Saturday, November 19, 2011
The Tough Guide to Fantasyland by Diana Wynne Jones
The Tough Guide to Fantasyland by Diana Wynne Jones should be required reading for any aspiring writer of fantasy...come to think of it any reader of fantasy should also seek out a copy of The Tough Guide.
The book is organised like a guide book or an encyclopedia, alphbetically from A - Z. Entries begin with Adept (anyone reaching the Adept level is pretty 'hot stuff' as far as magic is concerned) and finish with Zombies who are Undead only nastier, more pitiable and generally easier to kill. Most letters are prefaced with a sometimes relevant quote from the book Gnomic Utterances, most of these come from the scholar Ka'a Orto'o, and contain flashes of insight such as: Beware, when the landscape is of surpassing beauty of the needle in the haystack.
If you've read much fantasy you will find yourself laughing aloud as you read through The Tough Guide and encounter the many cliches and tropes that you have no doubt read of. If you're a writer you may be squirming uncomfortably at times as you remember that stereotypical elf that seemed to be a cool idea at the time you wrote him. Just because you stumble across a cliche mentioned in the book and connect it to something you've either read or written does not mean it is a necessarily a bad idea, it all depends on how it was used.
The conceit behind the book is that the reader is a tourist on one of the many tours that the management (the book is littered with references to OMT's; official management terms) run for profit, which is largely why it's organised the way it is and why it is so exhaustive. Diana Wynne Jones later used The Tough Guide to Fantasyland as the basis for her comic romp The Dark Lord of Derkholm.
I'd recommend The Tough Guide to Fantasyland very highly to anyone with any interest in the genre at all. It's become a classic of the genre and deservedly so.