Eric by Terry Pratchett
Published in 1990
Genre: Fantasy, parody
“The bees of Death are big and black, they buzz low and somber, they keep their honey in combs of wax as white as altar candles.”
As brutal as those bees sound, they only serve to introduce the strange occurrences happening not only in Death’s realm but on the Discworld itself. Eric, by Terry Pratchett, takes the classic stories of Goethe’s Faust, Homer’s The Iliad, and Dante’s Divine Comedy and tells them through the lens of parody.
Rincewind, trying to escape from the dungeon dimensions he was trapped in at the end of Sourcery, is upsetting the balance of reality. He is able to return due to being summoned by
Faust…erm…Eric, a thirteen-year-old demonologist. Believing Rincewind to be a demon, Eric makes three wishes (because demons are apparently analogous to genies): to be master of the universe, to have the most beautiful woman in the world, and to live forever. Somehow, Rincewind is able to bestow these wishes and strange hilarity ensues.
Eric’s first wish is inexplicably granted and he is made master of the universe. Being master over all, he wants tribute to be paid by the kingdoms he now rules (as one is wont to do), so they go to one at random when Rincewind snaps his fingers. The Tezuman Empire (based on the ancient Mayan civilization) greets him as their ruler and then prepare to kill him as part of a sacrificial ritual since they need someone to blame for all of the troubles in their lives and who better than the master of all that exists? Trace a problem back far enough and that’s where the buck stops.
While in captivity, they meet Ponce de Quirm (loosely based off of Juan Ponce de León), an elderly explorer seeking the fountain of youth. Through a series of coincidences that end with Rincewind’s magical Luggage killing and supplanting the Tezuman god, Eric and Rincewind are able to escape.
Meanwhile, the new King of Hell, a being known as Astfgl (no, my fingers didn’t slip on the keyboard) is trying to figure out how Rincewind was summoned because he was looking forward to one of his demons corrupting young Eric. As the newly installed ruler of the damned, Astfgl has a preference for office-style bureaucracy and completely reorganized Hell, much to the annoyance of the demons he presides over.
Continuing to fulfill Eric’s wishes, the two are transported to find the most beautiful woman in the world. Eric and Rincewind are sent back in time to the siege of Tsort (Troy in our world) to find Elanor (a.k.a. Helen), whose face launched a thousand ships. After meeting Lavaeolus (the Discworld equivalent of Odysseus), they travel through a secret tunnel and make their way to Elanor only to find she is now middle aged and has a brood of children. Turns out that after ten years of siege, people get tired of pining for their home and decide to make the best of the situation they’re in.
Eric’s third and loftiest wish is to live forever, sending the pair all the way back to the creation of the Discworld. Unfortunately, Eric didn’t choose his words carefully and due to that, they will have to literally live For Ever starting at the beginning. During this time they meet one of the many creators who has ideas about different designs for snowflakes and leaves them to their fate.
They make their way to Hell and find that it has been turned into a place of boredom ever since Astfgl heard the adage, “Hell is other people.” One example of reform is an eagle that once ate a man’s liver while he was still alive and then the liver grew back overnight to be eaten again the next day. The eagle now spends his time telling the man about his hernia operation over and over and over again. They run into Lavaeolus and Ponce de Quirm and are able to escape during the coup led by another demon who convinces Astfgl that being President of Hell is far better than being the King.
Eric does wrap up quickly and perhaps too neatly for some; though the parodies of famous stories are tied together nicely, the book is little more than a humorous retelling of those tales. Pratchett’s ability to weave these tales together with new twists and make fun of the logical inconsistencies allows the book to refrain from taking itself and its subject matter too seriously.
Eric was a welcome palate cleanser after the heightened prose and classical aplomb of A Tale of Two Cities. Pratchett’s wit is in full effect here and his penchant for parody rules this book more than any attempt to attain some level of higher literature. Entertaining and fun, Eric is an enjoyable read that fans of the logical issues of legends and stories will love.
Verdict: 3 mythical parodies out of 5
Recommended for: Fans of history, people who like Homer’s The Iliad and Dante’s Divine Comedy being parodied for entertainment, and you!
Not recommended for: Fans of the future, people who abhor the idea of classic works of Western literature/epic poetry being lampooned for entertainment, or those who spell “Eric” with a “c” (a.k.a. weirdos…I’m not biased).