Friday, March 27, 2009

Book Review: The Tough Guide to Fantasyland, by Dianna Wynne Jones

The Tough Guide to Fantasyland is a wonderfully funny imaginative reference guide to the cliches and archetypes found in the fantasy genre. Mrs. Jones's book is not really intended to be read cover to cover. Instead, it is meant to be read rather like an encyclopedia or dictionary. For all that it is absolutely hilarious. To give you an example of the humor in the book here is the entry on beer:

"Beer always foams and is invariably delivered in tankards. The Management is not concerned with the taste of it. That is your funeral."

(Just as an aside "The Management," refers to the author of the cliched story in question.) Ms. Jones is fairly ruthless in her remarks. She will gladly poke fun at how a situation is described, the inconsistencies of the universe or the motives of the characters. When reading the book you become familiar with terms like "The Reek of Wrongness" or the fact that all you get to eat in Fantasyland is stew.

To be honest, the book is not for everyone, nor is it for every occasion. I would never recommend this book to any of my friends, save one in California who reads fantasy as avidly, if not more avidly, than I do. This does not mean that I would not freely recommend this book to the right sort of person. "What sort of person is that ?" you ask. Well settle down and I will tell you.

I would freely and unreservedly recommend this book to people that have read hundreds of "Lord of The Rings" look-alikes. You know which ones I mean. The "high" fantasy stories that never end before you have read three 500-page volumes, and begun to wonder "Why does this look exactly like the last fifteen fantasy books I have read"? I would recommend this book to you in a heartbeat because after reading that many books that take themselves that seriously, you need a good laugh worse than the rest of us. Not to mention that I would expect that you have felt the same way as the author about these books. You too are ready to groan at the thought of another dish of stew, or wonder what does "wrongness" smell like anyway.

There is one other class of person I would recommend the book to. Anyone who likes to write Fantasy needs a copy of this book. It makes a good reference of what not to do. It really does help a writer avoid some of the dull over-used tripe in order to ensure they don't become just another cliched, boring fantasy writer.

Fantasy at its best takes us to a world never before explored, at its worst it is a sad parody of our wildest dreams and imaginings, and leaves us wondering why, when we try to escape, is it that all we get instead is a world that is bleaker and more 2-dimensional than our own. Ms. Jones is not-so-gently reminding the authors of these books to avoid dragging their readers into this bleak and barren world.

So final recommendation? Yes if your last few flights of fantasy haven't bothered to leave the ground. However, if you don't read fantasy, or don't have a satirical sense of humor don't bother, you won't like it.

1 comment:

  1. Sounds like something I wouldn't actually sit down and read myself, but that I'd be amused by, if you told me some of your favorite tidbits. I'm not an avid fantasy reader, but thanks to you, I've read enough of it to be amused by the beer and stew comments thus far.