Sympathy for the devil – Faust, Eric

Eric-coverHell needed horribly-bright, self-centred people like Eric. They were much better at being nasty than demons could ever imagine.

This is curious. Following three of Pratchett’s best and most ambitious novels to date, he followed it up with Faust, Eric, a comic retelling of the German legend about a man who sells his soul to the devil. It’s barely 150 pages long and was originally published as a fully illustrated novel. Its page count and large font size means you can tear through it in a couple of hours.

And Rincewind’s back! *Half hearted cheer* I feel sorry for Rincewind, as he has been the victim of Pratchett’s imagination. He was a fun protagonist for The Colour of Magic and The Light Fantastic, both of which I enjoyed. But I barely mentioned him in my write-up of Sourcery and when you place him alongside Granny Weatherwax, Death or Sam Vimes, he hardly compares.

After appearing in almost half of Pratchett’s nine novels to date, after Faust, Eric, we don’t see Rincewind for another four years and eight novels. Now that he has a better playground to have fun in, it’s no wonder Pratchett has tired of his cowardly wizard. As he told Neil Gaiman: “If I’d had to write 25 years of Rincewind novels I would have cut my throat.” Ouch.

But Faust, Eric is actually pretty good. Now that Pratchett has embraced the wonder of a tightly plotted novel, this is another well written, deceptively complex story. I’m going to continue my occasional habit of speculating on the author’s motivations and with Faust, Eric, you get the impression that this was a spot of fun. A nice idea that wasn’t necessarily as ambitious as the three previous novels, but something that would be enjoyable to write.

And while it is a good read it’s also frustrating because we are back in Sourcery territory – if this had been one of the first Discworld novels, I would have been applauding his ambition, his tight control of story structure, the puns and the Zelig-esque nature of Rincewind as he experiences the Trojan War, the beginning of Odysseus’ decade long trip home and the birth of the universe.

Rincewind is plucked from the Dungeon Dimensions by Eric, a teenage demonology hacker seeking mastery of the kingdoms of the world, a meeting with the world’s most beautiful woman and the ability to live forever.

The hapless magician is able to grant these wishes and does so thanks to the power of Vassenego, who is keen to take over the underworld and uses Eric and Rincewind as a distraction. The cynicism and anger of Guards! Guards! return as the demons take their inspiration from human’s deviousness. This comes as no surprise, given what we have seen of the machinations of the Unseen University and magicians’ politicking to become Arch-Chancellor. As one demon laments: “I thought we were supposed to be the ghastly ones,” he said, his voice filled with awe.

This is a tough one to write about because, as enjoyable as it is, there’s not a lot to it. The problem lies with Rincewind and his limitations as a protagonist. He was fun in The Colour of Magic and The Light Fantastic but he’s cowardly and passive. There’s not a lot he can actually do. For two novels, this is a perfectly able character but Sourcery was tiresome and here, you are just about done with him. He’s good as comic relief for a better central character. It’s little wonder he only appears in another three novels.

This sounds like I didn’t like the book. That’s not true.It’s just…slight. So this post is rather short as a consequence. For those of you still reading this (hi, and thanks if you are), I’ll post my write-up of Moving Pictures on Monday. My Christmas gift to you!

(Speaking of Christmas, I will be taking a break on Boxing Day to read some non-Discworld novels. I have Matt Haig’s The Humans, Claire North’s The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August, Stephen King’s On Writing and Eleanor Catton’s The Luminaries packed to go home with me but I reckon I will get nowhere near the latter! MOST IMPORTANTLY THOUGH, the first Pratchett Job post of 2015 will look at Reaper Man and will be uploaded on 2 January)

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4 Comments

  1. Eric makes a LOT more sense when you encounter it as a graphic novel, the way it was originally presented. The glorious one and two page illustrations really bring the story to life in a way that the shortened prose can’t.

    The rerelease in paperback form is really more for completionists, the story doesn’t stand alone well.

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  2. Eric is, as you said, deceptively complex, or possibly deceptively simple. It begins with a reversal of Faust, but where Faust ends with the descent to Hell, Eric continues with Dante’s Inferno, which begins with a descent to Hell. Rincewind is Eric’s Vergil, the wizard who isn’t (as the medieval concept of Vergil as a great wizard was a misapprehension of the historical Virgil). A certain number of the characters show up on a Great Wheel, which I choose to associate with the Buddhist concept of the wheel of incarnation; Rincewind’s Luggage breaks it loose and it smashes near the exit. We aren’t told whether any of the souls take the opportunity, though we know one of them (Lavaeolus) knows about the exit. Rincewind eventually leads Eric up the path of good intentions and back to the world. In the process of the story, there’s a possibility, not emphasized, that the third wish was completed, and that both Eric and Rincewind may now have achieved immortality.

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  3. Eric is my virgin voyage to Discworld so it was special in some strange way because it is the book that got me started and here I am, a lifelong fan. What I was thinking during those first DW moments was how hilarious my most favorite stories were. I like Faustian stories, I like the greek myths, I also love Inferno but when they were dismantled by the weary hero and ineffective wizzard (Rincewind), you can’t help but feel sorry for him. Some heroes you like because they are foolishly heroic, but only Rincewind can be foolish and still be likeable. 🙂

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