Cover art by Walter Velez.
The title of this book suggests it’s a parody of the “Rough Guide” travel books, but inside it’s more of an encyclopedia of people, magical beings, places, elements, hazards and so forth you might meet on the book’s suggested tours of Fantasyland. In this way, it’s almost a cross between a Dungeon-master’s guide, a Berlitz phrase guide, and a humorous encyclopedia with lots of in-jokes for those who enjoy reading fantasy. Many references are fairly obscure, but if you’ve read Tolkien, you’ll get a lot of it. The problem is that, as in trying to read an actual encyclopedia, there’s no plot. It’s amusing at times, certainly, but you can only read so many entries at a time. It took me several weeks to get to them all, even though the author is a favorite. There’s a fair amount of repetition and cross-referencing, and by the end of the book you have a pretty complete idea of what the tours it describes would be like, but I’d rather have read a book telling the tale of one of the tours, and having the “Tough Guide” used by the characters, as seen on the cover. Some entries are quite entertaining, others are predictable. One of my favorites is on Horses:
“Horses are of a breed unique to Fantasyland. They are capable of galloping full-tilt all day without a rest. Sometimes they do not require food or water. They never cast shoes, go lame, or put their hooves down holes, except when the Management deems it necessary, as when the forces of the Dark Lord are only half an hour behind. They never otherwise stumble. Nor do they ever make life difficult for Tourists by biting or kicking their riders or one another. They never resist being mounted or blow out so that their girths slip, or do any of the other things that make horses so chancy in this world…”
And so it goes on to the conclusion that these horses are actually bred from plants!
Fun stuff, but not as much fun as a real Diana Wynne Jones novel. Mildly recommended.