July Books 11) The Tough Guide to Fantasy Land

11) The Tough Guide to Fantasy Land, by Diana Wynne Jones.

Everyone should rush out and get this. At least, anyone who’s ever enjoyed more than one of the great fantasy series. Diana Wynne Jones is, of course, a superlative author of fantasy novels for younger readers (and one of two for older readers as well – I particularly enjoyed Deep Secret which my sister got for me a few birthdays ago). But here she takes an affectionate but acerbic look at the cliches of fantasy fiction. To take one example from near the beginning:

COSTUME: It is a curious fact that, in Fantasyland, the usual Rules for CLOTHING are reversed. Here, the colder the climate, the fewer the garments worn. In the SNOWBOUND NORTH, the BARBARIAN HORDES wear little more than a fur loincloth and copper wristguards (see CHILBLAINS and HYPOTHERMIA). However, as one progresses south to reach the ANGLO-SAXON COSSACKS, one finds VESTS and BOOTS added to this costume. Further south still, the inhabitants of the VESTIGIAL EMPIRE wear short SKIRTS and singlets and add to this a voluminous wrapper on cold days. Therafter, clothing steadily increases in thickness and quantity, until one finds the DESERT NOMADS in the tropics muffled to the eyebrows in layers of ROBES (see HEATSTROKE).

She is hilarious about the standard ecology and economy of fantasy novels, and the ubiquity of STEW (which “seems to be an odd choice as staple food, since, on a rough calculation, it takes forty times as long to prepare as steak”). I had a wry smile on my face for most of the book – the one bit that made me laugh out loud was her description of PanCeltic Tours and PanCelts, which certainly irritate the heck out of me when fantasy authors write Oirish novels and get it wrong (someone on my friends list has tagged her locked entries on this subject with the keyword “begorrah”). Too long to reproduce here, at least being faithful to the typography. Anyway, go and buy it.

One thought on “July Books 11) The Tough Guide to Fantasy Land

  1. All look different, but I reckon that I’m able to recognise the difference between ћ and ħ because of my exposure to Japanese characters.

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