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tough row to hoe

The Tough Guide To Fantasyland

The Tough Guide To Fantasyland is a book by Diana Wynne Jones that humorously examines the common tropes of a broad swathe of fantasy fiction. It was nominated for both a Hugo award and a World Fantasy Award.

The book takes the unusual angle of presenting itself as a tourist guidebook. It claims that the fantasy worlds depicted in many fantasy novels, games and films are in fact part of a single land. In an extended metaphor, the readers (or viewers or players) are tourists; authors are tour guides, and their stories are sight-seeing tours or package holidays to this Fantasyland. In this context, it catalogues many of the common places, peoples, artifacts, situations, characters and events likely to be found on such a journey – in other words, the archetypes and clichés found in fantasy fiction.

Thus it contains articles on Dark Lords and what they do, magic swords and where they come from, haunted forests and what they contain, and so on. There are several hundred articles, organised alphabetically, ranging from a couple of sentences to several paragraphs.

The book can be read as a thinly-veiled criticism of the fantasy genre for being overly derivative, clichéd, and unimaginative; alternatively it can be seen as an affectionate study of the themes and ideas that resonate through fantasy writing (it can be read as both at the same time, as well). Overall, the writing style is very tongue-in-cheek, with discussions of why there are Dark Lords but not Dark Ladies, why casual sex in Fantasyland almost never results in pregnancy, and why male virginity is useless whereas female virginity is highly prized. The author has herself written fantasy novels that both use and subvert common fantasy elements.

The title alludes to the Rough Guide series of holiday guidebooks; the concept gains extra plausibility because many fantasy works detail the tough journey of a number of characters through the author's created world.

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