The Light Fantastic is a direct sequel to Terry Pratchett’s first DISCWORLD novel, The Color of Magic, in which we met the failed and cowardly wizard Rincewind, his traveling companion Twoflower (a rich and naively brave tourist), and Twoflower’s animated sentient Luggage. I believe that The Light Fantastic is the only DISCWORLD novel that’s a direct sequel of a previous novel.
The reason Rincewind is such a poor wizard is that he’s got a dark powerful spell (“the eighth spell”) lodged in his brain and it won’t let him memorize any other spells. Nobody knows what the eight spell is for, but Rincewind is pretty sure that nobody wants to find out. At the end of The Color of Magic, Rincewind, Twoflower and the Luggage had tumbled off the edge of the Discworld which is a flat disc held up by four elephants standing on the back of a giant turtle. When we catch up with Rincewind et al. in The Light Fantastic, we discover that they’re still alive and hoping to make it back to Rincewind’s hometown, Ankh-Morpork.
Meanwhile, an ominous red star has appeared in the sky and is on a collision course with the Discworld. The magicians at the Unseen University have learned that to rid the world of this threat, they must convene and recite all eight magical spells of the Octavo. Since the eighth spell is lodged in Rincewind’s brain, he must be found and induced to participate. Otherwise, the Discworld is surely doomed.
I think it’s fair to say that Rincewind is not Terry Pratchett’s most beloved character. Many fans find him cowardly and dull. It’s true that Rincewind’s most natural instinct is to preserve himself by running away from danger, but now he’s finally forced to act when he is the only person who can save the world (and therefore himself). Fortunately, Pratchett brilliantly uses Rincewind’s dull personality for comic effect, creating some truly absurd scenes and amusingly dry humor. This is welcome in The Light Fantastic because a lot of the other humor in the novel feels forced and obvious. In general, The Light Fantastic isn’t as witty as later DISCWORLD novels because the gags are nearly non-stop and often silly — these early books feel like they’re written for the jokes rather than the other way around.
Pratchett loves to good-naturedly mock his predecessors and the early DISCWORLD books are, in many ways, a parody of epic high fantasy. Thus in The Light Fantastic we meet Cohen the Barbarian, a toothless old man who was once the Discworld’s most fierce warrior. Now he seems decrepit, but warrior chicks still adore him and Cohen’s got other surprising tricks, too. Perhaps the most likeable and memorable character, however, is the Luggage; this strange walking suitcase plays an important role in The Light Fantastic.
Nigel Planer beautifully narrates the audio version of The Light Fantastic which is 7 hours long. In case you’re wondering, the phrase “the light fantastic,” which refers to dancing, originally came from a couple of works (Comus and L’Allegro) by John Milton.