The Tough Guide to Fantasyland – a review

The Tough Guide to Fantasyland

by Diana Wynne Jones

This is a wonderful book for anyone interested in writing fantasy, or for fans of the genre looking for a grin!

Be warned straight off: this is not a story! The book is presented as a travel guide for you, the reader, or “Tourist” as this book refers to you, of any fantasy novel or series (“Tour”). Organized alphabetically, the guide presents all the various tropes and cliches of the fantasy genre with humorous and crossed referenced entries. It’s all done with great love for everything fantasy, and with equally great understanding.

Here’s a few snippets of samples to give you a taste for this book’s style (all of these entries are longer in the book itself):

BACKPACKS are fairly unobtainable, since they do not form part of the regulation equipment for Tourists. The Rule is that the correct form of luggage is a Saddle Roll or Saddlebag.

CASTLES occasionally adorn the heights for pictorial effect, but the Management usually only arranges for you to see round only the obligatory Castle at the centre of a Town or City.

CHICKENS are seen only after they have been cooked and then only in Palaces, where the Rule is that you eat chicken drumsticks with your fingers and then throw the bones to the dogs. Eggs are very rare.

CHILDREN are not commonly found on a Tour. If a Child appears and seems to wish to take part, be very wary. She/he is likely to be either a God or the Missing Heir to a Kingdom… See Thieves Guilds for the only exception to this rule.

DARK LORD There is always one of these in the background of every Tour, attempting to ruin everything and take over the world.

GAMES are few, usually only dice, cards, and chess. Guards, Soldiers, and Thieves are all addicted to ice, which the normally play only when drinking. This is a convenient habit, since it will often enable you to slip past them…

INSECTS are almost nonexistent…almost the only recorded insects are the mosquitoes all Tourists complain of in the Marshes (in stinging clouds).

MENTOR. A Tour official who will be at your service until halfway though the Tour, when you will unaccountably lose him.

PROPHECY is used by Management to make sure that no Tourist is unduly surprised by events… All Prophecies come true. This is a Rule.

SHOPS have not been invented yet, even in the Vestigial Empire. Visit the Market instead.

As a lover a fantasy I enjoyed thumbing through it a few minutes at a time over the course of a day or so. As a writer I devoted an afternoon to reading it with a drink and a notepad, appreciating the basic theme of the book (beware cliché) while jotting down the ideas it gave me on how to turn the clichés around and make them interesting.

The Artifice Conspiracy makes use of insects to increase the tension of a scene, and I can trace the inspiration for that right to this book.

Incidentally, the author, the award winning Diana Wynne Jones, has written more than forty books of fantasy for young readers, including Howl’s Moving Castle, The Chronicles of Chrestomanci series, Dogsbody, and the Dark Lord of Derkholm.