Jones, Diana Wynne. 1996 (first US, 1998). The Tough Guide to Fantasyland. New York: DAW.

Reviewed 26 November 1998

The Tough Guide to Fantasyland (cover) What a wonderfully wicked sense of humor! Of course, the contemporary Interminable Fantasy Series ("IFS") is a pretty darned big target that all too often lapses into unintentional self-parody. And the companion volumes for those series need a big kick in the backside, too, with their self-important (more often just self-aggrandizing) glossaries and inept analyses.

I suppose that, technically, this book is not fiction. It lampoons both the IFS itself and those cheesy $26.95 hardcover companion volumes that purport to guide a reader through the supposed rich background (and really just guide the reader through the incompetent slush and make foolish attempts to rationalize inconsistencies and laziness). (Legally, The Tought Guide to Fantasyland is not a parody. But that's for another time.)

Ms. Jones effectively uses a "tour guide" metaphor to structure her biting comments, such as:

The Ecology of Fantasyland is in a bad way. It is full of empty niches. To start with, there are few or no bacteria. We can see this by the way REFUSE and other pieces of SQUALOR lie about in heaps which fail to rot down. To add to this, there are few or no INSECTS (except for fleas, some localized bees, numerous silkworms somewhere in the FANATIC CALIPHATES, and clouds of mosquitoes in the MARSHES). Both these empty niches mean that all crops will be poor; perhaps this explains the crop failures more usually blamed on MAGIC or the personality defects of KINGS.
This is, if anything, an understatement. Perhaps fantasy writers should be required to take basic college-level courses in biology, geology, chemistry, physics, economics, politics, and world history before receiving a literary license. It's obvious that we've got a lot of unlicensed drivers on the road—and a few DUIs, too. The entries on Economy, Insects, Birds, Inland Sea, Scurvy, and Ecology make some very obvious points. Too obvious, perhaps. Many of the other comments are much more subtle, such as Apostrophes.

The major weakness of this book is its limited scope. Ms. Jones criticizes setting and plot to the virtual exclusion of other significant problems with IFS (and companion volumes), such as diction, character development, and adjectivitis. It would have been difficult to do so in the format she chose; it left The Tough Guide to Fantasyland vaguely dissatisfying. But, of course, that may be intentional—the companion volumes to IFS do the same . . .

Overall rating: 4 stars
Excellent.
Much more than a funny book in its own right, The Tough Guide to Fantasyland is worth studying if you're trying to write fantasy and don't want to make the same mistakes as too damned many unedited books coming out of New York these days. If anything, this book points out the desperate need for editors who edit, not just acquire.


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