon.
In a similar vein, I stumbled across Sir Apropos of Nothing in a used bookstore and saved it for a time when I needed ultra-light fantasy food. It's, uhh, a bit odd, and quite hard to describe. The main character is named Apropos, for no clear reason (for all that it's explained in the novel). He's a bitter and angry young man, who is determined to avenge his mother's brutal death at the hands of a chivalric knight. Apropos moves through a world of explicit stereotypes, but he thinks that he sees through it all. He sneers at the nobility of knighthood, but signs on as squire in the hopes of rising to the top of the profession, slaying his mother's murderer, and ultimately proving that Knighthood is a hollow concept. The novel seems to exist largely for the exercise of Hapless Escapades and the occasional pun (not as frequent as you might expect, thankfully). And though practically everyone is a stereotype (usually quite self-consciously, again thankfully), Peter David portrays even the most praiseworthy characters with hidden flaws. The reader can find pity for the characters -- and even the bitterly cynical Apropos. Best of all -- and this could be considered a spoiler (seriously, back off people, I'm talking about the ending) this is not a novel in which a disillusioned man finds his faith in humanity (or whatever fill-in-the-blank subject you prefer) at the end. No, the ending is definitely unsatisfying from that standpoint, but far more satisfying for being less unrealistically pat.
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