Literature / The Tough Guide to Fantasyland

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This piece of Meta Fiction by Diana Wynne Jones pretends that pretty much all of the fantasy stories ever told -- well, most modern genre fantasies, anyway -- took place in a place called "Fantasyland", and that the creators of the stories are the "Management" who arrange for the audience to go on "tours". With this setup, an extensive list of fantasy tropes is presented as if to a tourist visiting another country and thoroughly deconstructed. It also pretends that the stories are statistically representative of "Fantasyland," and thus concludes that the most common type of meal is stew, that cities are composed mainly of alleyways, and that the ecology and economy of Fantasyland are severely screwed up.

Jones later wrote a novel called Dark Lord of Derkholm set in the Fantasyland described in the Tough Guide and deconstructed it further by revealing it's really nothing like the guidebook at all and it's all put on (very reluctantly) for the benefit of the tourists.

Tropes in this book.

(Note: As the whole point of the book is to list and deconstruct as many fantasy tropes as the author could identify, it's a fair bet that any fantasy-related trope known to this wiki gets some kind of coverage. But the following tropes are definitely among those included — and, pretty much to a one, subverted and lampshaded.)

  • Absurdly Spacious Sewer: "Despite the presence of so much refuse and squalor, most castles and cities seem nowadays to have sewers. Their use, apart from the obvious one, is to provide access to or escape from the interior. Be warned. Many tours make use of sewers in preference to secret passages. Opportunities for washing afterwards are not always provided. Do not worry, though; most often, within half a day, all trace of stench will have vanished from you and your clothing, almost as if the management had forgotten about it."
  • Always Chaotic Evil: Jones notes that some enemy races will never have good members, not even a solitary example.
  • A Man Is Not a Virgin: It's noted that no one wants male virgins. Indeed, some sexual experience is preferred from them.
  • Arabian Nights Days: The "Fanatic Caliphates" setting.
  • Apothecary Alligator: Mummified alligators are a common feature of wizards' laboratories. Live alligators are much rarer, and believed to be extinct.
  • Aristocrats Are Evil: A primary feature of the land of the Aristocratic Feudalists.
  • Assassin Outclassin': This is the topic of the entry on Assassins - that the tourist is attacked in an inn by a supposedly expert Assassin but manages to overpower and kill them, and the Assassin goes to his death complaining about the Tourist breaking the rules.
  • Automaton Horses: The Tough Guide speculates that in Fantasyland horses may be a type of vegetable.
  • Beauty Equals Goodness: A person's character can be easily discerned by their attractiveness.
  • Better Than a Bare Bulb: The book was written to lampshade.
  • Bishōnen: The "gay mage" tour companion.
  • The Blacksmith: A good source of allies.
  • Born in the Saddle: The Anglo-Saxon Cossack barbarians. Despite this, they will never have bandy legs.
  • Burn the Witch!: A common hazard (along with crucifixion) when dealing with Religious Feudalists.
  • But Not Too Gay: The Gay Mage is a mildly camp Companion with a bit of Magical Gay about him (in addition to actually being magical). Apart from the name, actual gayness is only implied.
  • But Not Too White: A character's goodness can be judged by their tan.
  • City of Canals: Cited by name as one possible location tourists may visit.
  • Color-Coded for Your Convenience: One can tell a person's character through clothing, eye and hair color.
  • Corrupt Church: The land of the Religious Feudalists is ruled by one of these.
  • Crystal Dragon Jesus: The One God variety of Religion, if a male god is used. Even if his worshipers see him as benign, they tend to hate women and magic users (and witches, who are frequently both), and fall into Knight Templar territory at their worst.
  • Dead Unicorn Trope: A sort of gender-based Wacky Wayside Tribe plot/setting is mentioned, in which while boys do one thing, girls get to bond with dragons. The thing is, that while there are books with female Dragon Rider characters (i.e. Dragonriders of Pern), there doesn't seem to be any series in which that was an exclusively female activity—it's closer to exclusively male in the Pern books,note  and the Pit Dragon Chronicles likewise features males making that bond, and all of these books were written before the Guide was published. It is worth noting, however, that Jones wrote it after reading umpteen Tolkien-esque, Tolkien-length novels as a judge in a contest. She was probably not referring to any published books when she wrote this.
  • Did You Just Have Sex?: The Guide tells you the signs to look for in one of your tour members and the correct etiquette for the situation.
  • Distressed Damsel: Entry number one on Princesses consists of one word: "Wimps."
  • Dragon Hoard: Wondering on why dragons hoard treasure, Jones conjectures that dragons absorb nutrients from gold by sleeping on it.
  • Dragon Rider: Likely to show up.
  • Droit du Seigneur: Mentioned by name as one of the things that bad Aristocratic Feudalists get up to when oppressing the peasantry.
  • Evil Chancellor: Very likely to show up.
  • Evil Smells Bad: The "Reek of Wrongness."
  • Encyclopedia Exposita: The entire book is one.
  • Evil Matriarch: The "bad mother" variety of bad queen.
  • Fantasy Contraception: Simply being in Fantasyland seems to act as this. Jones notes that no matter how much sex "tourists" have, pregnancy never occurs (perhaps tied into the lack of menstruation by women).
  • Fantasy Counterpart Culture: A whole bunch of them.
  • Fantasy World Map: Take a look at the map upside down. Run the place-names through an anagram generator while you're at it.
  • Forgotten Trope: The entries tend to draw from cliches of Strictly Formula commercial fantasy as well as some instances likely directed at particular works. So, while a lot of the tropes it cites are still frequently used, others aren't so much.
  • Giant Flyer: The "Leathery winged avians" that may attack tourists in isolated spots.
  • Gladiator Games: The other common fate of male characters who get enslaved.
  • Gladiator Revolt: The inevitable consequence of a lead character being enslaved as a gladiator.
  • God Save Us from the Queen!: The "old fashioned bad" variety of bad queen.
  • Gods Need Prayer Badly: One of the two absolute Rules in regards to Religion in Fantasyland.
  • Heroes Want Redheads: Princesses who fall for the hero are often redheads in Fantasyland.
  • Hidden Backup Prince: It's noted that runaway princesses have an overwhelming tendency to marry "commoners of sterling worth" who more often than not turn out to be these.
  • I Know Your True Name: Using Punctuation Shaker names is used as a form of protection against this.
  • Lampshade Hanging: Lampshades are hung on tropes left and right.
  • Left-Justified Fantasy Map: The book has one at the beginning, naturally, and the place names are anagrams parodying common ones in fantasy books.
  • Made a Slave
  • A Man Is Not a Virgin: Or as the Virgins entry put it: "Nobody wants a male Virgin at all. Young boys, yes, but there is no stipulation about Virginity. In fact, some experience is preferred."
  • Mess on a Plate: Expect to eat a lot of stew. And not always know what's in it.
  • More Predators Than Prey: The Guide uses this as one of the key pieces of evidence for the theory that fantasy worlds' ecosystems have been recently ravaged (another is the way piles of refuse around oppressed peasants' huts don't just rot away.) It comes to the conclusion that the systems are re-establishing themselves with humans at the bottom, and everything will be fine.
  • No Periods, Period: It's noted that female "tourists" do not menstruate in Fantasyland.
  • Punctuation Shaker: This is discussed at length, with one theory being it's to make a name unpronounceable to prevent it being used against them.
  • Purple Eyes: In its dissertation on color-coding in Fantasyland, the Guide says people with violet eyes may be royalty, or just destined to lead "uncomfortably interesting lives".
  • Rebellious Princess: Entry number two on Princesses.
  • Recursive Reality / Self-Demonstrating Article:
    ETERNAL QUEST: See "QUEST, ETERNAL"
    QUEST, ETERNAL: See "ETERNAL QUEST"
  • Red Shirt: The Serious Soldier, who lacks personality and whose role in the story consists mainly of helping out in the fight scenes and inevitably dying at a dramatically appropriate moment.
  • Rescue Sex: The entry on slavery mentions beautiful female varieties of slave and how they are rescued from slavery by a Conanesque male character, who is rewarded with no-holds-barred sex, and then abandons them in the middle of nowhere.
  • Shout-Out: "[Cursed rings] must be returned from whence they came, preferably at over a thousand degrees Fahrenheit, and the curse means you won't want to do this." Among others.
  • Slave Galley: If a male character is enslaved, chances are he'll probably wind up chained to an oar in one of these.
  • Somewhere, an Equestrian Is Crying: It's lampshaded how horses are treated like bicycles and the Guide therefore speculates that they're not actually animals, but vegetables which breed by pollination.
  • STD Immunity: Tourists are informed that, happily, sexually transmitted diseases appear to not exist in Fantasyland.
  • Tarot Motifs: One of the most frequent means for prophecy to be laid out.
  • Thud and Blunder: The Guide naturally discusses some of the Thud and Blunder tropes. In particular, barbarians and evil overlords make several appearances.
  • Turncoat: Which is only people who turn against you. People who come over to your side are only doing what is right. "Coats do not exist in Fantasyland-cloaks are universally preferred-but turncoats do."
  • Tradesnarkô: The Guide puts a superscript OMT (Official Management Term) on words or phrases that are, in the author's opinion, particularly overused in Extruded Fantasy Product.
  • Vain Sorceress: The Enchantress.
  • Vestigial Empire: The Trope Namer, even.
  • Virgin Sacrifice: The preferred form of sacrifice among evil religions, which features ritual rape and disembowelment as part of the ceremony.
  • Virginity Makes You Stupid: The only logical conclusion one can draw from the behavior of female virgins who so readily fall into the hands of evil people.
  • When Trees Attack: It's mentioned that many trees are downright hostile, grabbing people in their branches and trying to eat them.
  • Weird Trade Union: Jones wonders if the assassins' and thieves' guilds are the only ones existing in Fantasyland.
  • You All Meet in an Inn: Of course you do.

Alternative Title(s): The Tough Guide To Fantasyland

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