I was given Diana Wynne Jones’ The Tough Guide to Fantasyland when I was rather young, and loved it – it’s an affectionately mocking guide to the tropes and archetypes of fantasy novels. It’s now rather dated, not containing the current edgier crop of clichés that fantasy is rife with, but I still pick it up occasionally and leaf through it. It harks back to an earlier, more innocent time, when most protagonists weren’t trying to be Batman.
Recently, I discovered that Fantasy Review Barn runs a weekly feature in which they find examples from the genre to match a given trope. They seem generally amenable to other bloggers joining in, so I thought I would give it a try.
This weeks topic is law enforcement:
“Seems odd to think that in fantasy cities in which entire economies revolve around crime there is room for the men in blue (or crimson, or whatever). But the law does the best it can, even when faced with magic, mystical creatures, or rogue deities.”
The Watch – Terry Pratchett, various books.
The Ankh-Morpork City Watch has to be the best possible example of this – Vimes et al. are the sole defence against any threat to the peace of the greatest city on the disc, responsible for settling inter-species riots, neutralising rampaging dragons, and preventing the demolition of celestial mountains. Through it all, the Watch manages to retain their humble roots, tackling new threats with confusion, reluctance, and annoyance.
The Watch books are, in my opinion, the most accomplished of Pratchett’s work, showing a clear progression from his initial beginnings as primarily a comic fantasy author to his current mastery of the genre – his books are still incredibly funny, but they’re also heart-breaking, inspiring, and deeper than many more “serious” books.
PC Peter Grant – Ben Aaronovitch, Rivers of London & Sequels.
PC Peter Grant is a normal London police office who discovers that he can talk to ghosts. And then discovers that he is a wizard, co-opted into the near-defunct magical department of the police force. The Rivers of London books are wonderfully British – there’s a very different tone to crime fiction across the pond. It’s difficult to describe in a short paragraph, but the series is magnificently observed – the tone is exactly right, and it slots neatly into an established tradition of police procedurals. Even the magic is well-integrated: water spirits have the same domestic problems as normal people, and are handled with the same politeness and circumspection.
The Laundry – Charles Stross, The Atrocity Archives and sequels.
I’m deeply attached to Lovecraftian fiction, the idea of fragile realities and unknowable cosmic horrors. The Laundry Files combines the incalculable scale and vast ideas of the Cthulu Mythos with the bureaucratic (yet equally horrifying) nightmare of low-level government officials. Tasked with protecting the nature of reality, the agents of the Laundry still find time to bicker over parking spaces. The end result is a blend of espionage, horror, and paperwork; the juxtaposition of unknowable truth and banal tedium is far more fascinating than it sounds.
I could go on listing for hours – almost every fantasy book that I can recall involves some kind of law enforcement, though frequently an ineffective one. However, for a first attempt at Tough Travelling, I thought I’d cut it short at three: three series in which law enforcement constitutes more than a restriction to ignore or a supporting cast.
The Fantasy Review Barn post for this is here – lots of other bloggers, far more fascinating than I, have chimed in on the topic and can be found through that link.
The next week’s topic is “evil lairs”. I will strive to join in on that one too.