Follow TV Tropes


Literature / The Tough Guide to Fantasyland

Go To
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.)

  • About the Author: In the Updated Re-release of 2006, there is a section about Diana Wynne Jones at the second last page of the book or so.
  • Absurdly Spacious Sewer: Sewers can be expected to appear beneath any given castle or city, seemingly for the purpose of providing convenient access or egress from these places. Smell is rarely an issue, and any odor picked up while slogging through sewage will vanish in short order, "almost as if the management had forgotten about it".
  • Advertisement:
  • Always Chaotic Evil: Jones notes that some enemy races will never have good members, not even a solitary example.
  • Apothecary Alligator: Mummified alligators are a common feature of wizards' laboratories. Live alligators are much rarer, and believed to be extinct.
  • "Arabian Nights" Days: The "Fanatic Caliphates" setting, which will be hot, southerly, and full of merchants and religious fanatics.
  • Aristocrats Are Evil: A primary feature of the land of the Aristocratic Feudalists.
  • Artistic License – Biology: Jones notes that the ecology of Fantasyland is very messed up as the result of there being very few bacteria, insects, birds or large herbivores since the "Management" apparently are ignorant about their importance. However, she believes the ecosystem is slowly righting itself so that humans will eventually be on the bottom of the food chain.
  • Advertisement:
  • Artistic License – Economics: Though some of the countries in Fantasyland do have a strong economy based on trade (contrasted with others which are very poor), it's left a mystery just how this works as bandits or pirates steal so many goods. Even after robbing it, they never seem to recirculate the wealth. So the source is unknown, most notably as no country seems to have industry of any kind. As a result, she concludes that their economy must be sustained by "tourists" coming from our world.
  • 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 the Assassin who 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 = Goodness: A person's character can be easily discerned by that person’s attractiveness.
  • Beneath the Earth: Cavern systems are a common feature of the Tour. Unlike real cave expeditions, light will rarely be an issue — if your torches fail while you're down there, you'll probably come across areas with rocks that glow by themselves.
  • Better Than a Bare Bulb: The book was written to lampshade.
  • Bigger on the Inside: The Guide notes that most buildings in Fantasyland appear larger inside than their outside would suggest. An unusual exception to this are farmhouses, which are smaller on the inside — for some reason, these will seem large and inviting outside, but will be small and poky inside.
  • 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.
  • Born into Slavery: Some kinds of Slaves, Female of the second type, "Beautiful young women [...] Few seem to have been born to slavery."
  • 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 that character’s tan.
  • City of Canals: Cited by name as one possible location tourists may visit. Its canals will be filthy and it will likely be ruled by a council of corrupt merchant-princes.
  • Color-Coded 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".
  • Colour-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.
  • Damsel in Distress: Entry number one on Princesses consists of one word: "Wimps".
  • 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.
  • Death Mountain: The map features a range of peaks named the Death Mountains in the far north. More generally, the mountains most Tourists will have to cross tend to feature impossibly high, sharp peaks and steep cliffs that don’t seem to have ever been eroded, leading Jones to conclude Fantasyland has never gone through an ice age. This is where you’ll find dwarves, as well as cliff-dwelling clans that live alongside telepathic eagles and hawks.
  • Defrosting Ice Queen: The Imperious Female, a party member whom the Guide notes you will probably hate until you discover her Hidden Heart of Gold and that she has a secret preying on her mind. She will probably rescue everyone else at some point to show how far she's come.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Elemental Embodiment: Elementals in Fantasyland, besides the usual four classic elements, come in various types, including iron, fog, mist, ice and whirling eddies of sand of indeterminate type.
  • Encyclopedia Exposita: The entire book is one.
  • Entitled to Have You: The deconstruction of Rescue Sex has shades of this, saying that because the hero nobly refuses to sleep with the slave girl when her wicked master offers her to him ("what they don't do") and helps her escape ("what they do") he then gets to have sex with her.
  • Evil Chancellor: Very likely to show up.
  • Evil Matriarch: The "bad mother" variety of bad queen.
  • Evil Overlord: The Dark Lord, one of whom exists for every Tour trying to destroy everything. However, they can be defeated fairly easily by Tourists near the finale. There are no Dark Ladies, for it seems that the Management finds them less sinister.
  • The Evil Prince: It seems to depend on whether or not he's recognized as royalty or incognito. If he is recognized, then he'll be some variant of cruel, spoiled and/or outright murderous, otherwise he'll be The Wise Prince.
  • Evil Smells Bad: The "Reek of Wrongness". Horses seem to be particularly sensitive to this smell.
  • Extruded Book Product: The main purpose of this book is to parody the kind of unoriginal, formulaic copycats of Tolkien and Conan novels that seem to flood modern fantasy literature.
  • 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, lampshading the ones most common in unoriginal fantasy novels.
  • Fantasy Gun Control: It's in place on most tours. Gunpowder usually fails to explode, unless it's part of an ancient gun like a musket or flintlock pistol.
  • Fantasy World Map: One shows up in the front-piece of the book. Take a look at the map upside down. Run the place-names through an anagram generator while you're at it. In the book proper, various entries describe and satirize common staples of these maps, such as inland seas, nations only being marked with their names without any borders visible anywhere, and so on.
  • Fictional Zodiac: The Guide says that the Management of Fantasyland is free to keep making up more star signs and astrological events until the entire sky is filled with unlikely conjunctions.
  • Fisher King: Many kings have this relationship with their country.
  • 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. Sometimes they will be acting on their own, sometimes they'll be working for the forces of Evil.
  • 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.
  • Hawaiian-Shirted Tourist: The cover of at least the Daw Books, 1996 edition of The Tough Guide to Fantasyland pictures tourists dressed this way.
  • 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.
  • High Priest: Nearly always evil. Sometimes thin and evil, sometimes fat and evil, but evil. You may also meet a High Priestess. Regardless of whether she’s attractive and motherly or thin and severe, she’ll always be good.
  • Horny Vikings: The Barbary Vikings who live in the north of the world. They love killing and fighting, are skilled sailors, and wear the usual horned helmets. They are one of the malest peoples you will encounter.
  • I Know Your True Name: Using Pūnct'uatìon Sh'akër names is possibly used as a form of protection against this.
  • Lampshade Hanging: Lampshades are hung on tropes left and right.
  • The Law of Conservation of Detail: This law, applied clumsily, is responsible for many of the book's entries.
  • Little People: There seems to be a wide assortment of them running about in various sizes and levels of hairiness. Some will likely be copies of Tolkien's Hobbits.
  • Living Forever Is Awesome: One way humans can be immortal is through being a magic user. These immortals largely seem to enjoy their eternal lives.
  • Left-Justified Fantasy Map: Technically, the book has a right-justified map, which makes sense, as it's just a map of Europe rotated upside down. The place names are anagrams parodying common ones in fantasy books.
  • Lost World: In abundance. There seems to be no scarcity of hidden valleys, kingdoms and so on that have been lost from the rest of the world for ages for the heroes to stumble across.
  • The Lost Woods: An evil forest full of aggressive trees and vicious monsters is a mainstay of Tour quests.
  • Made a Slave: There're two ways this can happen:
    • Most male Tourists will be captured and enslaved at some point on their Quest, and will become galley slaves or gladiators, at which point they’ll have to win back their freedom.
    • The daughters of merchants who were brought along with the caravan will be captured when bandits will inevitably attack; they appear to be the only source of harem slaves.
  • Mess on a Plate: Expect to eat a lot of stew. And not always know what's in it.
  • Modest Royalty: Usually a sign of a good king, especially if he wears his crown crooked.
  • 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.
  • Murder, Inc.: The Assassins Guild. Members usually dress in black or wear a badge (although this would seem self-defeating) and follow certain rules. Tourists however have little to fear from them, since they will find an assassin easily overcome when they make their attempt.
  • No Periods, Period: It's noted that female "tourists" do not menstruate in Fantasyland.
  • Our Dragons Are Different: They apparently fled to Fantasyland from our world to avoid being hunted into extinction due to being thought to be evil monsters. In reality, they’re actually aligned with Good, even though they eat people.
  • Our Dwarves Are All the Same: Naturally, the typical bearded, surly and metal-loving standard-issue dwarves show up in Fantasyland, living in hidden fastnesses in the mountains.
  • Our Elves Are Better: They are, as per always, immortal (and always youthful), and wiser, more ethereal, more magical, better-looking and just generally better than humans. They have been in decline since humans turned up, and now most of them are passing West — which here means they have been moving to the American Southwest, where they wear punk clothing and ride motorcycles.
  • Our Gnomes Are Weirder: They’re a small folk who live underground and kidnap people for no particular reason. This is somewhat complicated by the fact that they do not always remember that humans need to eat and drink.
  • Our Goblins Are Different: Scaly little humanoids who live underground. They like to capture human travellers (their chief tactic while doing so seems to consist of throwing bodies at them until the enemy is overwhelmed) and then torture them. They don't seem to do much else.
  • Our Orcs Are Different: For all practical purposes, they’re a bigger, better version of goblins used by the Dark Lord.
  • Pūnct'uatìon Sh'akër: This is discussed at length, with one theory being it's to make a name unpronounceable to prevent it being used against them.
  • Rebellious Princess: Entry number two on Princesses.
  • Recursive Reality / Self-Demonstrating Article:
  • 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.
  • Religion of Evil: One of these is typical in Fantasyland, usually involving Human Sacrifice (virgins especially) and Hollywood Satanism cliches.
  • 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.
  • Romantic Spoonfeeding: In the entry for Yogurt:
    Yogurt is served [...] when you are raveneously hungry and would murder for a nice filling bowl of Stew. Nevertheless, you smile politely and make appreciative noises, because the person serving it to you is an attractive member of the opposite sex and, after the meal (if such it can be called), you plan to take a bath.
  • Ruins for Ruins' Sake: The Ancient Engineering Projects which pepper the landscape and look very impressive, but don't actually seem to do anything.
  • Running Gag: When describing the various peoples you’ll meet on your quest, (dragons, marsh dwellers, island people, etc.) Jones mentions in each entry how each group seems to have "a form of magic that no one else can use". There do not seem to be exceptions. Depending on how many of these groups you meet, you may end up with more examples of exclusive magic than of the regular kind.
  • Sex Slave: This is different for male and female slaves:
    • Slave, Female, when discussing kinds 1 and 2:
      • The first type being female Tourists captured into slavery: "You may well be annoyed to find how little your new owner pays for you, but this is the Management's way of protecting you from rape, beatings, and other hardships."
      • The second type is girls of a Royal Harem, though the word "harem" is never used, and the sex they have is never forced: "Beautiful young women. You will find these in droves in the FANATIC CALIPHATES and sometimes in the PALACES of bad KINGS. Their duties are light and pleasant and are: looking beautiful, bathing and massaging visitors, singing and dancing, and, for male Tourists, providing company in bed. None of them seem unhappy in their work and they show no desire to escape. [...] Often male Tourists will sympathize with the plight of such Slaves, nobly reject their offer of free, no-holds-barred SEX, insist on assisting them to escape from the exploitative tyranny under which they have been existing, and then, having obviously done them a Good Turn, have free, no-holds-barred Sex before stranding them in the middle of nowhere to make their way thousands of miles back to their own COUNTRY."
    • SLAVES, MALE, are used by bad KINGS, FANATIC CALIPHATES, and some WIZARDS in large numbers as GUARDS, attendants, fan-bearers, waiters and entertainment, and for SEX.
  • Sexy Discretion Shot: Under VIRGINS, bolding is ours:
    6. As TALENTED GIRLS. These are very likely, towards the end of the second third of the Tour, to come across a male Tourist in his BATH and turn implausibly to jelly (a surge of some deep, hitherto unknown emotion swept through her (OMT)). Thereafter they have a sprightly step, a jaunty gleam in the eyes, a yet more tiptilted nose, and a private life over which the Management generally draws a discreet veil.
  • Shout-Out:
  • Slave Galley: If a male character is enslaved, chances are he'll probably wind up chained to an oar in one of these. Jones notes that, since these galleys only ever seem to contain rows of chained-up slaves and nothing in the way of merchandise or soldiers, it's a bit difficult to understand why people keep building them.
  • 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.
  • Stock Medieval Meal: Mocked, naturally.
    • "STEW is the staple food in Fantasyland, so be warned. You may shortly be longing passionately for omelette, steak or baked beans, but none of these will be forthcoming, indoors or out. Stew will be what you are served to eat every single time."
    • "BREAD is quite well known in Fantasyland, but you will seldom get much of it and it will never be fresh. You might be given some to sop up your stew in an inn of an evening, but in the morning, just as that day's baking should be ready, the Rules state that you will make a hurried departure, having time to grab up only a piece of stale loaf and a hunk of cheese."
  • Swamps Are Evil: Jones distinguishes two kinds. Bogs are essentially patches of deep mud put in your way to slow you down when being chased by Evil in order to provide dramatic tension. Marshes show up later and involve more of the traditional swampland dangers — swarms of insects, filthy water, mazelike channels and so on.
  • Tarot Motifs: One of the most frequent means for prophecy to be laid out.
  • The Theocracy: The Religious Feudalists are one of these, with their ruler being a High Priest.
  • Tradesnark™: 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.
  • 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."
  • The Unpronounceable: The names of the inhabitants of PanCeltic Tours (fantasy novels that copy Celtic Mythology instead of Tolkien and Conan) will almost always be unpronounceable strings of what is probably supposed to sound like Irish, with far too many h's crammed in there.
  • Vain Sorceress: The Enchantress. The Guide outright says "Enchantress" is "another word for seductress, only with more punch".
  • Vestigial Empire: The Trope Namer, even.
  • 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.
  • Virgin Sacrifice: The preferred form of sacrifice among evil religions, which features ritual rape and disembowelment as part of the ceremony.
  • Virgin-Shaming: It's stated that, in stark contrast to female virgins, no one wants male virgins at all (young boys excluded). Some experience is preferred.
  • Wacky Wayside Tribe: Your Tour is certain to include a great deal of people, tribes and incidents that will have little or nothing to do with the theoretical main plot of overthrowing the Dark Lord. Jones goes in great detail on each kind of Tribe you’re likely to come across.
  • Weird Trade Union: Jones wonders if the assassins' and thieves' guilds are the only ones existing in Fantasyland.
  • When Trees Attack: It's mentioned that many trees are downright hostile, grabbing people in their branches and trying to eat them.
  • Who Wants to Live Forever?: One type of immortal humans are made so by some sort of curse, and largely spend their immortality hating everything.
  • Wizarding School: It's called the "Invisible College", described as being like an Oxbridge university. Within, if anything with magic can go wrong, it will. Students should be prepared for every type of magical accident possible. Note this was written before Harry Potter, which codified the "wizarding school as UK boarding school" trope.


How well does it match the trope?

Example of:


Media sources: