Review by Joseph T Major of Diana Wynne Jones's


Hugo Nominee

Back in the good old days, pulp writers wishing to spare themselves the bother of having to do any creative work when writing had available to them a listing of the Standard Plots, a fabulous book called Plotto. Nowadays, fantasy works are as stock and stereotyped, but writers wishing to compose such works until now lacked a Plotto for their work, unless they were willing to pay tribute to some senior figure and compose deriative and stereotypical works in the other's backgrounds using the other's notes. (The demise of André Norton's business manager, for example, has set back her plans to instutionalize, indeed Taylorize, the writing of Witch World books.)

But now, thanks to the efforts of Diana Wynne Jones, the basic plots and story elements of contemporary fantasy have been elucidated and listed for the aspiring writer in The Tough Guide to Fantasyland. Listing in boldface with Capitals the variations of incidents, elements, constituents, and occurrences from A for Adept ("One who has taken what amounts to the postgraduate course in Magic. . .") to Z for Zombies ("These are just the Undead, except nastier, more pitiable, and easier to kill. . . "), this book provides an explicit and thorough tally of the plot of your everyday fantasy story.

The Guide addresses many long-standing questions of Fairyland, such as how it is that anyone survives when there is no Economy, due to the ravaged fields of Waste Areas, the absence of Industry, and a total predominance of Bandits by land and Pirates by sea. Or how it is that anyone keeps from starving when the only foods available are Stew and Yoghurt, and there are no meats, vegetables, fruits, grain products, etc. Or why it is that among the cold wastes behind the northern Mountain range, the Northern Barbarians wear no more than a fur jockstrap, while in the Fanatic Caliphate everyone wears huge amounts of clothing. And so on. (Answers? Who said anything about answers?)

The people you will encounter are tallied for your information, and helpful tips on how to respond to them. The Slender Youth is someone who will be a lot of trouble at first ["What's your name?" "Wills." "Looking for your mother?" "She died."] but turns out to be most interesting and helpful by about the middle of the second brochure. Wheras the Unpleasant Stranger might be a Spy for Bandits or even the Dark Lord himself, but he also might be a dispossessed King, in which case he will also be a help. Check his hair. With so many women being of the classes Crone, Female Mercenary, Maid [too busy serving Stew and Ale to provide any personal services], Novice, Virgin, Witch, and Warrior Women one wonders how the species reproduces itself.

Weaponry is assessed. "Crossbows, being more accurate, are used almost exclusively by bad people." The powers of Swords, the effacacies of different kinds of Daggers, the short list of people allowed to use the Axe, all figure in this. (For some reason, no one uses any of the complex and microscopically-differentiated range of polearms defined with loving care by Gary Gygax in D&DTM.)

The places you will go range from the always just-sacked Nunnery, with its sole survivor who either dies after passing on vital information (if old; taking care of dying Hindus evidently isn't an option) or joins the party and finds her vows less than firm (if young), to the obligatory Castle with frowning battlements (OMT) at the center of every Town or City. [(OMT) means "Official Management Term". These abound throughout Fairyland, from the noisome (OMT) and unspeakable (OMT) Squalor of Towns to the rocky defile (OMT) where the Bandits will Ambush the party.] Events are also listed like the previously-referenced Ambush, participation as a Gladiator, the always just-missed Execution [damn!], and so on.

Thanks to the indefatigable efforts of Jones, it will now be possible to write a standard fantasy trilogy without any mental effort whatsoever. And by way of contrast, readers short of time can flip through this book and obviate the need to peruse the bulk of the output of Baen, DAW, Del Rey, Tor, etc. And, without going to the third brochure, this is my Conclusion.