Monday, December 27, 2010

The Tough Guide to Fantasyland by Diana Wynne Jones

I haven't had much time to read in the past week, so here's a review of an old favorite.

The Tough Guide to Fantasyland was first published in the 1990s (1996? I think) and reissued a few years ago. There's a small amount of new material in the revised version, but if you can find the original, it's worth having just because of the quirky layout, where little symbols decorate each entry and frequently make little jokes of their own (like the hammer-and-sickle symbol next to "Trots, The"). The new version is slicker.

The book is laid out like a travel book, but the travel in this case is to Fantasyland--that is, those generic high-fantasy books that all seem to hit the same cliches. Jones skewers every cliche in a way that's frequently screamingly funny. For instance, the entry for Ruins:

"RUINS of former days, like ANCIENT ENGINEERING PROJECTS, litter Fantasyland. Only the large kind are important to the Tour, and even most of these will be just setting the mood. You are not expected to be happy on this Tour. The Ruins make you think of the sad losses of former days. But cheer up. Just occasionally you will find TREASURE in a Ruin."

You can read the book straight through or dip into it here and there. In addition to Jones's fine wit and her encyclopedic knowledge of fantasy tropes and cliches, it's worth reading the book if you've ever considered writing fantasy. It'll teach you what not to do.

And then Jones turned around and wrote Dark Lord of Dirkholm, an excellent book that takes every cliche she could stuff in and turns the crap into brilliant, shiny gold. That's what you can do when you're Diana Wynne Jones.

B&N link

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