Mocking conventions from an armchair

The legendary island of Friesland, located east of Greenland

Diana Wynne Jones
The Tough Guide to Fantasyland
Vista 1996

Discover the laws
governing fantasy worlds.
Beware tongues in cheeks.

Helpful tips for travellers to Fantasyland by the late great Diana Wynne Jones, from which I draw a number of conclusions:

(1) Get immunised by reading a wide range of fantasy, both good and bad: you never know what bugs you will be exposed to in Fantasyland.
(2) Remember to have an up-to-date passport: you’ll need either your own unread fantasy novel (preferably with your own bookplate stuck in the front) or a library book with plenty of entry/exit stamps from previous travellers’ visits.
(3) Obtain a visa (a credit card receipt for a fantasy book from your local bookseller will do).
(4) Have the correct currency ready (any bronze, silver or gold coins will do, so long as it makes a nice clinking sound in your purse).
(5) Finally, don’t forget to pack the Tough Guide: you’ll be lost without it. The author has travelled widely in Fantasyland, knows the terrain intimately and generously shares her insights into its attractions, peculiarities, geography and distinct cultures.

Oh, and don’t speak to any strangers down dark alleyways…

The Tough Guide is a lovely send-up of both the swords-and-sorcery genre and the Rough Guide series of travel books, gently mocking the conventions of the fantasy tome with its maps and symbol-filled book margins along with the places, personnages and magic objects that fill the pages of many a Tolkien-inspired title or Dungeons-and-Dragons handbook. Full of truisms that hit you with the shock of recognition, you may find it hard to ever look at a fantasy book the same way again. The Dark Lord of Derkholm and Year of the Griffin, though not sequels as such, follow on from the premise of this book, even to the extent of including one or two geographical sites featured on the map, such as Gna’ash and the Dark Lord’s Citadel.

Not a book to read in one go (it would certainly give me indigestion), the Tough Guide is wonderful to dip into if you’re in need of a grin, a chuckle or even the occasional guffaw, safe in the confines your own armchair.

6 thoughts on “Mocking conventions from an armchair

  1. I gain the impression that it will be enormously depressing to a would-be fantasy author, to observe all ones fondest fancies reduced to the level of overdone farce.


    1. Oh, I don’t know, Col, I suppose no more depressing than for a would-be essay writer to be told, with a bit of humour, how to write the ideal essay.

      It’s definitely not a painting-by-numbers kind of parody. If anything, it’s a warning to a budding fantasy writer not to descend into easy and tired tropes, or at least to do them with a bit of style.


  2. I don’t know what I am shaking my head at more. You and your amazing ability to write with such wit or your magical ability to transform my small bookshelf into a large overflowing piece of furniture.
    Here we go, off the find the book.


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