In Praise of Pratchett: Eric


Eric, or more properly Faust Eric as it’s known nowhere except the cover, is an amusing but slight thing, little more than a short story. As a book it’s thin, because it was written for a special, large-scale (and large-font) volume with a considerable number of illustrations by the late Josh Kirby, and it really shouldn’t be read in any other format.
As the title indicates, Pratchett intends the story to be a loose, indeed very loose riff on the Faust legend. Our Faust-manque, who is a rather naïve would-be demonologist from Psuedopolis named Eric, summons a demon to do his bidding and to execute three wishes: to rule the world, to live forever and to meet the most beautiful woman who ever lived.
And to make the point that, when you come down to it, these are not merely selfish and even petty desires but pretty damned juvenile ones as well, Eric turns out to be 13 years old.
So Pratchett has fun turning these ideas inside out, whilst setting them against the background of a Hell that has become ever more repellent and torturous by being placed under the control of a Demon King with the soul of a Middle-Manager in a large corporation.
As for the wishes themselves, Pratchett roams Discworld space and time to parody their application through, firstly, an Aztec/Inca-like civilization of sacrifice, secondly the Trojan Horse and, lastly, the previously unrecognised point that, in order to live forever, you have to go back to the very beginning of everything…
Incidentally, the Trojan Horse sequence mandates the appearance of a Helen of Troy figure. Pratchett takes his usual realistic approach to such a scenario and picks up on a point that must serious purveyors of the legend tend to ignore, namely that the siege lasted a couple of decades. And, leaving aside the question of whether such a beautiful woman as Helen would have been prepared to sit and knit for all that length of time (and in Discworld the answer is decisively no), there’s the fact that after twenty years of hanging around and eating – and childbirth – Helen may not be quite as she was when the accolade was granted…
No, Eric is not a major contribution to the Discworld series save in one respect, for which it is invaluable. Eric’s trying to raise a Demon. Hell is on the mark to tempt him. But in a momentary lapse of concentration it’s not a Demon that scoots out of the Dungeon Dimensions and back to the Discworld, but our old friend Rincewind. Yes, this is Pratchett’s vehicle to rescue his original hero from the rather sticky and seemingly permanent situation into which he had dropped him at the end of Sourcery.
So it’s worth it for that, but otherwise this book is rather too dependant upon Kirby’s art for its best effect, which is not a good sign.

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