Madama Diana Wynne Jones is no tyro when it comes to the fantasy, of course, and she is no fool either, nor does she apparently suffer them as her A Tough Guide to Fantasyland proves. This book is a guide of the Genero-Fantasyland that so many fantasy novels take place in.
You know Fantasyland--it's where stew is always what's for dinner, and you gotta eat it with a spoon 'cause forks are so mundane. Where a horse can gallop without stopping for three days and never ties up, or gets colic, or throws a shoe. Where there are castles, and peasants, and farms, and Dark Lords, and no economy so-to-speak of. Technology is never discovered and progress is never made. No socks, no knitting, no canned food, no pharma. Deserts are to the South; fierce free men live in the cold climes to the North, and no one ever gets chilblains, a toothache, or the squirts.
Alas that so many fantasy novels take place in this Fantasyland, which is so generic that one is tempted to believe that somewhere out there in Writerlandia there's a bible for it. Well, if there is a bible for it, now there's a bible against it. And high time too!
Madama Wynne Jones is merciless in pointing out the silliness of so many aspects of Fantasyland. In doing so, she also points out the silliness of so many writers of fantasy who can't be bothered to create their own worlds, but instead just keep regurgitating a agriculture based pseudo-medieval low-technology place that is pure fantasy, and which, alas, we must needs blame Tolkien for. Her pin is sharp and the balloons ripe for pricking.
And prick those balloons she does. Hedge wizards; mud colored homespun; thatched farmhouses; robes; quests; rabbits; and damp smelling dungeons are among the Fantasyland cliches that Madama Wynne Jones' pops.
As I first flipped through the book, I giggled at lo what fools so many of these fantasy writers be. Then I started to think: was I one of those fools? I remembered that my publishers solicited a blurb from Madama Wynne Jones. Did she read Flora Segunda thinking: what a moron this woman is, she's clearly never been on the back of a horse, nor does she understand supply side economics. Well, as far as horses go, I happily managed to avoid all the horrific errors (never tired; never sick; never bite-y) so many writers fall into. I seem to have (mostly) avoided the other cliches, as well.
And since Madama Wynne Jones did actually give me a wonderful blurb, I guess she didn't think Flora Segunda was too much of the same old. So I breathed a sigh of relief. But I also vowed to be diligent in the future to make sure I didn't creep too far towards this world-view. Making up an entire world is hard; it's easy to fall into short-cuts. And as far as fantasy goes, Fantasyland is the most alluring short-cut there is. (I remind myself what happened to the Reed-Donner Party when they were seduced by a short cut.)
Of course, not all fantasy writers are guilty of pseudo-medieval ramblings. There are many wonderful fantasy novels that take place in either fully realized pastoral worlds, or worlds that aren't pastoral at all. I think now of Elizabeth Hand's gorgeous Winterlong; Paul Park's Starbridge books; or even Gene Wolfe's Shadow of the Torturer which first appears to take place in Fantasyland, but, of course, does not. The list could go on.
Still, clearly there is an appetite for books set in Fantasyland, for so many are published each year, and so many do well. However, once you read A Tough Guide to Fantasyland, the appeal for these types of books will be clearly, if not already killed, definitely muted.
"The entry on swords alone is worth the price of the book, and will save the traveler much heartache and ruin." The Camp Sandy Herald Express.
"Fantasyland is a ripe market. Even the most cautious estimate concludes that there are five million inhabitants all in need of knitted hosiery. That's ten million socks. The P/L implications are clear. The bucket is empty; just waiting for the right investor." Knitted Garments Weekly
"What's the matter with stew?" The Warlord, in an interview with Stew-Tastic, the trade magazine of stew producers and providers.