As I start to write this article, I wonder how many Google searches, initiated by people who had a totally different goal in mind, will eventually end up here. If you are one of those people, I’m sorry, but you might want to click a different search result. On the other hand, maybe you’ll want to keep reading to find out who this Rincewind guy really is and what the Discworld is all about.
Just over halfway through The Light Fantastic, Rincewind and his friend Twoflower have this exchange.
“I expect everything will turn out all right in the end,” said Twoflower.
Rincewind looked at him. Remarks like that always threw him.
“Do you really believe that?” he said, “I mean, really?”
“Well, things generally do work out satisfactorily, when you come to think about it.”
“If you think the total disruption of my life for the last year is satisfactory then you might be right. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve nearly been killed-”
“Twenty-seven,” said Twoflower.
“Twenty-seven times,” said Twoflower helpfully. “I worked it out. But you never actually have.”
This got me to wondering if Twoflower’s count was accurate. It turns out that it was – more or less. Actually, more. Or maybe I mean less.
It depends on how endangered Rincewind’s life really was in a few situations, but by my count, he escaped certain death somewhere between 31 and 38 times from the beginning of The Colour of Magic to the encounter retold just above in the sequel, The Light Fantastic.
I guess that count would decrease if some of the earlier events happened more than a year before the conversation, but it’s hard to pin down the time table, so I didn’t try. I’m just going to assume that they all have happened within the past 12 months.
Rincewind’s Near Death Experiences in The Colour of Magic
1) The first time Rincewind might have been killed occurred when the Patrician’s guards tried to capture him. Since he wouldn’t stop running away (duh!), they had to shoot his horse out from under him.
As these guards were ostensibly good marksmen and since they were apparently supposed to return Rincewind to the Patrician alive, you could argue that his life wasn’t really in danger here. That makes this one of the questionable events.
2) In the conversation that Rincewind subsequently has with the Patrician, we get the following.
“Now I want you to listen very carefully to what I am about to say,” said the Patrician amiably, “otherwise you will die. In an interesting fashion. Over a period. Please stop fidgeting like that.”
Since Rincewind does actually listen, you could again argue that his life wasn’t in danger here either. Thus, the second questionable item.
3) However, not too many paragraphs later, there is this scene.
Rincewind reached the Broken Drum at a dead run, and was just in time to collide with a man who came out backwards, fast. The stranger’s haste was in part accounted for by the spear in his chest. He bubbled noisily and dropped dead at the wizard’s feet.
Rincewind peered around the doorframe and jerked back as a heavy throwing axe whirred past like a partridge.
Ah! Now here we definitely have something to work with. If Rincewind had not been the nimble guy that he was, he would have been cloven, nastily. Mark this down as near death experience (for sure) #1, even though it’s listed here as #3.
4) As Rincewind tries to enter the tavern called the Broken Drum in the very next paragraph, “a wildly thrown stool sailed past and smashed on the far side of the street.”
Since the stool may have just caused a concussion, we’ll give this one a pass too.
5) This one confuses me. It involves a sword which is normally a very dangerous object, but perhaps only so if it inserted into a body in an important place.
[Rincewind] yelped shrilly and dropped his guard just sufficiently for a sword, swung by a surprised opponent, to skewer him.
It doesn’t say where he was skewered. Apparently it was an arm or a leg. Or maybe it just pierced his robes and not his body. In any case, it doesn’t seem to have hindered his progress through the room.
6) As Rincewind reached a stairway inside the barroom…
A crossbow quarrel thunked into the banister rail above him, and he gave a whimper.
Though none of these hazards were really intended for him, this and several others could have killed him.
7) Rincewind reached the top of the stairs and then…
A big black-bearded man, with a bloody sword in one hand, was trying a door handle.
“Hey!” screamed Rincewind. The man looked around and then, almost absent-mindedly, drew a short throwing knife from his bandolier and hurled it. Rincewind ducked. There was a brief scream behind him as the crossbow man, sighting down his weapon, dropped it and clutched at his throat.
Nimbleness triumphs again.
Before we go on with the count-up, I should note that these first seven events all happened before Rincewind even met Twoflower. So if you don’t want to count any of them in the grand total, I won’t argue with you. In that case, the total will be much closer (if not spot on) to the alleged 27.
7a) Some time later, Rincewind meets an old…friend, named Stren Withel.
“Turn without haste,” said a voice like black silk. “Or kiss your kidneys goodbye.”
The crowd watched with interest. It was turning out to be quite a good day.
Rincewind turned slowly, feeling the point of the sword scrape along his ribs. At the other end of the blade he recognised Stren Withel – thief, cruel swordsman, disgruntled contender for the title of worst man in the world.
Rincewind escapes this one by taking a picture of Withel with Twoflower’s iconograph. Twoflower’s Luggage assisted by causing two other men to scream in the background.
9-11) Interestingly enough, Rincewind’s next few near death experiences were also at the hands, as well as the sword, of Withel. I originally counted what follows as three events, but that number could easily go up or down. You’ll see what I mean as you read the next quotations.
“You know that wizards can’t be killed by edged weapons?” said Rincewind desperately.
Withel smiled coldly. “So I have heard,” he said. “I look forward to putting it to the test.” He lunged.
Rincewind caught the thrust by sheer luck, jerked his hand away in shock, deflected the second stroke by coincidence, and took the third one through his robe at heart-height.
There was a clink.
Withel’s snarl of triumph died in his throat. He drew his sword out and prodded again at the wizard, who was rigid with terror and guilt. There was another clink, and gold coins began to drop out of the hem of the wizard’s robe.
Shortly after this, just outside the Broken Drum…
Sparks and droplets of flaming oil rained down as Withel reached out with both gauntleted hands and grabbed Rincewind’s neck, forcing him down.
“You did this!” he screamed. “You and your box of trickery!”
His thumb found Rincewind’s windpipe. This is it, the wizard thought. Wherever I’m going, it can’t be worse than here…
“Excuse me,” said Twoflower.
Rincewind felt the grip lessen.
Twoflower had Withel’s own sword pointed at his back, thus rescuing Rincewind.
See what I mean about the counting?
12) At this point, the Broken Drum was a mass of flames. More explosions were happening including this one.
Another explosion in the white-hot volcano that was the Drum sent a whole marble mantlepiece scything overhead.
I count the explosion itself and the flying mantlepiece as an attempt on Rincewind’s life.
13) Before Rincewind and Twoflower leave the premises of the Drum, they get into a heated discussion (on Rincewind’s side) about in-sewering the tavern. While trying to yell at Twoflower…
“You,” he repeated. Another hurrying figure bumped into him, narrowly missing him with the blade over its shoulder.
This figure was, of course, Death, who was simply in the area to do his job with other people. I’m really torn as to whether or not to count this as a near death experience. In one manner of thinking, it literally was. And yet, it’s not the same kind of incident as all the rest. I’m not sure that Twoflower counted it because it’s doubtful that he could even see Death.
I’m putting this in the questionable pile. You do with it what you will.
14) The next case was so close that The Lady (who must not be named) must have intervened. The gods have been playing games with Rincewind and…
There was now, for example, a five-metre tall mountain troll standing in the road. It was exceptionally angry. This was partly because trolls are, in any case, but it was exacerbated by the fact that the sudden and instantaneous teleportation from its lair in the Rammerorck Mountains three thousand miles away and a thousand yards closer to the Rim had raised it internal temperature to a dangerous level, in accordance with the laws of conservation of energy. So it bared its fangs and charged.
In his own defense, Rincewind tried to kill the troll with a sword. He missed. The sword left his hands, struck a boulder (which might not have been there an instant before), and lodged itself in the back of the troll’s neck. End of near death experience.
15-17) Beginning of next three experiences. Rincewind’s horse bolted in the previous scene. In the next 5 minutes, Rincewind encountered an angry she-bear, a pack of wolves, and a tree snake – all of whom could have killed him. In fact, he chats with Death for a bit while in the tree with the snake, as the pack of wolves waits below. As before, I’m not counting the literal experience with Death in the total.
How Rincewind escapes all these attempts on his life is complicated. Read the book to learn what happens.
18) Rincewind ends up inside the tree, which, of course, is the abode of many dryads – both male and female. He is their prisoner. His chief acquaintance here is Druellae. She tells him…
“You hurt the Tree. But you are lucky. Your friend [Twoflower] is going to meet Bel-Shamharoth. You will only die.”
Rincewind escapes the dryads with the help of The Spell.
19) Inevitably, Rincewind finds himself in dark temple of Bel-Shamharoth, The Sender of Eight and Eater of Souls.
Something thin and black snaked out of the pit and wrapped itself around his ankle. He screamed as he landed heavily on the vibrating flagstones. The tentacle started to pull him across the floor.
The tentacle – one of many – belonged to Bel-Shamharoth. Soon, Hrun the Barbarian was hacking away at them with his sword, Kring.
But that’s not really what saved Rincewind. It was Twoflower’s iconograph – of all things – that did the trick. Again, for the details, I’ll refer you to the full-length book.
20) Later, after the demon had left the building, Time decided to return to the area and extracted its toll from the temple, which proceeded to collapse around our heroes.
‘We’re doomed,’ murmured Rincewind, while overhead the roof cracked and shifted.
This time Hrun did come to the rescue. Or, more properly speaking, his horse did. It hurried them out of the temple before it fell apart completely.
21-22) We don’t have many details about the next two events.
The days passed peacefully. True, a small band of bridge trolls tried to ambush them on one occasion, and a small party of brigands nearly caught them unawares one night (but unwisely tried to investigate the Luggage before slaughtering the sleepers). Hrun demanded, and got, double pay for both occasions.
23) Rincewind temporarily became possessor of Hrun’s sword Kring. While Kring was on their side, it could get a little testy. Speaking to Rincewind, Kring (Did I mention it’s a talking sword?) said to (and of) Rincewind…
‘Look, I’ll be frank. I’ve worked with better material than you, but it’s either that or – have you ever spent a million years in a coal measure?’
‘Look, I – ‘
‘So if you don’t stop arguing I’ll chop your head off.’
End of discussion.
24) Rincewind – Kring in hand – fights K!sdra and his sword. Kring wins, of course.
25) Rincewind – Kring in hand – fights Lio!rt and his magical sword. Kring doesn’t lose; Rincewind falls from the roof of the cave in the Wyrmberg, away from Lio!rt and his magical sword.
26) In my copy of The Colour of Magic, Rincewind completes his fall 13 pages later. He utters ⅞ of The Spell on his way down nearly completing it before Twoflower catches him on his (imagined) dragon.
27) The dragons of Wyrmberg only exist as long as you imagine them. So when Twoflower (10 pages later) passes out as they fly too high, his dragon vanishes, and the heroes plummet again.
There was a brilliant flash.
There was utter darkness.
Rincewind (with Twoflower) finds himself on what is apparently an airliner in our round world.
28) Rincewind and Twoflower are in a sinking lifeboat, but that’s not the real problem.
They are headed toward the Rim and will soon be washed over the edge, but that’s not the real problem.
Something hard and unyielding smacked into the hull, which spun ninety degrees and came side-on to the invisible obstacle. Then it stopped suddenly and a wash of cold sea foam cascaded over the deck, so that for a few seconds Rincewind was under several feet of boiling green water. He began to scream and then the underwater world became the deep clanging purple colour of fading consciousness, because it was at about this point that Rincewind started to drown.
That was the real problem.
He and Twoflower were spared by Tethis the sea troll from the planet Bathys.
29) In the land of Krull, Rincewind et al are going to be ritually sacrificed, but The Lady (initially in the form of a frog) has pity on them.
30) Our final questionable near death experience comes when the Arch-Astronomer of Krull nearly casts Vestcake’s Floating Curse at our heroes who are now posing as chelonauts. He becomes distracted and doesn’t finish mouthing the spell though.
It’s not certain that such a spell would have killed Rincewind. The text does state, however, that “any passing lip-reader who was familiar with the standard texts on magic would have recognised the opening words of [the curse], and would then have prudently run away.”
Apparently it was not a nice curse.
31) The chelonauts were fletched at (with arrows) by Krullian archers, most of whom were obviously not very good shots. Rincewind managed to avoid the arrows.
32) As The Colour of Magic appears to end, Rincewind, dressed in most of his chelonautic gear, falls over the Rim. He is saved by snagging a tree growing out of the Disc just over the edge beyond normal sight.
33) As The Light Fantastic appears to begin, Rincewind is yet again falling from the Disc. The Octavo saves him (and the Spell inside his brain) by working a change spell that essentially alters history bringing him and Twoflower back onto the Disc.
34) While hiding in a (broom) closet inside a genuine gingerbread cottage to avoid being killed by other wizards, Rincewind (still with Twoflower) discovers a flying broomstick that enables them to make a speedy getaway.
35) In the company of some mean druids, nimble Rincewind comes through once more.
Something whistled through the air where his neck had been and glanced off Twoflower’s bald head. Rincewind spun round to see the archdruid readying his sickle for another swing and, in the absence of any hope of running away, lashed out desperately with a foot.
With the foot came defeat – at the hand of Cohen the Barbarian.
36) While in Death’s domain again, Death’s (adopted) daughter Ysabell decides she doesn’t want Rincewind to leave. With ready access to scythes, she is about to use one on Rincewind when the Luggage intervenes by snapping its lid shut on the blade.
37) Before they leave Death’s place, Rincewind, holding Twoflower, jumps into a vortex that leads who-knows-where. The Octavo will have none of this and plucks them out of the hole.
38) Old Grandad was a huge – I mean, huge! – rock troll who had been asleep for lo these many eons – or at least, for quite a while. When he’s awakened, he’s kinda grumpy. Rincewind unfortunately found himself in Old Grandad’s way.
High above him two great crystalline eyes focussed in hatred of everything soft and squelchy and, above all, warm. Rincewind cowered in horror as a hand the size of a house rose, curled into a fist, and dropped towards him.
Day came with a silent explosion of light.
This wasn’t the “light fantastic”, but I’m sure Rincewind wouldn’t have argued if you wanted to call it that. You see, trolls are only able to move in the dark.
So, let’s recap and recount, shall we?
As I mentioned just before item #7a above, if you don’t count the first 7 experiences which happened before Twoflower came into the picture, by my original count there would be 31 experiences in the list.
However, if you then also drop the questionable items and count those involving Withel just right, you could get the number down to 27.
It makes me wonder whether Terry actually counted them or not. I guess we’ll never know.