I’ve just finished reading The Tough Guide to Fantasyland, by Diana Wynne Jones, first published in 1996 and updated in 2006. It’s something of a classic, and now I see why.
Laid out like a guide book, it provides an A to Z of fantasy tropes as though the reader was a traveller about to take a tour of a generic fantasy world. From Adept to Zombies, she lists the likely events, people and places you’ll encounter,all delivered with a deliciously acerbic twist.
There’s a bit of repetition as the various entries cross-reference each other, but there’s much to take home from this guide, from cliched character tropes to the commonality of stew to the formulae of epic fantasy: bar brawls, eccentric wizards, lost heirs, vestigial empires.
For anyone interested in writing fantasy, it’s a wake-up call about just how entrenched certain tropes are, and just how blase we might’ve become about travel and culture in fantasy settings.
I’m filing it next to my copy of The Writer’s Complete Fantasy Reference, should the day ever come when I’m tempted to revisit my misspent youth and pick up the sword with my pen: nothing like a dose of salt with your how-to.