Fantasy is Funny

Yes, it is funny, though I can understand if you do not think so.  Much of it seems to take itself too seriously to consider the making of even a single joke.  There is a lot of important questing, sword-drawing, and oath-taking.  Battles must be fought, and treasures must be won.  Who has time to be funny?

Fortunately, there are several writers who combine speculative fiction with a good sense of humor.  Chief among these is Terry Pratchett.  Because of his enormous commercial success (total copies sold is currently aiming towards 90 million) it would be accurate to call the genre of comedic speculative fiction the Pratchett Way.  Here are some of the writers who practice it.

  • Douglass Adams. Though he wrote a small number of books, his contribution to the Patchett Way is Godlike.  Adams wrote The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and 4 subsequent sequels – an “increasingly misnamed trilogy” as he once put.  To state it plainly and firmly: among the best books written in the 20th-Century.  If you have not read it, get a copy immediately. You will be a happier and wiser person for it. 
  • Jaspar Fforde. In spite of my reverence for Adams, Fforde is my favorite writer on this list.  Thus far, his most famous creation is the female heroine Thursday Next, star of short series of novels. Next can jump into the plots of other books.  Thus, the first book in the series is called The Eyre Affair and has Next jumping into the plot of Jane Eyre.  Next can also time travel. Plus, the Thursday Next universe is a comical alternate to our own in which several extinct species still survive and in which cheese smuggling (yes, you read it correctly) is a serious crime.  Have you lost track? Alternate universe, classic literature, time travel, comedy: Fforde as something fort every reader.
  • A Lee Martinez. He may be the least known writer on this list, and there is simply no reason for it. Perhaps he is a tad too specialized even within the specialized world of comedic genre fiction. He combines jokes with the tropes of horror stories.  His first book, Gil’s All Fright Diner, has two working class slobs, who also happen to be both monsters and monster hunters, defend a truck stop style restaurant from the onslaughts of unspeakable demons and the like – you know, as it all too often happens.
  • Robert Rankin. I love this guy, but you will have a hard time finding his books.  I had a near impossible time doing so until they became available on a well known commercially available e-reader.  I may not be allowed to promote said reader, so let’s just say that it rhymes with spindle.  It is nearly impossible to describe the humorous chaos of a Rankin book, so I will let a few titles doing the talking for me:  Nostradamus Ate My Hamster, The Toyminator, and my personal favorite, The Hollow Chocolate Bunnies of the Apocalypse.
  • Tom Holt. For at least a decade, I have been trying to sell Holt to my fellow book fanatics. Thus far, I have had little success. He is quite prolific and there is much from which to choose.  Much of his humorous fantasy depends on odd juxtapositions.  What would happen, for example, if the Gods and Goddesses of Norse mythology suddenly appeared in our modern world? Obviously, at least the way Holt writes, hilarity ensues.  Other elements of Holt novels: a powerful race of alien frogs, donuts serving as portals to other worlds, the management problems of Santa Claus. Um, perhaps there are good reasons I can’t get folks to read these books after all.

As always with such lists, I could go on and on. Indeed, the genre goes back centuries, literally.  Mark Twain wrote A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court using time travel for his satiric purposes.  Many readers often mislabel Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels as a children’s book when it is, in fact, a very funny and very adult satire.  The very roots of Western literature, the ancient Greeks as personified by Aristophanes, combine the mythic doings of the Gods with laughs.

Craig Magee

Postscript: occasional guest blogger, Amethyst Magee, is a huge fan of A. Lee Martinez and even corresponds with him on occasion.  I am in process of soliciting a more extended introduction to his work.