The Tough Guide to Fantasyland by Diana Wynne Jones

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The Tough Guide to Fantasyland (1996) is a really funny fantasy dictionary/atlas with a playful meta structure. Jones builds her work as if fantasy quests, or, more meta-fictionally, every fantasy story ever, is a tour arranged by Management.

Each entry (including such topics as DARK LORD, THIEVES’ GUILD, or WARRIOR WOMEN) is a  brilliant cataloguing of generic fantasy tropes and clichés that she provides a logical and often hilarious explanation for.

There are dozens and dozens of references and in-jokes towards popular works of fantasy, as well as the scores of hackwork that fester in the field. (Especially seems to be poking fun at the ’80s publishing landscape.)

Tough Guide is a brilliant idea and well executed. The visual design is well-done, as well, from the cover to the map to the little icons on the margins of each definition. I especially am in awe of her how her concept allows her the privilege of not necessarily having a hard joke every time – the definitions that aren’t funny are just accurate – thus you never feel cheated or bored.

It’s like a fantasy The Devil’s Dictionary or a proto-TV Tropes and, much like any humorous compendium of disparate entries, best enjoyed slowly.